The Cadaver Tomb of René of Chalon [Dark Tourism in France]

For anyone up for a macabre photo opportunity that wouldn’t offend, (see my point on taking selfies at Dark Tourist destinations to understand more on that); the statue of René de Chalon’s rotting corpse at the Saint-Étienne church, in Bar-le-Duc is worth a visit.

While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a detour to go see it, (it’s only a statue after all), while in the area, it is certainly worth a gander.

The life-size sculpture by Ligier Richier is part of the “Transi” Renaissance art form. It’s an exploration of death through art, at a time when societal anxiety over mortality was at a peak.

Completed sometime in the 1550s, Europe was being ravaged by plague, war, and religious conflicts.

The statue is extremely visceral, depicting the putrefied and skinless corpse of René de Chalon. Skin hangs in flaps over the hollow carcass, which stands upright with the left hand extended upwards (to heaven).

It is quite a sight, especially when you consider that the open palm once held the dried heart of René de Chalon.

Interestingly, the heart is believed to have gone missing at the time of the French Revolution and could be in some Oligarch’s secret art collection of the macabre. One wonders.

Where is Saint-Étienne church

  • Address: Place Saint-Pierre, 55000 Bar-le-Duc, France
  • Phone: +33 3 29 79 11 13

How to visit the Cadaver Corpse of René de Chalon

Cadaver Tomb of René of Chalon
Credit: HaguardDuNord [CC BY 3.0]
Entrance to Saint-Étienne church is free, however, opening times vary depending on the church calendar. The ‘Transi’ sculpture of Rene de Chalon can be found in the right-hand transept.

While you’re there, you can also check out another sculpture by Ligier Richier in the form of the Calvaire (the Calvary) representing Christ and two robbers. This is positioned behind the altar.

Who was Rene of Chalon?

René de Châlon (ca 1518-44)
René de Châlon (ca 1518-44) Rijksmuseum [Public domain]
René of Chalon, was quite the dude. Prince of Orange and son-in-law of Duke Antoine of Lorraine, he had a lot to live for. Unfortunately, this was curtailed as he met his end during the Siege of St. Dizier at the age of 25.

His deathbed wish was that his tomb be depicted as he would look after 3 years of decomposition. Like I say, quite the dude. His wife was apparently fully on board too.

The world was then left with the Richier’s artistic representation; an écorché statue, with skin and muscles, decayed.

If you’ve visited a strange or unusual destination that you think our readers will want to know about, we would love to hear from you.

Featured Image: Ketounette [CC BY-SA]

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