The affaire de la rue des Marmousets is one of those Parisian urban legends which is told in hushed tones during sombre candlelit evenings. The Parisian Sweeney Todd is said to have been a butcher and barber duo who lived side by side in Île de la Cité during the 14th-century.
The birthplace of Paris, i.e. Île de la Cité boasts many legends and myths. You see, once upon a time, the majority of the city would have been confined to the historic island (the largest of the two natural Islands on the Seine which still exist to this day).
During Roman times, the city was known as Lutetia and there are still vestiges of the Roman city to be found in Paris today (including No5., rue de la Colombe on Île de la Cité where you’ll find, marked out on the road, a small trace of the Roman defences that existed on Île de La Cité centuries ago. The wall was rediscovered in 1898.)
Even today, the area is one of the few places in Paris, as well as Le Marais, which largely escaped the mass overhaul of Baron Haussmann in the 19th-century and has therefore retained much of its medieval charm and several historic buildings.
Some particular highlights of Île de la Cité include the ever-so-narrow rue des Chantres, which bares the mark of the 1910 floods of Paris (some of the highest ever water levels in the city were recorded during this time), where the water rose to a height of one and a half metres, as well as Sainte Chapelle (where you can see some of the most beautiful examples of medieval stained glass windows to be found anywhere in the world).
The butcher of Île de la Cité
Wander along rue Chanoinesse today and you’ll be greeted by a delightful little street offerings views onto Notre Dame Cathedral and boasting one of the prettiest little café bistros in the city (Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole). In the spring, stunning wisteria blooms on the side of the building and little chairs and tables in various shades of pinks and purples are set up on the pavement.
However, this wasn’t always the case and the street was once more famous for the Affaire de la rue des Marmousets, which is also sometimes referred to as the affaire de la rue Chanoinesse (owing to a later name change). The story goes that, during the 14th-century (during the 1380s according to some renditions of the story), there was a butcher-barber duo who stocked meat pastries with the most horrific of origins.
Back in the Middle Ages, the rue des Marmousets was known across Paris for its sweet meat pastries. People would travel from all over the city to enjoy the pâtés and meat pies. Even Charles VI is said to have been a fan (though I’m pretty sure that we can all agree that this is more than likely poetic license!)
The story goes that there was a barber and a pastry chef working next door to one another during the 14th-century and that they had a rather macabre deal. You see, according to legend, students from the nearby Chapter of Notre-Dame started going missing.
It’s said that the barber of rue des Marmousets would kidnap and butcher the victims (typically out of town students so that the least suspicion was raised) and pass them through a trap-door which opened directly into the cellar of the meat-pie shop of the pastry chef.
The practice is said to have continued for several years before the pair were caught. According to the story, one of the unfortunate students is said to have had a dog (a German student named Alaric). When the dog’s owner didn’t return one day, the dog wouldn’t stop barking outside the shop to the point where the Constabulary arrived.
They did a quick inspection and soon discovered the horrific truth behind the popular pastries; they were quite literally made from human flesh. The instruments and trap-door between the two businesses were found. For their crimes, the butcher and pastry chef, as well as their stores, were burned.
Was the Paris version of Sweeney Todd real?
Of course, after reading the story and urban legend pertaining to the Affaire de la rue des Marmousets you may wonder: did this horror tale really happen? Well, let’s examine the facts! Despite many historians discussing this affair, there are no official documents to record the crimes, nor the punishments.
Today, the location where these businesses once stood is believed by many to be that of 18-20 rue Chanoinesse, which is ironically the headquarters of a Paris Police Department.