Friday, 25 March 2016

Convulsionaries in the 1730s

Despite the consternation of the faithful, the closure of the cemetery of Saint-Médard in January 1731 did not destroy the Jansenist convulsionnaire movement  - far from it, though one of the effects was undoubtedly to de-emphasise miracles of healing in favour of prophetic and charismatic gifts. In an effort to escape police surveillance, adherents dispersed into small gatherings in private homes and religious houses: within a few weeks they had spread into the suburbs of Paris and cells took root in the provinces - in Champagne, Lyon, Eure, Troyes and Auxerre. The groups kept alive the cult of the diacre Pâris  through relics such as earth from his grave or water drawn from a well which had once belonged to him, so that  private homes became "stations of the little cemetery of Saint-Médard". Participants were also mindful of the organisational example of the conventicles of the early Church.

Illustration of a Convulsionary meeting by Bernard Picart,
Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde

The separate cells were sometimes in contact, but do not seem to have evolved into a formal organisation. Membership was open to "friends of the truth" who were "sponsored" by existing members;  most adherents continued to pursue their ordinary daily lives outside the fixed meetings. Most were of humble origins, but noble and bourgeois converts were crucial in providing patronage and protection from the police.   Among them, besides Montgeron himself, were the lawyer Olivier Pinault,  Edward Lord Drummond, the duchesse de Rochechouart,  comte de Tilly;  the marquis d'Arbois, the comtesse de Lampsac, the chevalier de Falord and the retired royal secretary Louis Fontane, who ate his meals on his knees.  In a study based on 384 individuals, the historian Daniel Vidal found that adherents divided roughly 60% female to 40% male and confirmed that they were recruited mainly from the petty bourgeoisie and artisan classes (Stryer, p.254-5 gives various other statistical estimates, generally similar in conclusion; the chronology is a bit vague, especially summary form.  The best guess for total numbers is between 600 and 700 total adherents by 1733.)

The faithful made a point of ignoring social rank; from 1732 onwards they generally adopted the appellation "brothers" and "sisters" usually using their Christian names or adopting a pseudonym, soeur Pélagie, frère Augustin and the like.  Distinctions were based on "charismatic gifts" which defined  the  value of the particular individual within the collective work.  As in so many similar contexts this tended to elevate the religious standing of women and young girls. Members were tied by strong emotional bonds and shared religious experience.

A typical meeting might be  attended by anything from a handful up to two dozen devotees, who would often prepare by undergoing long periods of penitence and fasting. Sessions usually lasted few hours, but on occasion could go on for a day or more in an atmosphere of sustained devotion and collective exaltation.  Events developed spontaneously, but there was often a male ecclesiastic who assumed informal direction. A period of prayer and meditation would be followed by invocation of the Holy Spirit through the intercession of the diacre Paris, readings and explications of Scripture, and the recitation of psalms. The oeuvre des convulsions encompassed a wide variety of different phenomena.  At a certain point members of the group would break into violent agitations; they would roll around in a state of frenzy, screaming, trembling and adopting  strange contorted postures, often grotesque and sometimes sexually suggestive. In the overwrought atmosphere  excitement was readily communicated  to others. The ability to experience convulsions was interpreted as a manifestation of the divine presence. It also inevitably gave attention to otherwise obscure individuals, some of whom no doubt suffering from various forms of epilepsy and psychomotor disorders. Within a year or so of the closure of the cemetery, several hundred people, mostly women, were experiencing seizures.

The secours

A peculiar feature which developed within the movement of the 1730s was the practice of secours, a term which meant both "assistance" and "relief".   The word was often used as a synonym for the convulsionary activity itself, but it referred more particularly to the part played by secouristes or assistants who aided the convulsionnaires.  The role evolved gradually.  At first it involved simple restraint, often for the sake of propriety, or efforts to alleviate the intense pain experienced by many convulsionaaries.  In the so-called petits secours, participants were "assisted" by the application of  pressure or moderate blows.  Soon, however, the violent interventions of the secouristes became an important validating component of the experience itself.  The controversial grands secours involved a seemingly bizarre variety of physical tortures - beating with heavy objects, application of  knives, pins and pointed swords.   Occasionally convulsionaries would be crushed under a board  on which as many as a dozen people would stand or jump up and down. Others allowed themselves to be dragged around the floor or demanded to be choked or even crucified, all the while praying for the will to endure. Sustained by prolonged fasts and a heightened atmosphere of expectation, participants were capable of attaining ecstatic trance-like states in which they experienced little or no pain.  They reportedly showed no signs of injury; on the contrary, they characteristically demanded more and more violent interventions.

