In the spring of 1761, an aging François-Marie Arouet (a.k.a. Voltaire) took it upon himself to rebuild the small parish church that stood on his sprawling estate at Ferney. The self-proclaimed Deist, mocker of the Biblical storyline, and indefatigable critic of ecclesiastical abuses spared little expense in this latest—and most curious—project of reform and reformation. In place of the old façade, he erected a new one in the modern neoclassical style, with two handsome bell towers, each capped with a gleaming dome. Over the altar, he installed a baldachino as well as an imposing crucifix (costing 1,200 livres) by a prominent sculpture from Lyon. A letter to the Pope, inquiring if his Holiness had any relics to spare, produced—somewhat disappointingly—a hair shirt once worn by St. Francis (Voltaire had been hoping for a couple of bones). And then, with the renovations complete, the manor lord did something that no...

 
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