From a letter of Mgr de Belsunce, bishop of Marseilles, to the bishop of Toulon, 1720
|Perfume container used |
by Mgr de Belsunce to
admiinister the sacraments
The resonance of Belsunce's example derived not just from his personal courage, but from his message of corporate penance, which cut across all class barriers. In 18th-century France, serious pastoral vocations among the higher clergy were often associated with Jansenism but not so with Belsunce, who aligned himself strongly with the “dévot” party among the bishops. From Protestant origins, Belsunce had been educated by the Jesuits of Louis-le-grand and embraced the Jesuit vision of active baroque piety, strongly characterised by public manifestations of faith. In particular he supported their sponsorship of the cult of Sacred Heart, associated in Marseilles with the Visitandine nun Anne-Madeleine Rémuzat. Both vivid, not to say viscereal, in its imagery and strongly communal; the Sacred Heart aimed at a national cult as manifestation of collective Grace. In March 1718 he had already created a diocesan Association for the perpetual adoration of the Sacret Heart. Marseilles in the plague became a microcosm of France; the plague a metaphor for spiritual sickness, to be met with strong coherent message of penitence.
|François Gérard, Mgr Belsunce pendant la peste (study in oil& ink c.1825)|
In emulation of St. Charles Borromeo, Belsunce sought to embody the collective penance of the city in his own person, and staged a series of theatrical public manifestations. On All Saint's Day, 1st November, with half the inhabitants dead, the plague was abating rapidly, and the bishop walked barefoot - in garb of a penitent - to the church of Saint-Férriol and preached; on 31st December (as remembered by Chateaubriand) he processed round the ramparts overlooking the desolate city. On 20th June 1721, the Feast of the Sacred Heart, he presided over a huge open-air service of thanks before a massive open-air reposoir on the quayside where Marseilles meets the sea. Finally in 1722, the recurrence of plague afforded the opportunity for Belsunce's culminating gesture, committing the échevins to annual public affirmation of the city's perpetual dedication to the Sacred Heart - a tradition interrupted by the Revolution but reinstated in modified form by the municipality in 1877.
Belsunce was accused by his enemies of self-conscious heroics but he refused offers of more prestigious sees - Laon in 1723 and Bordeaux in 1729 - and remained in Marseilles until his death in 1755.
"Monseigneur Henri de Belsunce", ABC de Riviereesperance Blog post dated 12/11/14
Théophile Bérengier, Monseigneur de Belsunce et la peste de Marseilles (Paris 1879)
Paul Gaffarel and Mis.de Duranty, La peste de 1720 à Marseille et en France, d'après des documents inédits (Paris 1911).
This portrait from the Musée Henri-Martin, Cahors has recently been uploaded to Wikimedia, which means it will soon be the generally accepted image of Mgr. de Belsunce. It certainly looks like the same man as in the prints. I'm a bit confused though; I don't think Belsunce was ever made a Cardinal.