Thanks to social networks, some Internet users can quickly disseminate vital information that can help advance heritage protection issues. For example, a Twitter account that prefers to remain under a pseudonym, @ondine_EA, has unearthed extremely valuable information about the ownership of the Archbishop’s garden, now Square Jean XXIII, threatened by the project for the surrounding area led by the Paris City Council.
- Plan of the area around Notre-Dame signed by the architects Prost, Lelong and Godde, appended to the minutes of the handover by the State to the City of Paris of the Archbishop’s garden on 12 August 1842 (the legal text dates from 1837, but the actual transfer was not made until 1842).
It can be seen that the gates surrounded the square, trimming slightly to the east to extend the bridge with the street later called Quai de l’Archevêché.
Further east, a large part of the Square de l’Île-de-France and the Mémorial de la Déportation, reclaimed from the river, does not yet exist.
Paris, Archives Nationales (F/19/7517).
Photo: Didier Rykner
- See the image in its page
This allowed us to go further into this file by going to the National Archives in Pierrefitte, where we found all the necessary documents under the reference F/19/7517 that confirm this discovery: the land to create the square was ceded by the State to the City of Paris free of charge, with very precise conditions nevertheless, including the construction of gates to close off the place and open it only at certain times.
First of all, let us recall a little history. On the site of part of what is now Square Jean XXIII, the episcopal palace has stood since the Middle Ages. In 1622, it became the archbishop’s palace, which was remodelled at various times (see illustration). On 29 July 1830, during the July Revolution, and again on 13 February 1831, during anti-clerical riots, the palace was devastated and partly destroyed. In a letter dated 1 December 1830, even before the palace fell victim to the rioters again, the Ministry of Public Instruction and Cults wrote to the prefect to state that, given the cost of restoration, estimated at at least 400,000 francs, it would be preferable "to convert into a public promenade the land that the removal of the old palace would leave vacant", which would be "a good idea for the embellishment of this part of the town". If the possibility of rebuilding a smaller episcopal palace was mentioned, it would be on condition that no other place in Paris could be found for it.
As early as its meeting of 30 June 1831, "the general council of the department of the Seine acting as the municipal council of the city of Paris", as attested to in the register of minutes, an extract of which is in this file, already envisages that the municipality should be transferred ownership of the premises in order to establish a promenade, in exchange for a contribution of 50 000 francs for the construction of a sacristy. There is no question of gates yet, but it is worth noting that the city of Paris refuses to "contribute to the expenses necessary for the restoration of Notre-Dame", as the government had requested. There is no doubt that this was the forerunner of today’s Paris City Hall!
The project did not come to fruition for several years, as the various administrations discussed the advisability of building on part of the free land to create three streets. In a report dated 3 November 1835, to the "Conseil d’administration de l’Enregistrement et des Domaines", we read that the Minister of Religious Affairs "reiterates that the proposal to grant the land to the City, made by his predecessor in 1831, had no other aim than the isolation and complete clearing of the building, so as to allow its beautiful architecture to be seen from all sides".
It is also in this report, which recommends the solution of building nothing and establishing a garden in the place of the former archbishopric, from 1835 onwards, that two of the conditions to which the City of Paris will have to conform in order to obtain ownership of the land appear: "The obligation not to allow any market, fair, or public or private service to be established on the conceded land, either permanently or temporarily, with the exception of a guardhouse or security post, if it is recognised as necessary for the district & without the building being able to be attached to that of the church, and that in the event of the formation of a promenade planted with trees, it be enclosed by a grille that is open or closed at certain times".
The hypothesis of the transfer to the city of Paris - which had never really been abandoned - and the establishment of a planted promenade thus came back to the forefront, and it was this that would be the subject of a law. But before that, it was important for the Paris City Council to make these commitments, which were the necessary condition for the State to donate the land to the city.
On 15 January 1836, therefore, the Municipal Council of the City of Paris voted on the following provisions, which we have taken from a certified extract of the minutes of this meeting, found in file F/19/7517. We quote in extenso the provisions in Article 1 (there are four of them) voted by the ancestor of the Paris Council, which have no reason not to be valid today, all the more so since they were then validated by a law voted by Parliament (we have put the most important parts in bold):
"It is necessary to obtain by law the concession by the Domain of the full and complete property of the land dependent on the former Archbishop’s palace, on the condition that the City contributes a fixed sum of 50,000 francs to the cost of building a new sacristy for the Metropolitan Church, without this fixed and contributory share being exceeded by any amount for the construction of the sacristy and the fittings, ornaments and furnishings.
2° to establish and maintain at its own expense on the conceded land a public promenade which may not be used for any public or particular service, either permanent or temporary with the exception of a guardhouse, if it is recognised as necessary, without the building being able to be attached to that of the Church.
and 3° to close the public promenade by a grille which would be opened and closed at certain times".
In the explanatory statement by the Minister of Finance before the Chamber of Deputies, the commitments made by the city are again repeated ("It also undertakes to enclose the promenade at its own expense, by a grille that would be open or closed at certain times, and to tolerate neither a market nor any public or private service, either permanent or temporary"). Also interesting are the following sentences: ’By means of these conditions which impose onerous charges on the town, it could not be required to pay a concession price to the Treasury. The fiscal interest is of no importance here and must disappear before the conditions of general utility on which the request of the town council is based’. One would like the current Minister of Finance to follow the example of his predecessor from the July Monarchy and give greater consideration to the general interest when transferring State property. The fact remains that the commitment to gates was clearly one of the conditions of the transfer.
The law was finally adopted on 8 June 1837. It has only one article: "It is ceded to the City of Paris, under the clauses and conditions accepted by the municipal council in its deliberation of 15 January 1836, of the land occupied by the buildings, courtyards and gardens of the former archiepiscopal palace". It will therefore be noted that the gates surrounding the square are an inseparable element of its belonging to the City of Paris, as is the impossibility of organising any activity whatsoever there, in particular markets, even though this point is explicitly contained in the document presented to the DRAC: on page 68, we read that Square Jean XXIII is "the ideal place to set up markets". It is so little an ideal place that this installation is prohibited by law following a commitment made by the City.
There is a thing in France called the continuity of the State. This law has been passed. If it has not been expressly abolished at some point, it still applies, and the conditions it imposed still apply, which means that a new law must abolish them. Either this law has been abolished (but when?), or it has not. And if it has been abolished, the conditions of the donation remain, which constitute a moral commitment that endures, just as the vote of the City Council still commits the City of Paris, which is also the heir to the commitments made over the years.
In many cases, we know how reluctant the current mayor’s office is to respect the law without really being obliged to do so by a court decision (see recently the banners opposing the pension reform, the illegality of which was recognised by the administrative court). To the countless reasons why the project around Notre-Dame could be challenged in court by the associations, a new one is added. Unless common sense prevails in the end.