Chateau Voltaire, home of one of France's best-loved writers and philosophers :
In 1758, the French writer and philosopher François-Marie Arouet, aka: Voltaire, moved to the village of Fernex, France, just over the border from Geneva. Voltaire had been banished from Paris by Louis XV for his social reform and anti-Catholic views. He moved to Geneva, Switzerland, but the laws prohibiting theatre performances eventually forced him to decamp across the border into neighboring France and the village of Fernex. Voltaire was so annoyed by the proliferation of villages and towns in the surrounding area ending in "x"(Ornex, Massonex, Gex, etc.), he changed the spelling of Fernex to Ferney (both are pronounced fair-nay.)
Voltaire bought a chateau that included a church on the grounds. Disdainful of religion, he began to disassemble the church until a priest from a neighboring village passed by on the road through Voltaire's property and saw this desecration. The priest reported it to the Bishop of Savoy, who compelled Voltaire to rebuild the church. Voltaire grudingly complied, building a crypt for himself* and posting a sign over the door that reads:
Deo Erexit VOLTAIRE : Ferney-Voltaire, FR
After Voltaire's death and the French Revolution, the town was renamed in his honor. Sadly, Voltaire's chateau and his gardens and grounds are in disrepair. As I walked around the premises, I couldn't help but think of another esteemed estate that fell into disrepair, but was saved by a group of insightful women. Just as Washington's Mount Vernon was restored and today is preserved and maintained by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, Voltaire's chateau needs a similar association. Granted, while estates like this are a dime a dozen in France, it seems a shame that the home of one of France's foremost thinkers lacks a benefactor.
* Voltaire was obsessed with the fear that he would be forgotten in death and buried in a pauper's grave, so he built himself a tomb in this tiny church. He need not have worried, however, as he is buried in Paris in the Pantheon--the final resting place of France's national heroes.
** Latin: Erected to God by VOLTAIRE.
Photo copyright: Janet M Kincaid, 7/10