Sunday, 1 May 2016
Some Jansenist relics
This assortment of "Jansenist" reliquaries has been gathered together on the website of the Diocese of Paris. It is a striking testament to just how readily the ancient cult of relics was extended to the Jansenist "saints" of the 17th and 18th centuries.
The fragments are mostly tiny and unidentifiable - the most substantial body part is a tooth belonging to the abbé de Pontchâteau, Cardinal Richelieu's nephew and "gardener" of Port-royal; his coffin had been forced open in 1690 after a young girl was supposedly healed during his funeral.
The bodies of the leading figures of Port-Royal were exhumed in 1713 when the abbey and its cemeteries were destroyed.
Various other Jansenists are also represented among the relics: Claude Lancelot, Pierre Nicole, Antoine Singlin, Louis Charles d’Albert de Luynes, Pierre Thomas du Fossé, Jacques Joseph Duguet, Pasquier Quesnel. Pride of place, of course, belongs to the diacre Pâris who is the central focus in the majority of these little collections.
It was not just pieces of bone and cloth belonging to the deacon that were prized:
After his death the mattress on which M. l'abbé de Pâris had died was replaced on the so-called bed in his hut. The devotion which at the beginning had attracted into his house an infinite succession of persons of all conditions and both sexes had resulted in the disappearance of the whole mattress. It was the same with a stocking that he had started making during his illness which was carried off by the people in their piety.
It would have been the same with the cupboard that had served him as a bed if his relatives hadn't removed what remained of it, together with the large stone that had probably served him as a headrest when he slept on the floor.
They did not say that during his illness he had no bolster but something hard that had taken its place. The piety of the people had also carried off a tree which had been next to the spot where he was buried.
[MS of the Musée Historique de la Ville de Paris, cited Catherine Maire, Les Convulsionnaires, p.65-6]
Even earth from his tomb at Saint-Médard was taken, and widely reported to have facilitated miracles of healing. According to Catherine Maire both the Bibliothèque de Port-Royal and the museum in Argenteuil still preserve sachets and "even whole boxfuls" (Les Convulsionnaires (1985) p.259 ,nt.10)
"Reliquaires jansénistes" - Diocèse de Paris website
On the cemeteries at Port-Royal, see