Now, researchers must examine the walls of the Expiatory Chapel, a listed monument near the Grands Boulevards dedicated to King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, after the discovery of bones in the wall cavities.
Aymeric Peniguet de Stoutz, the chapel administrator, became a historical detective after noting curious anomalies in the walls between the columns of the lower chapel. Anxious not to damage the foundations of the building, the French authorities called on an archaeologist, who inserted a camera through the stones of the walls.
In his report, archaeologist Philippe Charlier confirmed Peniguet de Stoutz’s hypothesis: “The lower chapel contains four ossuaries in wooden cases, probably elongated in leather, filled with human bones,” he wrote. “There is earth mixed with bone fragments.”
The discovery deepened the mystery of what really happened to the remains of the guillotines. The Expiatory Chapel was built at the beginning of the 19th century on the site of the former Madeleine cemetery, a stone’s throw from the Place de la Révolution – now Place de la Concorde – where the guillotine was frequently used.
The cemetery, which was closed in 1794 when it ran out of space, was one of four established in Paris to dispose of the victims of the guillotine.
When Louis XVIII became king in 1814, he ordered that the remains of his brother Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette be removed and buried at the Saint-Denis basilica and command the chapel in their memory.
His orders were that “no land saturated with victims [of the revolution] be moved from the construction site. ” Even so, historians believed that the remains of 500 victims, mostly aristocratic, of the revolution, and disadvantaged revolutionaries like Robespierre, had been transferred to another cemetery, then to the catacombs, where a plaque marks their re-burial .
Peniguet de Stoutz has now requested additional research from the Expiatory Chapel. “Until now, the chapel has only served as a monument to the memory of the royal family, but we have just discovered that it is also a necropolis of the revolution,” he explained to the Parisian.
“I cried when the medical examiner assured me that he had seen a human phalanx [feet and hand] bones in the photographs, ”he added.