Then as now, such antics were widely condemned as exercise in attention-seeking and licentiousness; an underlying sexual motivation - albeit unconscious - seems credible in a context where female convulsionaries called on men to press and pull their breasts or to pierce their bodies with swords or pins.  The secours took on a life of its own and soon assumed  the appearance of masochistic torture.  As Krieser emphasises, the vast majority of participants were sincere in their religious motivation.  The sessions were also carefully controlled.  Success depended on the proper management of the secours, which in turn required a close trusting relationship between the convulsionary and his secouristes or valets de chambre.  The secours give those who experienced them, not merely relief, but a tremendous sense of interior consolation and divinely-infused joy.

The secours were interpreted as signs which God had chosen to prepare the followers of the diacre Pâris to receive and announce sacred truths.  Like the cures, the miraculous invulnerability of the convulsionnaires served as irrefutable proof of divine election.  According to"figurist" interpretations the grands secours or secours meurtriers were a form of divine witness intended to instruct both the participants themselves and their "malevolent" enemies. They served as living tableaux of the turmoil within the Church, with the convulsionaries representing the righteous defenders of Truth and the secouristes their tormentors and oppressors.  In this way they also recalled the persecution that had preceded God's deliverance of His people in the days of the First Christians. Some adepts even went so far as to act out "figurative representations" of Christ's suffering and crucifixion.  The example of the Early Christian  martyrs, and of François de Pâris in present times, confirmed that it was possible to triumph with Jesus Christ only through suffering.

The movement was shot through with apocalyptic expectations.  The convulsionaries believed they were figuratively sacrificing themselves to assuage God's anger in a period of confusion which heralded the Last Days.  They were the spiritual precursors and forerunners of Elijah who, at some unspecified time, was to return as one of the witnesses against Antichrist and as a herald of the Messiah.  According to Montgeron God had specifically designated them "to prepare for this great event by penitence and prayer" (Vol.II "Idée de l'état des convulsions", p.5).

Nonetheless, as Kreiser emphasises, the secours  were only one of a number of forms of witness. Large numbers of cures continued to occur, most of them attributed to the intercession of the diacre Pâris . There was also much babbling and "speaking in tongues".  This could include blasphemous utterances:  one woman reportedly threw a Bible on the ground and stamped on it, supposedly as a dramatisation of the "horrible profanations" suffered by the Jansenist faithful. The more coherent ecstatic discourses were taken down by copyists and circulated in printed and manuscript recueils. Most of those that survive are relatively simple and uneducated, but some show surprising eloquence and extensive knowledge of scripture and theology.  They too were infused with Millenarian imagery and a sense of impending martyrdom.

Government measures

Police spies at first merely kept a watchful eye on activities, but soon moved into active suppression.  On 17th February 1733 the Council of State issued an ordinance condemning those who "by a spirit of imposture" pretended to have convulsions, made a spectacle of themselves in private houses"to abuse the credulity of the people" and "gave birth to fanaticism already too widespread".  The members of the movement were now harried and imprisoned.  Between 1732 and1774 176 individuals were sent to the Bastille, 74 to the Grand Châtelet and 300 to Vincennes. Many were also incarcerated in the Bicêtre, or, for women, the Salpêtrière.   The convulsionary phenomenon survived only in a much curtailed form after 1735.

