Friday’s Tall Tales #9

Whenever I photograph a door or gate I wonder about its provenance, who and what has happened across said door or gate. I thought I might pick one from #Thursdaydoors and tell you a bit more about it or……maybe even weave a story about it.

The Sainte-Barbe college was a Parisian school founded in 1460 on the Sainte-Geneviève hill and located in rue Valette. Until June 1999, when it closed, it was the “oldest” college in Paris. Its buildings, refurbished by Louis-Ernest Lheureux (1827-1898) and rehabilitated by Antoine Stinco, house the Sainte-Barbe library, inter-university library, as well as one of the university centres of the Panthéon-Assas university.

The origins of the Sainte-Barbe College go back to the end of the Middle Ages. It is the only medieval college whose name still existed until a few years ago and which remained in the same location. The identity of the founder of the college remains under debate. It would seem that in 1430, Jean Hubert opened a boarding house in the Hôtel des Coulons. Then, thirty years later, it was in the former Hôtel des Chalons, located in the old rue de Reims (now defunct), that Geoffroy Lenormand, a renowned professor at the Collège de Navarre, set up a private college.

The college was named for Saint Barbara which was unusual since colleges typically bore the names of the provinces or countries that had endowed them and from which they received scholarship holders.

The success of Sainte-Barbe was so rapid that the families of parliamentarians sent their children there and the King of Portugal entrusted him with a colony of fifty students. The college enjoyed a great reputation and the number of students increased. Consequently, Lenormand acquired the use of adjoining Hôtel des Coulons, from Jean Hubert, which the college annexed only definitively in 1556.

During the Reformation, both Catholics and Protestants were welcomed in Sainte-Barbe. Accused of complacency with the heretics, it closed in 1589 and didn’t re-open until 1607.

It re-opened as a much smaller college which followed the state curriculum of the full-service colleges. This state of affairs remained until the eve of the Revolution.

At which point the former boarding house buildings are falling apart. The director of the college, Marmontel, also an editor at the Mercure, published a laudatory article on Sainte-Barbe in February 1790, imploring financial aid from the State.

In April 1793, the college was forced to close its doors because of the Revolution. Its buildings were requisitioned as national property and allocated to the College of Equality which became the French Prytanée. During this troubled period, only the Lycée du Prytanée (now Lycée Louis-le-Grand) remained open to students, including a certain number of barbers.

At the end of the Revolution, Sainte-Barbe was reborn thanks to the initiative of Victor de Lanneau, deputy director of the Prytanée since 1797, who bought the premises of the old college. Victor de Lanneau had an interesting past. A former priest who left his order in 1791, he joined the Grand Orient of Paris and remained, like many barbers, linked to Freemasonry.

By 1815 it was functioning as a boarding house for secondary school boys. Sadly by 1831 it was facing bankruptcy only to be saved by former student Édouard Nouvel who installed Adolphe de Lanneau, Victor’s son, as its manager. But its money troubles continue as much of its bricks and mortar is in serious need of refurbishment.

It became a public limited company which gave it sufficient funds to rebuild in 1840. Théodore and Henri Labrouste, both architects, who directed the work and drew up the plans for the new college which was finally completed in 1864 but it was then lacking in students. It consequently needed assistance from the State to continue to operate. But the establishments financial precarity continues.

In 1998, Sainte-Barbe permanently closed its doors to students. The buildings of the former Sainte-Barbe college are renovated and, since March 2009  serve as a university library: the Sainte-Barbe library.

5 Comments on “Friday’s Tall Tales #9

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