In a political gesture of national significance, a 78-year-old extreme-right-wing historian opposed to same-sex marriage killed himself in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Tuesday.

It was four p.m. and the famous Gothic church was crowded with an estimated 1500 visitors, when Dominique Venner, known for his extremist, ultra-traditional Catholic and anti-Islamic views, went up to the altar and shot himself in the mouth. On his person, he carried several suicide notes, one of which said: “I am taking my life in order to awaken the slumbering conscience of my fellow citizens.”

Earlier, on his blog he had written about the recently-passed law authorising same sex-marriage and adoption by homosexuals: “It is no longer enough to demonstrate gently and peacefully. We now need spectacular actions.”

Despite the fact that suicide is considered a cardinal sin under Catholic dogma, several fervent Catholics — including members of the xenophobic National Front and opponents of same-sex marriage — converged on Notre Dame Cathedral. National Front leader Marine Le Pen, addressing the gathering said: “We pay our respects to Dominique Venner whose last, eminently political gesture, was an attempt to awaken the French people.”

Whether by intention or by accident, Mr. Venner committed suicide the day that a massive free concert was planned at the legendary Place de la Bastille, to celebrate the passing of the “Marriage for All” law. The concert went ahead as planned. Paris’ Socialist Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who is openly gay, said he felt “compassion” for Mr. Venner.

Mr. Venner’s spectacular public suicide is of political significance.

The same-sex marriage law has angered many Catholics, who believe marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Demonstrations in France have turned increasingly violent in recent weeks and it is feared that Mr. Venner’s act will lead to more violence during a planned demonstration next Sunday.

A million people are expected to participate in that protest.

Another National Front leader, Bruno Gollnisch, described Mr. Venner’s suicide as “a protest against the decadence in our society, immigration”.

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