Anonymous engraving - arrested Convulsionaries arrive by coach at the Bastille


Brian E. Strayer  Suffering saints: Jansenists and convulsionnaires in France, 1640-1799 (Sussex Academic Press 2011), p. 254ff
B.Robert Kreiser, "Religious enthusiasm in early eighteenth-century Paris; the convulsionaries of Saint Medard".   Catholic Historical Review 61(3) 1975, p.353-85 (JStor article)

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Miracles at Saint-Médard

The Church of Saint-Médard

Here are some twilight photos of the church of Saint-Médard, scene in the 1730s of so many supposed miracles and extraordinary frenzied convulsions.  The playground is all that remains of the cemetery which once housed the famous tomb of the diacre Pâris.  Then as now, it was a run-down area.  The fabric of the church dates mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries.  In the 18th century, although the parish fell under the direct jurisdiction of the archbishops of Paris, the curés-prieurs who officiated were provided by the nearby Abbey of Sainte-Geneviève.  Father Pommart the priest at the time of the deacon's death was a Jansenist sympathiser, who was popular with his churchwardens and with his poor parishioners. The cemetery bordered the church to the south and  east,  with the larger southern section running along the rue Censier.  In winter a large communal pit would be dug to receive the bodies of the dead.  The eastern part  where the diacre Pâris was interred, was situated against the outside wall of the chapel in the apse, bounded on three sides by the charnel house.

 Saint-Médard today (Google Maps)

Death and burial of the diacre Pâris  (May 1727-March 1728)

From the moment of his death François de Pâris assumed the aura of a saint among the working people with whom he lived.  Neighbouring artisans, shopkeepers and others crowded into his rooms to pay their respects as he lay in his simple coffin.  Some touched the corpse with rosaries, garments or religious objects, whilst others garnered small relics - hair and fingernails, threads from his clothing, scraps of mattress or slivers of wood from his casket.  The deacon had requested a pauper's funeral in the chapel at Saint-Médard, without candles bells or wall hangings;  the burial cost parish a mere 35 livres.  But the funeral was attended by  members of the Pâris family and others of high rank. The sources record the surprise of the common people who lined the streets to view the cortege:

Poor people and the children he had catechised cried openly during his burial and funeral service.  They were astonished to find that the interment of a man they considered their equal was attended by distinguished nobility of the robe, such as M.  le Feron, sous-doyen of the Parlement,  uncle of the defunct on his mother Madame de Pâris's side.  As the cortege passed by,  poor people on the side of the road addressed M. de Pâris the Conseiller, whom they did not know, telling him that if he was the brother of M. l'abbé de Pâris, he surely had a brother in Heaven.
[MS of the Musée Historique de la Ville de Paris, cited in Catherine Maire, Les Convulsionnaires, p.65-6]

The funeral of the diacre Pâris - preliminary illustration for an engraving by Bernard Picard,
Musée de Port-Royal des Champs

First miracles

The first miracle occurred on the very day of the interment, 3rd May 1727.  Louise Madeleine Beigney (or Beignet), a 62-year-old widow, was a devideuse de soie whose right arm had been paralysed for over twenty years, presumably as a result of her hard and repetitive work.  She reported that she had heard tell of M. Pâris and had met him on her own stairs bring alms to a neighbour.  Arriving as the funeral procession was about to depart, she pulled back the bed cover and kissed his feet under the shroud, continuing to kneel in prayer as the beadles placed his body into the coffin.  It was only later when she returned home to her work that she realised that her arm had been cured. (Her testimony was subsequently called into question since her legal deposition was published only in 1733 and she herself was unable to sign her name.)  Other claims soon followed.  These early cures, which included the four chosen by Archbishop Noailles for investigation in 1728, involved predominantly local working people -  Pierre Lero, a second-hand clothes dealer and Marie-Jean Orget, a  humble dressmaker.  It was rare at first for the sick themselves to visit the cemetery. The cures were brought about by  the application of relics, such as fragments of the chestnut tree which grew near the deacon's grave, or through the prayers of relatives at the churchyard;  the poor might be paid a few sous to recite prayers on behalf of supplicants. Jansenist theology created an expectation of the miraculous and the cures effected by François de Pâris were by no means unique; just two years earlier, for instance, similar miracles had taken place at the tomb of the appellant canon Gerard Rousse in Avenay in the diocese of Reims.

The tombstone

The transformation of the churchyard of Saint-Médard into the focus of activity occurred almost by accident.  In March 1728 Jérôme-Nicolas de Pâris had a tombstone erected over his brother’s grave. A Latin inscription composed by the Jansenist theologian Jardin, praised the deacon as "one who employed his life in the service of God", who had been "full of the holy spirit"and "an innocent victim of penitence".  The royal authorities forbade the epitaph almost immediately, but translations were printed or engraved and by 1731 circulated extensively.  The stone itself, a large slab of black marble on four raised supports, seemed almost deliberately designed to serve as a dais where supplicants might lay, kneel in prayer, or even squirm underneath.  The sick rapidly began to gather around it.

