“The Collège de France Opens Its Doors”: Virtual Exhibition (Episode 2)
Translated by Liz Carey Libbrecht.
Go to Episode 1 by clicking here.
In Mediaeval times
From the thirteenth century, the neighbourhoods of the city became differentiated in terms of function: la Ville, la Cité, and l’Université were the three distinct spaces of mediaeval Paris. The Ville on the right bank was devoted to business, the Cité, the nucleus of the ancient city, to the royal authorities and the Parliament of Paris, and the Université on the left bank to education, with the founding of several academic institutions.
These scholarly institutions were originally managed by the religious authorities and developed around cathedrals to disseminate Christian thought. Gradually, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, students and teachers freed themselves from both religious and secular oversight as they grouped together in student bodies. The Université de Paris received its statutes in 1215. It was organized into four faculties: theology, canonical law, medicine, and the liberal arts. Studies took six to fifteen years to complete and were carried out in Latin, hence the name the Latin Quarter.
The Université de Paris held a monopoly on granting degrees. Yet it rarely possessed its own premises: teachers taught at their own homes, in the street, or at collèges. The latter were residences, usually under the protection of an important figure, which housed together and supported students from the same region of origin, and sometimes their family as well. This was the reason for the names given to them: Collège de Navarre, Collège de Beauvais, or Collège des Écossais [college of the Scots]. Sometimes more luxurious accommodation was offered, with individual rooms for the wealthiest guests.
The site of future Collège Royal was at the heart of this urban transformation and followed its evolution. The former Thermes de l’Est [eastern thermal baths] were gradually bought by private owners who built individual residences on top of them. A new way of dividing land “in strips” emerged: houses were built to the north and a garden was built in southern alignment. The excavations at the Collège revealed the foundations of these houses, which had been carefully built and contained spacious cellars. The buildings on top of the superstructures probably had several floors. The gardens revealed pits that fulfilled various purposes, including as a simple garbage pit or cesspit, as a cistern, or even as a fishpond and ice house. All these houses were subsequently gradually united to found the two collèges.
In 1325, Guillaume de Coëtmohan donated several adjacent houses and adjacent plots of land to create the Collège de Tréguier et Léon, which was charged with housing six poor students from Brittany. In 1346, the Bishop of Cambrai, Guillaume d’Auxonne, the Bishop of Langres, Hugues de Pomard, and the Bishop of Reims, Hugues d’Arcy, pooled their bequests and founded the Collège des Trois Évêques [college of the three bishops], which was renamed the Collège de Cambrai shortly afterwards. The first statutes were written in 1348. Thanks to an estimated valuation report from 1611, the facilities of the Collège de Cambrai are relatively well known: in particular, the building contained two storerooms, two warehouses, one large hall, a treasury, a chapel, and a printing shop. It had two levels of cellars and a well that was also used by the students of the Collège de Tréguier.
Everyday objects in the Middle Ages
The various excavation campaigns at the site of the Collège de France revealed a significant number of archaeological remains. Terracotta and iron objects were particularly well conserved, trapped beneath layers of earth and thus protected from the air and surface hazards. The majority of the ceramics discovered are glazed. This is in line with the development of the high-temperature (from 800° to 900°) “salt glazing” technique in the fourteenth century: after immersing the object in salt water and applying a layer of pigments, firing brought the salt out to the surface and the heat caused vitrification.