Church and state in miniature
When the deputies of the National Assembly voted to subject ministers of religion to a test of loyalty they crossed a divide and ensured that the debate on the merits of the Revolution would be conducted — quite literally — in churches and chapels across the land. It is for this reason that we have depicted the clerical oath of 1791 as the formative, or matrix, event of the decade. The clashes between church and state filtered the experiences of county dwellers during these years to a degree without parallel. But mere observation of the clashes as they were enacted at the level of the village will not take us very far. Parishioners were not robots all equipped with the same quantum of religious experience. Gender, geography and institutions, to mention only the most obvious variables, intervened to shape those religious cultures which in turn shaped villagers' responses to the forces taking charge of their daily lives. Pressures for change did not wait upon the events of 1789, either, as this study has frequently emphasised. The transition from a confessional state to one willing to countenance a free market in religious practice had already started: the consuls of Allan signalled as much when in May 1788 they set aside a portion of the Catholic cemetery for the burial of villagers adhering to the Calvinist faith.
To advance the proposition that the quantity — and quality — of religious experience differed from village to village is not the same as proving it, however. Institutions that function smoothly and uneventfully tend to leave few traces behind them, as we noted at the end of chapter 4. Few scholars of the village, in consequence, have managed to penetrate the opacity of spiritual life within the rural parish. Direct testimony such as the memoirs of the incumbent that Gérard Bouchard exploited in his remarkable study of the village of Senneley-en-Sologne is extremely rare and not, therefore, a resource available to the historian working with a comparative remit.1 Indirect, if all too often imprecise, testimony is more plentiful, though,____________________