In the years after the French Revolution, an ever-increasing number of villagers contested the authority of the parish clergy. After 1860, this challenge became more radical. The priest’s authority suffered further erosion from the progressive secularization of the village notion of belonging: religious life no longer played a central role in the matrix of village sociability. Beginning in the 1840s, men of the Church became aware of the practice of local parish history and how it could reinforce the prestige and local influence of the clergy. The curé who wrote an historical account of the village contributed to the emergence of local historical consciousness, itself a powerful cohesive influence. In addition, the historian-priests endeavored in their work to promote a definition of the local community in a way that could legitimate their own authority: the parish was compared to a large patriarchal family and the authors emphasized the religious dimension of village identity.
By François Ploux