The cemetery provided a perfect impromptu stage set. The eastern area where the grave was situated consisted of a space some nine metres square, bound on three sides by the charnel house, with the tomb itself set against the wall of the church; three large bays on each side communicated by an internal gallery and served as "lodges" where pilgrims and onlookers could congregate. The entrance in what is now the rue Daubenton allowed the passage of the many sedan chairs and stretchers which can clearly be seen in the illustrations.

Pilgrimage to the tomb of the diacre Paris.  Anon. engraving
As the crowds increased,  a pious industry rapidly grew up to cater for their needs .Verses and prayers were produced and printed - early engravings already showed the deacon as a saint with a dove over his head.  Booksellers hawked Jansenist pamphlets; scribes offered to compose prayers. Taverns and eating-houses provided for the pilgrims. 

Response of the authorities

Cardinal Noailles visits the tomb of the diacre Pâris
On 15 June 1728 Cardinal Noailles appointed an official commission of inquiry into the miracles and conferred upon the deacon the title of "bienheureux".  Four cures were selected. Voluminous dossiers of testimony and medical evidence were compiled, but the proceedings were stalled by Noailles's death in May 1729. The new archbishop Vintimille moved firmly towards eradicating dissent.  In the course of 1730 three hundred clergy were interdicted.  At Saint-Médard itself a new priest Jacques Coiffrel, appointed in December, found himself in open conflict with his churchwardens who refused to attend his services or sign their name after his in the parish register; they openly encouraged the population to seek the intercession of the deacon Pâris “as though he was a saint of the Church” . In April 1731 the vestry even began legal proceedings against him in the Grand Conseil.   In response successive sacristans were dismissed by lettres de cachet and the  parish was finally deprived of its right to elect churchwardens.

On 15th July 1731 Vintimille, in consultation with Cardinal Fleury,  finally issued a pastoral letter which formally banned the cult of deacon  Pâris.  The move was precipitated by the supposed cure of Anne Le Franc, a middle-aged spinster afflicted with  partial blindness and paralysis, who came to Saint-Médard in November 1730. Her subsequent Relation interpreted the miracle as an expression of divine support for the abbé Lair, the evicted Jansenist priest of her parish of Saint-Barthélemy. A widely disseminated  Dissertation sur les miracles generalised the message - God was warning his Church that the cause of the oppressed Jansenists was his own.  In response Vintimille declared Anne Lefranc to be a fraud.  The interdiction was created a wave of response; Anne Lefranc appealed her case to the Parlement of Paris and there were formal demands from the Jansenist clergy of Paris to re-open investigation of the miracles (August and October).

The number of miracles escalated. In August 1731 the estranged  churchwardens set up a "bureau de vérification" in the sacristy to process claims.  In 1731 there seventy attested healings, mostly in the second half of the year after the Archbishop's ban. The Jansenist cause scored a further propaganda coup in August when one Gabrielle Gautier, the widow Delorme, was stricken with paralysis after mocking the miracles.  Soon the press of people was truly immense. Wagons, carriages and carts filled the streets; even to reach the tomb was a struggle:

The crowd meant that she had to wait until 11.30 to get into the cemetery.  Even then the Guardsman of the parish had to fend off the mass of people so that she could get to the tomb.  She found several sick people lying on top of it and she could only find a small place to lay part of her body and she suffered a great deal; but the confidence that the pious and edifying spectacle inspired in her allowed her to overcome her pain, and address her prayer to God... [Testimony of Catherine Le François, July 1731 (see Maire p.68-9)] 

Visit of the princesse de Condé to the tomb of  François Pâris, 17th August 1731[anonymous engraving]
The fashionable and well-to-do were now in some evidence.  Some, like the  princesse de Rohan and the duchesse de Montbazon came out of curiosity  or like Louis de Bourbon Condé, comte de Clermont, out of sympathy. The princesse de Conti, afflicted with progressive blindness,  failed to secure a cure but found the experience spiritually uplifting. Her visit in August 1731 was said to have been accompanied by 400 courtiers who came to pray with her.  As Barbier noted, the appearance at the cemetery of people of quality was an insult which the archbishop had no choice but to swallow.

