Having come for the coronation of Napoléon in Notre-Dame on 2 December 1804, Pope Pius VII stayed in Paris until April 1805. He wished to visit the former residence of the kings of France. A large crowd awaited him in January at Versailles.
Pius VII arrived on 3 January 1805. After leaving Paris in the morning, he was received in the town of Sèvres by the Prefect and the authorities of the Seine-et-Oise département. He travelled in a carriage drawn by eight horses, preceded by two carriages of the Emperor drawn by six horses. When he entered the avenue de Paris, at around 11.00 am, he was welcomed by the mayor of Versailles, Pétigny, accompanied by the municipal council. To the sound of artillery and the town’s bells, the Pope was led to the cathedral of Saint-Louis. Since 1802, date of the Concordat, Versailles had been a bishopric. Mgr Louis Charrier de La Roche, its first bishop, awaited the Pope in front of the cathedral, where he pronounced his speech of welcome during an elaborate ceremonial. All the population of the town and its environs was there for the event.
In the cathedral, Pius VII gave his benediction to the high altar. He was received in the choir to the sound of Tu es Petrus (You are Peter). Then he knelt at a prie-dieu in front of the altar for the Bishop’s Benediction service. After that he sat on a throne prepared for him on the right of the altar. This was followed by the ceremonial kissing of the feet of the clergy present and then he received the town’s municipal council and military authorities in the bishop’s palace.
In the Château, the Pope was greeted by a considerable crowd in the courtyard and the Water Parterre. Before his visit, he rested for a short time in the king’s small apartments. In the Hall of Mirrors, over 500 people bowed down before him. Wearing his tiara, he allowed them to kiss his ring. When he arrived in the middle of the Hall, he blessed the crowd in front of the Château who also bowed down. The Pope was moved by this sight in the gardens of Louis XIV: “Is this the French people who are said to be so irreligious?” he asked. The Pope then visited the Orangerie, the gardens and Trianon. After that he returned to the bishop’s palace.
Before his departure, he lunched alone as the tradition required. His cortege and the local authorities were received during this time by the bishop. The Pope left Versailles around 4.00 pm. He was received once again by the mayor who escorted him to the edge of the town. Before returning to Paris, the Sovereign Pontiff ended the day with a visit to the porcelain factory of Sèvres.