Protestant religious architecture

Protestant religious architecture, or rather religious architecture of Protestantism in France was extremely diverse ; there was no architectural uniformity but a number of characteristics which endured from century to century, from one style to another : no more worshipping of images, the interior arrangement was centred on the pulpit and the Holy Communion table, which replaced the altar, and on letting the outside in through lots of windows.

In the 16th century, the first services of worship

  • La Rochelle, Église de Saint Barthélemy, clocher
    La Rochelle, Saint Barthélémy's, belfry © Musée Rochelais d'Histoire Protestante

As the Reformation became a significant force in France, the Reformed Churches needed larger places of worship than the private homes where they used to meet.

The Protestants first moved into public places, abbeys or convents, Catholic churches, and set about modifying them to meet their spiritual ideas :

  • No more worshipping of images, statues of saints, of holy images, etc.
  • New arrangement of the interiors : no more altars and the re-centring of the building around the pulpit and the Holy Communion table.

The following are examples of these changes :

  • Saint-Jacques’ Church in Montauban,
  • the Augustinian and Observantinian convents, as well as the churches of Sainte-Eugénie and Saint-Etienne de Capduel in Nîmes,
  • the church of Saint-Fiary and the Jacobins’ convent in Agen,
  • the churches of Saint-Barthélémy and of Sainte-Marguerite, the refectory of the Augustinian convent, and the former close tennis court in La Rochelle,
  • the chapel of Sainte-Colombe in Gap,
  • the church of Notre-Dame in Montpellier,
  • several churches in Caen and Lyon.

New buildings

  • Poët Laval (26)
    Poët Laval © M. de Raïssac

Somewhat later, the Reformed began building new edifices, paid for by the communities and – after the Edict of Nantes in 1598 – situated outside the cities and, for Paris, more than five leagues away.

These new constructions comprised :

  • parish community churches, as in Lyon, Rouen, Charenton,
  • manorial chapels, as in Chamerolles,
  • existing buildings modified and used as temples, as in Poët-Laval.

In the 17th century

  • Strasbourg, Église Saint-Guillaume
    Strasburg, Saint William church (67) © S.H.P.F.

Alsace was quite different because it only became French after the traité de Westphalie (Treaty of Westphalia) (1648), so the Edict of Nantes was never implemented there. Strasbourg only became French in 1681 ; its cathedral was used for Protestant worship for 150 years. Temples in Alsace often served alternately for Catholic and Protestant worship, or for “shared worship”. It should be mentioned that Lutheran worship is less strict than Calvinist worship as the former tolerates pictures of religious scenes within the building and also keeps the decorations in former Catholic churches.

Some new 17th century buildings can be found in Alsace or in the Montbéliard region (Saint Martin Temple), but there are almost none in other regions of France after the first few years of the century.

After the death of Henri IV in 1610, the Edict of Nantes was challenged and throughout the century Temples built after 1598 were destroyed, culminating in 1685 with the Revocation. Temples were then destroyed all over France.

The only remaining ones are in Vialas, Collet-de-Dèze, Pontaix and Poët-Laval.

In the 18th century, secret meetings

  • Assemblée au Désert
    The assembly in the Désert © S.H.P.F.

Between 1685 and 1787 there was no new construction, but secret places of worship existed.

The refractory Protestants and false converts met in remote secret “assemblies” : the period was called the Désert (Desert) and there were often tragic events in the Cévennes, Languedoc, Poitou, Charentes and Normandy regions.

Towards the end of the 18th century, Louis the XIV’s Edict of Tolerance in 1787 allowed the Protestants to meet, and latterly some buildings were erected.

Temples at the end of the century

  • Temple d'Orthez (64)
    Temple, Orthez (64) © Reymond
  • Temple de Bolbec (76)
    Temple in Bolbec (76) © R. Laurent

In Orthez (Pyrénnées Atlantiques), a church of the Desert was started as early as 1757, and the Protestant community bought land in 1789 to build a “primitive barn” for use as a Temple, inaugurated on 25 November, 1790. Early in the 19th century the façade was adorned with an arched peristyle. In 1821 Louis XVIII was to give a gate bearing his monogramme.

In Monneaux (Aisne), a Temple was built in 1792, but it was unfortunately destroyed during the First World War. It was later rebuilt thanks to the American Episcopalian Church.

In Bolbec (Seine Maritime), Jean Guimard, the son of a new convert died in London in 1782, and bequeathed money for the construction of a Temple. Everything was agreed in 1792 and the Temple inaugurated in 1797.

The French Revolution that nationalised clergy property, and the Concordat of 1801 with its incorporating Acts of 1802, gave new life to Protestantism, and encouraged the use of existing buildings or new constructions.

In the 19th century

  • Temple de Pentemont (façade) (75)
    Façade of the Pentemont temple © O. d'Haussonville

The state supported the Protestants to rebuild Temples destroyed after the Revocation or to use former worship buildings, such as deconsecrated abbeys, convents, churches.