The first convulsions

This new highpoint coincided with beginning of the convulsionist phenomenon.  The first documented convulsionnaire was Aimée (or Edmée) Pivert, aged forty-two, a servant from the place Cambrai who was in all probability an epileptic.  She came to the cemetery between  12th July and 2nd August 1731 and, when laid on the tomb,  was racked with uncontrollable shudders and contortions of her limbs, as though possessed.  Her paroxysms increased over next three weeks, until she left, allegedly cured, on 3rd August.   She was followed by two Parisian girls,  one of whom, a deaf-mute from Versailles called Catherine Bigot, claimed partial recovery of both her hearing and speech.  This case was one of those selected for consideration by the famous defender of the convulsionaries, the lawyer Louis  Montgeron (Montgeron, Idée de l'oeuvre des convulsions, ii, 5-21.). 

The novelty of these first convulsionaries  was perhaps evident only in hindsight, for it would be  easy to dismiss this behaviour as the result of nervous disease or the muscular spasms of long-disused limbs forced into movement.  The real turning point came with the arrival in the summer of the abbé Pierre Sartre de Bécheran(d), a canon - prêtre habitué  -  from the parish of  Sainte-Anne in Montpellier.  Born in about 1693 in the diocese of Uzès, Bécherand had suffered from birth from a paralysed and visibly deformed leg .  A convinced and pious Jansenist , he was implacably but vainly convinced that he could secure restoration of his withered leg as a demonstration of the sanctity of the diacre Pâris.  His determined efforts to impose mind over matter soon degenerated in grotesque spectacle.  As his companions prayed fervently on his behalf, he was seized with sudden and violent convulsions, made contorted grimaces, uttered exclamations and screams of pain, and sometimes foamed at the mouth.  Witnesses reported apparent levitations;  his entire body was "forcibly lifted into the air", despite the efforts his assistants who grasped his arms and held him down.  These attacks lasted for hours on end.  His entourage would rub dirt from the deacons's grave over the most afflicted parts of his body.  Police reports described the sight as "terrifying", "diabolical" and "indecent and obscene". 

Among others [at the cemetery] is an ecclesiastic sent there by M. the bishop of Montpellier,  a great Jansenist.  This ecclesiastic is called the abbé Bécheran.  Everyone agrees that  he has limped badly since childhood and has one leg shorter than the other.  He is at present on his third novena; he goes there every day, sometimes morning and evening.  They take off his collar, the buttons on his sleeves and his gaiters; they lie him on his back on the tomb lengthwise; they say the Seven Psalms with great devotion and silence on the part of the spectators.  They hold him by the arms, and he is seized from time to time with such violent convulsions that he loses his pulse; he becomes white, he foams at the mouth, and by great exertions raises himself a foot above the tomb despite efforts to hold him down.  Everyday the most famous surgeons come to visit him. Some say that he used not to be able to walk and now he can walk; that his sinews have stretched and elongated so that he limps a lot less; others say that he is just as lame as before; that his convulsions come about because, in the hope of being cured, he forces himself to stretch out his leg and the pain causes him to rise up.  Still others say that in all the tradition there have never been miracles from God or the apostles which have required so long to take effect or been accompanied by convulsions;  finally some believe that there is sorcery on the part of the Jansenists  Barbier Journal, vol.2 p.199 September 1731.

Notice to the public.  The great troupe of acrobats and contortionists  of Le Sieur Pâris…will now give regular morning and evening entertainments for the convenience of the public.  Le Sieur  Bécheron the lame will continue his usual gymnastics and, by special request, will give numerous performances of his new and dangerous jump, relying on his own two feet and with only three persons to hold him up…….(quoted McManners, p.442)

As Bécherand continued to make twice daily appearances into the winter months,  he began to be lampooned as a theatrical turn and spectatorswondered  seriously if he was possessed by the devil . The Jansenist camp itself was divided by the phenomenon.  Duguet, Asfeld and other prominent theologians condemned what the  "deformation" of the cult of Pâris whilst Colbert of Montpellier  supported Bécherand, although he affirmed that he had not send him.  (After the closure of the cemetery Bécherand was imprisoned in Saint-Lazare for a short period from February to April 1732,  then disappears entirely from the historical record.  He himself continued to insist on the reality of his miraculous cure.)

