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I've very nearly finished The Curtain, what I assume is the last Poirot episode, and certainly the last one on Netflix.

As I watched the series it was not apparent, at least in the first run of Poirot, that he was religious. It seemed kind of surprising when I got to the newer episodes, and Poirot was overtly religious (invoking God, using a rosary, etc.), whereas I don't recall any mention of Poirot attending church or really having a belief in anything besides the truth.

I confess I have never read the books, so I don't know if it was just common knowledge, but was Hercule Poirot always religious? If so, do we know why it was glossed over in the original series, and more emphasized in the later episodes?

  • He is described as "a Catholic by birth" in the "The Mysterious Affair At Styles" - the first Poirot book. "The Curtain" is the last Poirot book. – Chenmunka Feb 24 '16 at 19:44
  • I agree the religious tone seems to get stronger than the books as the series aged.....was a little surprising. – robinK Jan 20 '17 at 4:22
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TLDR:

Poirot was always discreetly religious in the books.
The reason why this became more prominent in the series is unknown, but possibly to add more variety to the character to keep him fresh.

Long Answer:

was Hercule Poirot always religious?

Poirot's religion doesn't really feature until the Murder in Mesopotamia, Christie's 14th novel involving him. In it, there are a few sections relating to his religion:

"An interesting man, that Father Lavigny."
"A monk being an archaeologist seems odd to me," I said.
"Ah, yes, you are a Protestant. Me, I am a good Catholic. I know something of priests and monks."

Also:

Poirot gave a slow appraising glance at us all, then rose to his feet.

I don't know what I expected him to say - something dramatic certainly. He was that kind of person.

But I certainly didn't expect him to start off with a phrase in Arabic.

Yet that is what happened. He said the words slowly and solemnly - and really quite religiously, if you know what I mean.

"Bismillahi ar rahman ar rahim."

And then he gave the translation in English.

"In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate."

Finally:

"I had a lengthy conversation with Father Lavigny. I am a practising Catholic and I know many priests and members of religious communities. Father Lavigny struck me as not ringing quite true to his role. But he struck me, on the other hand, as familiar in quite a different capacity. I had met men of his type quite frequently - but they were not members of a religious community. Far from it!

Now, the middle quote is obviously the least "obvious", but it shows even the narrator is aware of this religious respect within him.

We hear little else of his religion until the 27th work involving Poirot, The Labours of Hercules, when we are simply told:

Hercule Poirot was a Catholic by birth.

In the 28th work, Taken at the Flood:

"I am a good Catholic," said Poirot cautiously.

Also:

In front of Poirot, set back a little, was the Roman Catholic Church of the Assumption, a small modest affair, a shrinking violet compared to the aggressiveness of St. Mary's which stood arrogantly in the middle of the square facing the Cornmarket, and proclaiming the dominance of the Protestant religion.

Moved by an impulse Poirot went through the gate and along the path to the door of the Roman Catholic building.

He removed his hat, genuflected in front of the altar and knelt down behind one of the chairs. His prayers were interrupted by the sound of stifled heartbroken sobs.

Finally, from the 41st work, Poirot's Early Cases:

At that time, mon ami, I was, as you know, a member of the Belgian detective force. The death of M. Paul Dé roulard was not particularly interesting to me. I am, as you also know, bon catholique, and his demise seemed to me fortunate.

So, in the book Poirot is certainly religious, although it is fairly discreet. The background to his religion is never really discussed, particularly as so little information is provided regarding his childhood.

do we know why it was glossed over in the original series, and more emphasized in the later episodes

We only have speculation to go on here.

It seems quite probable that it was introduced to stay true to the character from the novels, but also to show a different side of Poirot for followers of just the series. After all, Suchet played the part for a quarter of a century, so I'm sure the addition of this new part of his character was an acting challenge and allowed him to expose a new element of Poirot's character to a modern audience.

Given Suchet's own religious beliefs (he was baptised into the Church of England in 1986) this change was perhaps something he welcomed (or even argued for).

Of course, this is all speculation and in reality we don't know why the change was made.

  • 1
    Excellent (and thorough) answer! I think it was actually the redux of Murder on the Orient Express that seemed to really emphasize his religion (at least in my eyes). It seemed a little jarring as I think up to that point I had always assumed that Poirot was somewhat agnostic. Seeing him kneel in prayer was a bit of a surprise. But it appears that he was religious all along. I'll have to go back through the series and see if I can spot when it was first indicated that Poirot was religious. – Wayne Werner Feb 24 '16 at 23:55
  • The books also have Poirot frequently making references to "le bon Dieu." – Nate Eldredge Feb 25 '16 at 2:48
  • For what's worth, Wikipedia article on MotOE mentions significant changes in the finale, “following a trend of religious elements introduced in the series after 2003 at the behest of star David Suchet”. – DaG Jan 20 '17 at 10:09
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I have read that Suchet indeed asked for the more prominent religious sentiments of Poirot which tend to be expressed in the relatively later series. I'm making my way through the show on Netflix, never read the books. It's particularly striking in 'Murder on the Orient Express'. And in that case as I understand it Poirot in the book is not conflicted about the decision he makes at the end, in contrast to the moral struggle he faces in the show due to his Catholic beliefs. So in that case it's not just an interesting new aspect to the character but integral to the plot.

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