In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
Matthew 2:18 King James Bible Authorized Version
The Chapel of the Holy Innocents has always been a rich source of the mythology that surrounds Gilles de Rais. Why, commentators ask, did Gilles name his private chapel after a group of murdered infants? Was it not a sign of guilt, or defiance? Why, in fact, did he have a private chapel at all, and go to such crazy lengths to ensure that his family could not dissolve it after his death? Surely that was extravagant at best, a bit mad at worst?
To ask these questions is to try and lift Gilles out of his context.
From about 1400 onwards, the Holy Innocents were very much in vogue all over Europe. The brief account of Herod's massacre of the babies, coupled with the "Rachel weeping" verse from Jeremiah which the evangelist quoted, was widely used in sermons and mystery plays. The motif was particularly affecting in the context of a country embroiled in a seemingly endless war, which may explain its ubiquity. Many churches and chapels were dedicated to the child saints, including one of the first churches built on the Rive Droite in Paris, and in following suit Gilles was merely indicating that he was a modern and fashionable man even in his spiritual tastes.
And the private chapel? Not as uncommon as you might suppose. The rich liked to have mortuary masses said for the repose of their souls after death. Some achieved this by bequeathing money to churches or monasteries, the wealthier ones founded their own chapels. The fact that Gilles took extreme measures to guarantee the continuation of his chapel merely shows that he had an astute and justifiable distrust for his family.
The Massacre of the Innocents at Bethlehem
by Matteo di Giovanni (c 1430-1495)
Listen to the chillingly beautiful Coventry Carol for a 16th century musical rendering of the Holy Innocents theme