Almost inevitably Bécherand spawned imitators.  From September to November the police reported increasing instances of uncontrolled paroxysms, groans, screams, leapings and whirlings, so intense that onlookers provided mattresses and cushions to prevent injury.  As well as genuine petitioners, they observed  exhibitionists of all kinds, including the girls "assez jolies et bien faites" described in one report waving their legs in the air.   Women "prostituted themselves" and  there was  growing use of the satanic imagery  of  "seances", "sabbaths" and "flying on the winds".  Even more spectators crowded into the churchyard  and the frenzy rapidly spread into  the chapel, nearby streets and adjacent houses.  Archbishop  Vintimille informed Procurer-General Joly de Fleury that, if this fanaticism were allowed to continue, "religion would be absolutely lost in Paris".  

Closure of the cemetery. 29th January 1732

Although the police had maintained a visible presence in the cemetery since early 1729, little had been done  to curtail activities beyond the arrest of an occasional hawker.  Finally, however, in January 1732 Fleury and Vintimille moved to take decisive action.  Louis XV evoked all cases of alleged miracles to his Council of State, the churchwardens and sacristan of Saint-Médard were banished and  the leading convulsionaires declared fraudulent and  imprisoned in the Bastille.  On 27th January 1732 a royal ordinance ordered the closure of the cemetery.  At four in the morning of the 29th the police moved in to cordon off the entrances. Notoriously, an epigram scrawled on the wall proclaimed:
De par le roi défense à Dieu
De faire miracles en ce lieu
- "The King forbids God to work miracles in this place".

The historian of the convulsionnaire movement Robert Kreiser evokes the scene: 
p.357: A report in the Nouvelles ecclésiastiques (17th February 1732, p.31-2) described the pathetic scene among the shocked and troubled people at Saint-Médard.  They gathered around the little parish church, consternation and despair visible on nearly every face.  Some were moaning or sobbing; others stood in stunned and disbelieving silence.  This pitiful, moving spectacle seems even to have touched the large contingent of police officers charged with watching over the area as a precaution against potential disturbances - although pity never deterred these guards from effectively carrying out their duty.  Indeed the ominous and intimidating presence of the police no doubt served to deter large numbers, priests and worshippers alike, from publicly venting their true feelings of hostility and frustration.  According to the Nouvellistes and other eyewitness accounts, submission and patience rather than tumultuous uproar constituted the predominant reaction among the faithful. 

The cemetery was to remain closed until 1807, when the parish priest  Berthier, had the tomb of the deacon exhumed, distributed relics among several pious Jansenist families and  buried what remained near the chapel of the Virgin.  The south part of the cemetery which bordered the rue Censier was sold off in 1798 and transformed into the present square in 1875. 

Blocked up entrance to the cemetery, still visible in the rue Daubenton (Google streetview)


Saint Médard on the Tombes et sépultures website

B.Robert Kreiser, "Religious enthusiasm in early eighteenth-century Paris; the convulsionaries of Saint Medard".   Catholic Historical Review 61(3) 1975, p.353-85 (JStor article)
_____, Miracles, Convulsions, and Ecclesiastical Politics in Early Eighteenth-Century Paris  (Princeton University Press, 1978). Some extracts from this important and sympathetic study are available on Google books.

Brian E. Strayer  Suffering saints: Jansenists and convulsionnaires in France, 1640-1799 (Sussex Academic Press 2011), p. 236ff.

