A few months ago, as part of a twin Invisible Bordeaux / Invisible Paris feature, we reviewed the formative years spent in France by Mit...

Mitt Romney’s Latter-Day Saints basecamp in Talence

A few months ago, as part of a twin Invisible Bordeaux/Invisible Paris feature, we reviewed the formative years spent in France by Mitt Romney, the unsuccessful Republican candidate in the 2012 US presidential elections. During the six months he spent as a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints missionary in Bordeaux in 1968, the apartment he called home was on Place du Maucaillou in the Capucins district. Meanwhile, the centre of gravity of his missionary activities was this Mormon chapel on Rue Pierre-Romain in Talence.
This was the first Mormon church to be built in France (there are now 110 serving 36,500 members). The land, in a quiet residential part of the suburb, had been purchased by the Church in 1963 and the architectural project was initially overseen by the movement’s Thor Leifson. At the time the ward numbered around 35 members and, ahead of the chapel being built, they congregated in an abandoned villa situated within the grounds.

The foundation stone of the chapel was laid on June 8th of that year, some time before the building permit was delivered; the project was rubberstamped by authorities the following October. Construction work could begin in earnest and was wholly handled by missionaries – including a 16-year-old who had travelled down especially from the Breton city of Rennes – and volunteers. At times, there were 50 people working on the site. Church members who couldn’t help with construction work per se contributed by washing and ironing the missionaries’ clothes and by bringing them home-cooked meals. Members also helped with funds by symbolically purchasing bricks of the future chapel, each one costing 1 franc.


Meanwhile, demolition work on the villa was reportedly carried out by a company called Navarro, whose manager had been unwilling to take on the project until he discovered it had been commissioned by the Mormons. It turns out Navarro was a literal Bible believer who had recently returned from an expedition searching for the remains of Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat in Eastern Turkey. He had come back with pieces of petrified wood that carbon dating showed were 4,400 years old… whether they were bits of the Ark is another story! 

Throughout the transitional phase, the congregation would meet in prefabricated premises. But by the summer of 1964, the exterior was complete, and attentions turned to the interior which was more or less finished by mid-1965, when the chapel was used to hold sessions of a nationwide youth conference. A few finishing touches later, the chapel was officially inaugurated on December 10th 1965 by Mormon “apostle” Howard W. Hunter (who later went on to serve as president of the movement over a brief nine-month period between 1994 and his death in 1995). The chapel’s consecration followed in March 1967. 


Howard W. Hunter obviously paid a return visit in 1968. In a feature published by The Boston Globe in 2008, photos credited to Marie-Blanche and Jean Causse show Romney alongside Hunter both outside and inside the chapel in Talence. In the top photo Romney is standing fourth from the left, Hunter ninth. Bottom right is the same backdrop 44 years later!
Although precise figures are hard to come by, the Talence ward went from strength to strength over the following ten years, with activities including schooling for 35 children, scout troops, public-speaking and drama clubs, dance lessons, not to mention couscous soirées and fancy-dress parties with a recurrent Wild West theme.

The chapel apparently continues to enjoy a healthy working relationship with the municipality and no doubt continues to serve as a meeting point for new generations of missionaries. Will any of the current crop go on to become prominent political players in the future?

6 comments:

  1. Good article - congratulations on finding the article on the history of the Talence congration. For whatever it's worth and just in time for the election, a Bordeaux scholar has published a book on the history of the Mormon church - "Les Mormons" by Bernadette Rigal-Cellard.

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    1. Spot on Harvey. Looks like Ms Rigal-Cellard is a lecturer at Bordeaux III university. Book available on Amazon (and elsewhere): http://www.amazon.fr/La-religion-Mormons-Bernadette-Rigal-Cellard/dp/2226241965

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    2. Actually she's more than a lecturer. Among othe things she's head of Univ of Bdx Press.

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    3. A name to look out for then! Thanks for the additional information.

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  2. Thank you for learning us the "Mitt Romney's French side" ! :) Take care.

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    1. My pleasure. It's interesting to think there's that Bordeaux/Talence connection with the forthcoming US elections!

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