Colonel Thorn and The American Cathedral in Paris

Colonel Thorn is widely regarded as the founding father of the American Cathedral in Paris. Though he had left France by the time the church was being built, the whole concept and passion for the project came from the Episcopalian masses that he held at his residence. I visited the Cathedral in 2016 and the archivist was delighted to meet a direct descendant of the Colonel’s. She let me look through their archival material, which was limited.

“In the 1830s, services were first organized in the garden pavilion of the Hotel de Matignon, then the home of Colonel Herman Thorn and today the official residence of the French Prime Minister. A parish was formally established in 1859 and the first church building consecrated in 1864 on Rue Bayard.”

The History of the American Cathedral in Paris by Cameron Allen carefully recounts the Colonel’s involvement in the evolution of the the church and is the main source for the question mark over the exact location of the Thorn residence. Allen makes an argument for it as the Hotel Monaco at 23 Rue da Varenne, not the Hotel Matignon at number 57. The renumbering of the street over the years has contributed to the confusion. I’m still not sure which story is more accurate. Allen also quotes Charlotte Brinckerhoff Bronson as describing the home church as “a room as large as our parlour, carpeted, and about sixty chairs covered with brown linen, placed in rows. Mr Thorn’s family sat on the sofa… there is small organ with two or three good singers.”

After Church at the American Cathedral in Paris

Charles Sumner also recounts a very similar description; “The Colonel lives so en prince that he has his private chapel and chaplain.; and all the world are at liberty to enjoy them. The room is not larger than a good sized salon; it is furnished very neatly, with a handsome carpet and chairs, and a pretty desk and pulpit.”

I have often speculated as to whether Thorn’s second eldest daughter’s (Mary Jane) elopement and scandalous affair with the Comte Camille de Varaigne was the stimulus for Thorn’s religious venture. Had he hoped for his respectability to be maintained through it, or perhaps the chaplain was an investment in the moral health of his family.

The elopement is an enchanting story of its own. I have connected with several de Varaigne descendants while researching. When I write that entry, I hope they will contibute their thoughts and family lore.

Stay tuned…

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