Catherine Maire, Les Convulsionnaires de Saint-Médard, Collection archives Gaillimard no.95, 1985

P.-F. Mathieu, Histoire des miraculés et des convulsionnaires de Saint-Médard (Didier, 1864) p.115ff.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Jérôme-Nicolas Pâris, brother of the diacre

Benoît Audran le Jeune, after a painting by Jean Restout 
This engraving, by Benoît Audran after a portrait by Jean Restout, shows Jérôme-Nicolas, the younger brother of the diacre  Pâris.  He has the same pointed features as his older brother, accentuated by a life of austerity, but  here, as in all his portraits, he appears in splendid magisterial robes with long, carefully curled hair.  His otherworldly aura contrasts with his proud list of titles: 

"Chevalier. vicomte de Machault Romain, seigneur de Muire, Branscourt et autres lieux  Conseiller du Roy en sa Cour de Parlement [et Première Chambre des Enquestes]"

Another portrait: anonymous engraving,
colllection of Port-Royal des Champs
As the second son of the family, Jérôme-Nicolas was originally destined for the army. No doubt he was delighted unexpectedly to inherit his father's titles and office; the sources all insist on his deep affection and gratitude towards his brother.  He was received into Parlement on 26 January 1717, with special dispensation since he was under aged. He soon consolidated his connections with the monied noblesse de robe. In  March 1719 he married Claude Françoise Boucot the only daughter of François Boucot, "Ecuyer, Conseiller-Secrétaire du Roi,  Garde des Rôles des officiers de France" , who brought a dowry of  more than 150,000 livres.  Their sister Marie married a counsellor of the Grand'Chambre of the Parlement, Michel-Louis de La Grange.  Jérôme-Nicolas's marriage did not last long, for his new wife was carried away by smallpox barely six months later on 3rd October 1719, at the age of only nineteen.  

It was over a decade later in 1730 that he remarried.  His second wife was Charlotte Rogier du Lude, who is given as widow firstly of Henry Maillefer, lieutenant criminel au Baillage de Reims (died 1708) and secondly of Jean-Baptiste Lespagnol, Conseillier au Parlement de Metz. Born in 1688, she was in her early forties, with two grown-up children. Presumably she too was wealthy in her own right.  Perhaps she too was a devotée of the diacre; the only glimpse we have is a mention of her solicitude as her husband slowly wrecked his health through his pious excesses.
The dying diacre is visited by his brother.  Drawing by Bernard Picart (Port-Royal)
Jérôme-Nicolas was prominent among the Jansenists of the Parlement and from the first played a prominent role in safeguarding the memory of his brother. (He took legal action against Archbishop Vintimille; see Kreiser, Miracles, Convulsions, and Ecclesiastical Politics  p.224-8;  there are more details of his activities in this book, but I don't have access to the full text.)

Anonymous engraving:  The diacre and his brother at the foot of the Cross.  This image clearly predates Jérôme-Nicolas's death ; maybe it was commissioned by him. The Bible quotation is  from Acts 4: 29-30...."Enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders"
In September 1732 the magistrates of the Parlement of Paris were exiled to Clermont in the Auvergne. From here Jérôme-Nicolas took the opportunity to visit the Appellant Jean Soanen, the former bishop of Senez, in his place of exile, the remote Benedictine abbey of La Chaise-Dieu. The Nouvelles ecclésiastiques tells us that it was at this time, that Jérôme-Nicolas, inspired by his brother's example, determined upon the "plan de la vie pénitente" that he followed until his death. From this time onwards, whilst still fulfilling the duties of his office, he embarked upon a life of extreme austerity. The Jansenist paper lingers long over his near starvation diet and the regime of self-mortification, which brought him to an early grave on 16 August 1737. He was forty-two years old.

For the Jansenist faithful Jérôme-Nicolas's funeral was a chance to replay his brother's which had taken place a decade previously.  Crowds lined the streets, gazed out of windows and packed the church of Saint-Gervais to offer him public veneration.  When Hérault blocked his interment in the cemetery, his supporters buried him in a chapel inside the church itself. Devotees took boards and dirt from the site, and soon these relics too were said to have instigated miraculous cures.(Kreiser, p.391-93).  He left no children; his sister Marie was named as his legatee.  Spare a thought too for his widow, who never remarried but is recorded as dying in Rheims nearly forty years later, on 3rd January 1775 at the age of 87 years.

Anonymous engraving representing Jérôme-Nicolas at prayer
Collection of Port-Royal des Champs

Notice of Jérôme-Nicolas's death, Mercure de France, August 1737. p.1889

Obituary from the Nouvelles ecclésiastiques for 19th October 1737. 
In Barthélémy Doyen, Vie du B. François de Paris, diacre du diocèse de Paris (1788 ed.): .

