The Hypogée des Dunes, Poitiers
The Hypogée des Dunes, Poitiers: Faith and Science in Nineteenth-Century France
by Professor Bonnie Effros
The late nineteenth century saw the growth of a sizeable chasm between the faith-based work of clerical scholars and the proponents of professional archaeological circles. The career of the Belgian Jesuit Camille de la Croix is a good example of such a phenomenon: in 1879, the archaeologist, who would remain for over forty years in Poitiers, France, believed that he had discovered 72 previously unknown martyrs at the Hypogée des Dunes. However, because his interpretation of the site was improbable and supported ultramontane claims for the apostolic origins of the church in Gaul, some colleagues questioned his conclusions. Many lay contemporaries in the Third Republic argued that a faith-based approach such as that of de la Croix precluded full and meaningful participation in scientific research.
Although Père de la Croix anticipated unwavering support especially from his clerical colleagues, there were also some religious figures who questioned his methodology. In this presentation I will address the conflict over the Hypogée des Dunes that emerged between Père de la Croix and Mgr Louis Duchesne, director of the École française de Rome, and the Bollandist Jesuit Hippolyte Delehaye. Duchesne and Delehaye, longtime allies in establishing a more scientific approach to Christian studies, had already risked the disapprobation of Pius IX and the Index with their publications. By taking a critical approach toward the inscriptional and monumental remains at the Hypogée des Dunes, they challenged assumptions about what constituted objective and historical evidence for the cult of martyrs in late antiquity, and what that said, in turn, about the earliest Christians in Gaul.