Building a New Jerusalem in Renaissance France: ceremonial entries and the transformation of the urban fabric, 1460-1600

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From the late fourteenth century, French towns transformed themselves into a New Jerusalem in order to welcome their monarch. Ideas of the heavenly Jerusalem influenced conceptions of urban space during this period, and, as Gordon Kipling has demonstrated, these ideas underpinned the symbolic programme of royal entries across Europe. 1 Contemporary accounts of the ceremony used the metaphor of the celestial Jerusalem to describe the effect achieved by the urban decorations during a royal entry. 2 When Charles VIII entered Troyes in 1486, for example, he was welcomed as Christ and led into 'his celestial city' by the townspeople. 3 From about 1520, the use of biblical imagery in French entries was increasingly set aside in favour of a reception informed by knowledge of classical texts, but as Michael Wintroub has reminded us, while the imagery of the decorative programme may have changed, entries continued to '[aim] at transforming the kings who travelled along their procession routes into the universal emperors who would mediate the arrival of the terrestrial paradise of the New Jerusalem'. 4 In order to achieve this goal, the king was guided along a set processional route which had been decorated for the entry. The urban fabric was transformed from its usual day-to-day state in order to convey a carefully conceived series of messages, by means of which the elite townspeople who controlled the form of the ceremony hoped to communicate their conception of good kingship. If royal entries were a dramatic representation of the contemporary literary genre of a mirror of princes, in this chapter I want to peer behind the mirror and examine the social realities lying behind the smooth surface of the ceremony. Most studies of ceremonial entries concentrate on the symbolism of the pageantry, complex iconographical displays and the cultural world of the elites who produced the spectacle. 5 In contrast, this study will examine the process by which the town was prepared in order to receive the royal guest. To accomplish this, rather than examine festival books, which detail and explain the allegorical messages conveyed in the elaborate pageants and decorations, this chapter will make use of the municipal deliberations and financial accounts of the towns that produced the spectacle. These sources give a nuanced account of the means by which the urban population prepared the ceremony and transformed the urban space.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCityscapes in History
Subtitle of host publicationCreating the Urban Experience
EditorsKatrina Gulliver, Heléna Tóth
Place of PublicationFarnham
ISBN (Print)9781409439608
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2014

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