Pope Pius VII came to coronate Napoleon in Notre-Dame on 2 December 1804, and he remained in Paris until April 1805. Early in the new year he set out to visit the former residence of the kings of France. A large crowd gathered to wait for him in Versailles.

Pius VII came to Versailles on 3 January 1805. Leaving Paris in the morning, in a coach pulled by eight horses and preceded by two imperial coaches pulled by six horses, he was received on his way through Sèvres by the Count of Montalivet, Prefect of Seine-et-Oise, and other local authorities. On entering the Avenue de Paris, at around 11 am, he was greeted by Pétigny, the Mayor of Versailles, and the municipal Corps. The pope was taken to the Cathedral of Saint-Louis to the sound of artillery fire and the city bells. Versailles had been a diocese since 1802, the year of the Concordate, and Monseigneur Louis Charrier de La Roche, its first Bishop, was waiting for the Pope on the forecourt. He began his speech of welcome with great ceremony. The whole of the city and surrounding area were there to attend the event.

Once inside the cathedral, Pius VII gave the high altar its first blessing. He was received in the choir to the sound of Tu es Petrus (You are Peter). Then, kneeling on a prie-dieu in front of the altar, he listened to the message by the bishop, before moving to a throne prepared specially and positioned to the right of the altar. Lastly he kissed the feet of the clergy before being taken to the bishop’s palace, where he received the city and military Corps.

In the Palace of Versailles the pope was greeted by a large crowd in the courtyard and the Water Parterre. Before the start of his visit he rested for a short while in the King’s Private Apartments, before going to the Hall of Mirrors where he was met by a gathering of more than 500, who all bowed as he passed. Wearing the papal tiara, he presented them his ring to kiss. When he reached the centre of the hall he blessed the crowd gathered in front of the Palace, which bowed in turn. The Pope was moved by such a sight in the gardens of Louis XIV, and declared: “So is this the people of France, who are said to be so irreligious?” Leaving the Palace, the Pope was taken to the Orangery, the gardens and then Trianon. He then returned to the bishop’s palace.

Before leaving he ate lunch alone, as was the custom, while the bishop assembled his cortege and the local authorities. The pope left Versailles at around 4 pm. He was greeted a final time by the Mayor, who accompanied him to the edge of the town. Before re-entering Paris the Supreme Pontiff ended the day with a visit to the Manufacture of Sèvres.

 ANECDOTE

The Pope was moved by such a sight in the gardens of Louis XIV, and declared: “So is this the people of France, who are said to be so irreligious?”