In 1842, Paris Foreign Missions seminary, at the rue du Bac, received the relics of Father Pierre Borie killed 4 years earlier in Vietnam. A return which stirred up emotion, interest and fervor: Pierre Borie left the seminary in 1830; the circumstances of his death were well known and had been commented on for years. A veneration was established around the relics of the martyr which were placed in a room upstairs and the regular visits became a rite in the seminary – to spend a few moments everyday at this place.
The relics of Borie were not long isolated: the relics of other victims of the persecutions in Vietnam and China were sent to Paris. The overcrowding of objects and the affluence of visitors led to the moving, in 1867, from the room to the ground floor: one adapts to the outside demands.
The beatifications of the first quarter of the 20th century led to other modifications and displacement: monumental urns were made and can still be seen along the stairs leading to the crypt.
Pursuing its descending movement, the Martyr’s Hall has passed today from the ground floor to a level below that of the crypt.
The upright yoke of saint Borie
An object, placed in an unusual situation, seems at first sight misplaced : the upright yoke of Pierre Dumoulin-Borie. It forms an axis in the Hall : it is inevitable. A pure, refined symbol.
It was a barrier placed around the prisoners’ neck. It ressembles here a wooden ladder. It occupies in the Martyr’s Hall a place which one can say, not without reason, ressembles the placement of the cross in the crypt. Stand there, take that point of view : you can see everything else.
If the yoke forms an axis, one can see the metallic « tool boxes » placed on the walls, underneath the paintings, as a point of fixation from which the rows begin. These « boxes » contain chains, ropes, swords, knives ; the ordinary and monotonous tools of violence and cruelty. They seem so close to the tools of good works, but are diverted from their human and ordinary usage.
One wonders, upon seeing them, about these men who were our predecessors and about the path that has led them to the kind of death that is a martyr. These souvenirs are disposed under three grand wooden arcs with vertical glasses which do not stop the view, but rather freely associate the objects contained within them with what one can see beyond : other objects, and the paintings in particular.
Beginnings and principles
Under one of the arcs, an allusion to the origins and structures of the Society (Foreign Missions, the stole of François Pallu ; various symbols of the apostolic vicars associated with the Martyrs, or having themselves died a violent death. Finally, to make the connection, a few hand-written documents which constitute in themselves a commentary.)
Cult and devotion : the immutable
The second arc is made of three showcases.
First : a sign of the cross, crosses of different origin, all associated with the memory of Martyrs.
Second, with small items of marial devotion, bears witness, under the context of persecution, to a constant, solid faith that can brave anything.
Third showcase presents objects used for celebrating mass. What is shown there, is often known as having the quality of « Saint Sulpice », meaning that they are cheap fabrications. Many of them were made in Asia after western models. But there are some, made in Japan, which seem ordinary, but actually hide christian symbols : clandestine objects.
Under the third arc, are shown : clothes from Tonkin, China and Tibet. These are fairly exotic clothes worn by Martyrs. There are personal objects whose usage is unfamiliar to us. They bear witness to a shared hospitality, which in any case reflect the adoption of different manners of food, clothing… : a way of living « there », but homely.
This showcase is made for a playful analysis of long objects presented on a rack. The cane of saint Théophane Vénard with inscriptions in ink : a way of walking. The telescope of saint Auguste Chapdelaine : a way of seeing. The flute of father Brieux for fascination. But the sword evokes a destiny. Stopped watches : the counting of time.
A diary containing touching verses of music. A little ball held in a palm when it is not played.
All this is a touchy collection of objects, as if life has abandoned. We ourselves recreate a harmony when we observe them.
Letters and testimonies
There are also diverse writings which illustrate different destinies. This comes to mind when reading the writings of the Prior of Tibhirine slain in Algeria.
With a little patience, among other documents, you can decipher a letter of saint Pierre Mauban in Korea, written in April 1837, to saint Jacques Chastan who is about to join him. With some sketches, he convinces his fellow brother, what signals to place on the boats. Or these words of Chastan : « today, September 6, around 3 in the morning an order arrived reiterating that Monsignor be martyred… »
In one of the three desk drawers, one can see original documents which show diverse situations of the travelers, the means they use to arrive at their missions, and the difficulties they encounter during their journey.
Passages, relics, souvenirs
The Martyr’s Hall and the Crypt, in the prolongation of one with the other, share the memory of the Martyrs. We have determined a distinction which, in principle, may seem arbitrary, but which proves useful for a presentation : we call « relics » the remains of martyrs body parts, and « souvenirs » all other objects in relation to the martyr and those who suffered because of it. The souvenirs are found in the Martyr’s Hall and the relics are now placed in the Crypt, and on the passage between one location to the other.
The memory and the Eucharist
In the crypt, the Tomb is ready. But it has not completely fulfilled its function : under the impressive list of Asian Martyrs engraved on stone, are found in wooden boxes, urns containing relics which are placed there as per the celebration of the feasts of the Martyrs. Therefore, in going around the tomb, one can, little by little, see a sort of chronology of the Society reminding us of their anniversaries. The urns containing relics are brought to the chapel and elevated near the main altar on the feast of Martyrs. In this manner, we see that the Tomb is not a separated block, solely used for personal devotions : it becomes a part of liturgy and eucharistic celebration.
Opening Hours : Martyr’s Halland Crypt
Open from Tuesday to Saturday
from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. and from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.