Monarch's statue yields secret French papers

22nd November 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 22 (AFP) - French scientists and historians are trying to unravel the secrets behind a cache of documents hidden nearly two centuries ago inside one of Paris's best-known equestrian statues.

PARIS, Nov 22 (AFP) - French scientists and historians are trying to unravel the secrets behind a cache of documents hidden nearly two centuries ago inside one of Paris's best-known equestrian statues.

The documents were found when the bronze statue of King Henri IV on the Pont-Neuf bridge by the Ile-de-la-Cite was dismantled for renovation.

Four lead boxes were known to have been inserted in the horse's body when the statue was erected in 1818 under the instructions of the newly-restored King Louis XVIII. But workers also found three small wooden cylinders, whose existence had not been documented.

The cylinders - which were found in the horse's foot, in the king's arm and in his head - contain rolled-up papers which will require the work of specialists to unwrap and decipher.

"The question we are all interested in is what exactly is the nature of these texts," Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres said when he unveiled the find at a press conference last week.

The original statue of one of France's most popular kings - he was known as the Vert Galant or Green Gallant - was erected by his widow Marie de Medicis in 1614 four years after he was murdered. However it was torn down in the revolution.

With the restoration of the British-backed monarchy after Napoleon's fall in 1815, it was decided to make a new statue from the original cast, and the task was entrusted to the sculptor Francois-Frederic Lemot.

Legend has it that one of Lemot's helpers was a fervent supporter of the exiled emperior, who resented being told to melt down two statues of Napoleon in order to cast a representation of the king.

This man - known to history only as Mesnel - was originally said to have hidden a statue of Napoleon inside the statue. However after the discovery of the cylinders it appeared more likely that he secreted tracts extolling his hero and denouncing the monarchy.

The four other boxes whose existence was known contained as expected a history of the life of Henri IV, a 17th century parchment certifying the original statue, a document describing how the new statue was commissioned, and a list of people who contributed to a public subscription.

The refurbished statue, which has been treated to prevent the deterioration of the bronze, was formally revealed to the public Monday.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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