The Museum of the Old Toulouse – Musée du Vieux Toulouse – is through its collections and displays narrating the history of Toulouse since Roman times until the early 20th century.
The visitor is offered a comprehensive image of the life of the city’s inhabitants, as it was throughout the centuries, viewed from different points: political and religious institutions, cultural and artistic life and probably most interesting: the day to day life of the ordinary people.
On visiting the museum one will learn how the city grew around its ancient centre, how the capitoulat (the modern equivalent of city councilors body) was formed and worked, and how Toulouse got the first provincial parliament in 1444 under king Charles VII (the legend goes that Charles VII kept the city close to his heart after meeting here his lover Agnes de Sorel).
The museum displays a collection of around 150 sculptures dating from antiquity until the 20th century, a number of 450 paintings covering a period of time from the 16th century until again the 20th and, arguably the most impressive, a collection of household items and the costumes that allow the visitor to get a “glimpse” of the life as it was in Toulouse in the gone by centuries.
Among the paintings on display, two stand out to the Toulouse history interested visitor. They are the “The interior of the chapel of the Inquisition” painted in 1822 by Joseph Roques and “The Calas affair” painted in 1879 by Casimir Destrem.
What makes these works outstanding is their link with two of the most fascinating events of the history of the city: the establishment of the Inquisition tribunal of Toulouse and the locally famous Calas murder case.
The history of the Inquisition is well known and therefore we will highlight here only some of its connections with the city of Toulouse.
The inquisition was instituted by Pope Gregory IX in 1231 mainly as the answer to the cathar heresy that was spreading in the south west of France in the beginning of the 13th century.
The task of forming this new institution was given firstly to the Dominican Order monks (and later to the Franciscan Order) because of their solid theological knowledge and the fact that they were itinerant “specialists” not bound to any religious establishment.
The first inquisition tribunal was established in Toulouse 1233. Its seat was the Seilhan house – the same house where the first Dominican brotherhood was formed by Saint Dominique in 1215. The Inquisition occupies the house until 1589 when it moves to the Jacobin Covent.
We need only to add that Saint Dominique died in 1221 a whole decade before the inquisition was formed and therefore was not involved in any way with it.
The second story, the Calas murder case*, while less known, reflects accurately the Toulouse society religious spirit in the 18th century.
The house where the murder took place still exists at 50 Rue de Filatiers in the center of the city. According to the historians it is not only an unsolved murder case but also a tragic judicial error that left a family already in mourning after its eldest son is murdered, further amputated by the execution of the father accused of filicide.
The story begins in the night of 13th October 1761 when the body of Marc-Antoine Calas, the eldest son of Jean and Anne-Rose Calas, Protestants, is found strangled in the back of their little fabric store situated on the first floor of the house that they were inhabiting.
Marc-Antoine Calas is the oldest of the three sons of the Calas family. He and the middle one Pierre are helping the family’s business while the youngest one, Louis, is estranged and having converted to Catholicism was able to force his father to pay him a pension.
At the same time it is known in the neighborhood that Marc-Antoine’s dream was to become a lawyer but this profession is in the 18th century France is reserved to Catholics.
Disregarding the fact that the Calas parents have passed the evening in the company of their guest Gaubert Lavaisse and without doing any inquiries at the tavern where Marc-Antoine has spend his night, the whole family is accused of murder by capitoul David de Beaudrigue (in charge of the Toulouse police) and put in police custody.
While Marc-Antoine is burried like a Catholic martyr the rest of the Calas family faces days of interrogation.
During these interrogatories no one confesses to any crime, only old Jean Calas changes one time his version of the events admitting that his son has been found hanging and not on the floor as he has initially claimed (to save his son’s honor). But their fate is sealed. They stand accused of a conspiracy to kill Marc-Antoine for his desire to convert to Catholicism.
The Calas process opens on the 18th of November 1761.
Without any certain proof or any confession Jean Calas is sentenced to death (while the rest of the family is acquitted).
Jean Calas is executed (after being tortured on the wheel) the 10th of March 1762.
The Calas affair has an echo in the whole France and even Voltaire after studying the facts writes “Treatise on Tolerance”. More and more voices are rising in the defense of the Calases and on March 9, 1765, Jean Calas – post mortem! – and his family are finally rehabilitated unanimously by the Board of Appeal of Toulouse (and David de Beaudrigue is dismissed from his responsibilities).
Hi, I am Carla. I am living and working in the beautiful city of Toulouse, France.
I like history, travel and... the southwest of France and try to share through this blog information about events that might be of interest to the travelers to this part of the world!