Buildings reused as Temples

  • Temple protestant de l'Oratoire du Louvre
    Temple protestant de l'Oratoire du Louvre © Thibault Godin
  • Temple Saint Ruf de Valence (26)
    Saint Ruf de Valence, temple (26) © M. Chalamet
  • Temple protestant de l'Oratoire du Louvre (rue de Rivoli)
    Temple protestant de l'Oratoire du Louvre (rue de Rivoli) © Thibault Godin
  • Temple protestant de l'Oratoire du Louvre (intérieur)
    Temple protestant de l'Oratoire du Louvre (intérieur) © Thibault Godin

Among buildings reused as Temples, one can mention :

  • the former abbey of Saint-Ruf in Valence (Drôme),
  • the former chapel of the Ursuline convent (Small Temple) and the former chapel of the Dominican Convent (Large Temple) in Nîmes (Gard),
  • the former Chapel of Saint Eloi in Angers (Maine-et-Loire),
  • the former Masonic lodge called “Temple du Change” in Lyon (Rhône),
  • the former Carmelite Chapel in Montauban (Tarn et Garonne),
  • the former chapel of the Annonciade Convent called the Hâ Temple in Bordeaux,
  • the former Billettes, Oratoire and Penthemont (or Pentemont) convents, and the church of the Visitation Sainte-Marie in Paris.

New construction during the neo-classic period (1802-1840)

  • Temple de Quissac (30)
    Temple, Quissac (30) © Reymond

The neo-classis style was already used in Catholic architecture of the 18th century, (the churches of Sainte Geneviève and Saint Philippe du Roule, or the Panthéon) and was a favourite during the Republique, the Empire or the Restoration eras not only for official public buildings but also in Protestant buildings ;

Many examples of this Greco-Roman type of architecture exist, such as circular or rectangular Temples fronted with a columnar portico :

  • Anduze (Gard) in 1823,
  • Lasalle (Gard) in 1829,
  • Quissac (Gard) in 1833,
  • Nancy (Meurthe-et-Moselle) in 1804,
  • Orléans (Loiret) in 1803-1839,
  • Marennes (Charente-Maritime) in 1822,
  • Rochefort (Charente-Maritime) in 823,
  • Bordeaux (Gironde) Temple des Chartrons in 1832,
  • Le Chambon-sur-Lignon (Haute-Loire) in 1826,
  • Vauvert (Gard) in 1825.

The neo-medieval period

  • Temple de l'Étoile, Paris (dessin de W. Hansen)
    Étoile temple in Paris (drawing by W. Hansen) © O. d'Haussonville

The medieval style, Neo-gothic or neo-roman, was prominent from 1830 until about 1890.

Here are a few examples :

  • Munster (Haut-Rhin) in 1874,
  • Sancerre (Cher) in 1894,
  • Nantes (Loire-Atlantique) in 1830,
  • Saint-Maixent (Deux-Sèvres) in 1876,
  • ant the Temple du Saint-Esprit, rue Roquépine (built by Baltard, as the church of Saint-Augustine) in Paris.

One of the most interesting Temples is the Etoile Temple in Paris. It was built at the request of Pastor Eugène Bersier according to the plans of the Swedish architect Hansen.

Some buildings show unusual features, for instance in Walincourt a Temple was built in 1822 using red brick specific to the North. In 1864, in Creusot (Saône et Loire), Mrs Eugène Schneider, the master blacksmith’s wife, allowed skilled protestant workers from Switzerland and Germany to use the former glass furnace built in 1782, to make crystal for Marie-Antoinette .

The multiform period (1880-1920)

  • Temple du Foyer de l'Âme, Paris
    Foyer de l'Âme temple in Paris © Isabelle de Rouville

The era which could also be termed ‘picturesque’ tried to stir up creativity but with no success. Much more exterior ornamentation was used ; they tried a regional style, such as a chalet -Temple, and shapes and steeples or bell towers became more sophisticated.

Unfortunately the Art Nouveau style did not influence protestant architecture.

The only original example of that period is the Foyer de l’Âme buit in Paris in 1906 at the request of Reverend Charles Wagner. The architecture mimicked the Grands Magasins -Galeries Lafayette, Printemps – with coloured glass panels, galleries with small columns, arranged on different levels, so that it no longer looked like a ‘church’ while still maintaining the solemnity. But the example was not copied.

The 20th century

  • Temple de Marseille (13), Provence
    Temple in Marseilles (13), Provence © A. Leenhardt

New materials, including concrete, brought a new architectural aesthetic along with changes in the liturgy. Actually the style of religious architecture tried to mimic that of civilian architecture, but was often ungainly and unadventurous.

Other interesting 20th century architectural creations include :

  • Temple in Marseilles (1954),
  • Ecumenical church-Temple in Port-Grimaud (1969) with a stained-glass window by Vasarely,
  • Houseboat-Temple in Chelles, Bonne-Nouvelle(1933),
  • Ecumenical Centre in Jacou (Hérault).


  • Links
    • Les temples protestants de France | Link

Associated notes

Notes to be discovered