In 1856, Jan Hendrick Vriès, nicknamed the “Black Doctor” (published a self-published pamphlet entitled: God's order to erect the temple of the kingdom of Christ, foretold by Solomon (Chapters VIII and IX of the Song of Songs), described by Ezekiel (Chapter XI to XLVIII), manifested in a vision to Vriès in which he launched a competition to architects "from all nations" for the construction of this temple.
It is to be located on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, the "center of the world," and built of alabaster. It will symbolize the meeting of all religions to merge them into one. The choice of style remains free, but the specifications state that “the artists[...] must not lose sight of the fact that this is a sacred building, dedicated to God, which must rival in grandeur and splendor St. Peter’s in Rome, St. Paul’s in London, the cathedral in Milan, Notre-Dame in Paris, the Cologne Cathedral, etc.".
Only one architect appears to have entered the competition, thereby winning first prize. This was Louis Godineau de la Bretonnerie, a name that is known to us from the signature on the drawing as well as by its mention in contemporary articles devoted to the resounding trial of the “Black Doctor” in February 1860. In fact, the latter was rather quickly denounced by clients whom he had swindled, mainly by making them believe that he would cure them of their cancer.
The two most famous clients of this fake doctor were Adolphe Sax and Hector Berlioz. The latter wrote, moreover, in gratitude to the doctor, a Hymn for the Consecration of the New Tabernacle, in 1859, a reference to the temple project for all religions.
Louis Godineau de la Bretonnerie is often confused with his older brother Henry Alexandre de la Bretonnerie. Indeed, records show that the two brothers worked together on several projects, the first as an engineer-architect, the second as an architect trained at the École des Beaux-Arts. Their collaboration for the Monte Carlo casino in 1858, created confusion.
The drawings are a reduction of another one that Louis Godineau had done for Vriès, described in the Journal des Débats as a watercolor measuring 9.8 ft. long by 11 ¹³/₁₆ in. wide, stretched on a frame and exhibited in the vestibule of the Black Doctor's apartment.
It is described as depicting the temple in the center of the Champs-Elysées, next to the pavilion of the Universal Exhibition (Industrial Pavilion?), yet the reduced drawing does not show us this view of Paris at all.
The “temple” is rather more situated in an architectural setting reminiscent of the expansive layouts of the Place Vendôme with, in the background, the towers of Saint-Sulpice and on the right, in the background...a sort of artesian well!"
The temple itself certainly surprises us with its colossal appearance... and very classical, as the commissioner wished. The references are eclectic since they draw from antiquity (porticoes and triumphal arches), from the Renaissance (St. Peter’s in Rome by Bramante) and from the modern period (St. Paul’s in London by Wren). The drawings are meticulously executed in pen and red ink like an illumination, with many details in pencil of the urban architecture of Paris still poorly identified. The exceptional rendering of the drawings and the unique history of this commission make it quite singular and still very mysterious.