Religion: Tricolor Baptism

The scene was a baptism in the devoutly Catholic Brittany town of Morlaix: proud parents, thirty beaming friends, godparents holding the infant girl. But why was everybody gathered at the city hall instead of the local church? Why was the deputy mayor, in his tricolor sash, presiding instead of a priest with his stole? The ceremony was in fact a "republican baptism." Instead of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the baby was christened in the spirit of liberty, equality and fraternity.

This rare form of civil baptism dates back to 1790 in Strasbourg, where the first recorded ceremony took place amid the...

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