See also

Christine Gouzi, "L’image du diacre Pâris : portraits gravés et hagiographie", Chrétiens et sociétés 2005, Vol. 12, p. 29-58: Note 30, gives ms sources.

Notice on "Geneanet"

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Newly rediscovered portrait of the diacre Pâris

Jean Restout, L’abbé Tournus en compagnie du diacre Pâris sur le chemin de Port Royal
 oil, 104.5cm x 135cm
Last December this painting by Jean Restout was auctioned in Rouen, with an estimate of between 20,000 and 25,000.  It is variously titled "The abbé Tournus in the company of the diacre Pâris on the road to Port-Royal" and "The pilgrimage of piety".  The subject was previously known from a fine engraving by G.F. Schmidt, but the original painting is newly rediscovered.  It had apparently belonged to the same family in Haute-Normandie for several generations and was found hanging on their stairs by a member of the auction house, Delphine Frémaux-Lejeune.  I haven't managed to find out who bought it.

The picture provides further confirmation of the close ties between François de Pâris and other members of the Jansenist "resistance".  The abbé Louis-Firmin Tournus (1672-1733) was his close associate. The biographies at first referred to him only as "Monsieur Louis" but the 1743 edition of Doyen identifies him by name and reproduces an obituary from the Nouvelles ecclésiastiques for 1734. The abbé's life of penitence, prayer and fasting closely paralleled the deacon's own.  In 1715 he had renounced his parish in the diocese of Agde and come to Paris to live among the Jansenists at the seminary of St. Magloire and the community of St-Hilaire.  According to his obituary, in 1721 Pâris sought him out, knocking on his door, and inviting him to join with him in a life of penitence. The Testament names Tournus as a close friend who has "edified him by his instruction and his example"; Tournus inherited Pâris's library of 200 books.

In 1729, after the deacon's death, Tournus set up a new community with the abbé Gaspard Terrasson and Charles Lajus (aka M. Sylva)  The three lived for some time in retreat at   Notre-Dame de la Gorge in Savoy in the foothills of the Alps. Both these men were involved in the publishing enteprises sponsored by the Jansenist magistrate Carré de Montgeron in the 1730s.  On his return to Paris, Tournus himself was spiritual adviser to the Montgeron family. He died in the Jansenist community of St. Josse in 1733. 

Abregé de la vie de M. Tournus Compagnon de M. de Paris, ou Extrait des Nouvelles Ecclesiastiques du 10 Janvier 1734

Abbé Tournus in prayer
Musée Carnavalet
The artist Jean Restout was a well-known painter of religious subjects.   He came from a family of painters from Rouen and was one of eleven children, at least three of whom were professed monks. He was received into the Royal Academy of Painting in 1720, and worked mainly for the regular orders.  He had come into contact with Jansenist circles through the intermediary of his uncle and mentor  the history painter Jean-Baptiste Jouvenet (1692-1768) There are other existent studies of the abbé Tournus  in various collections, including the Carnavalet and the Musée de Port-Royal. He also painted a deathbed scene of the diacre Pâris with his brother Jérôme-Nicolas - who in all probability commissioned these various portraits. 

Notice for the sale: Normandy Auction, 13th December 2015, Lot 43.

Anthony Quindroit, "À Rouen, un tableau oublié de Restout aux enchères" 11/12/2015

Abbé  Tournus with a view of Port-Royal (Musée Port-Royal des Granges)
The foremost expert on Restout is Christine Gouzi. She has compiled the catalogue raisonné of his works: Jean Restout, 1692-1768, peintre d’histoire à Paris, Paris, Arthena, 2000, 511p.  See the list on Wikipedia:

See also:  John Goodman, "Jansenism, "Parlementaire" politics, and dissidence in the art world of eighteenth-century Paris:  the case of the Restout family"  Oxford Art Journal 18(1) 1995 p.74-95 [available on JStor]

The diacre Pâris (cont.)

A little more on the diacre Pâris:  The following is summarised and (loosely) translated from the first of the "lives" to be written, Pierre Boyer's , Vie de Monsieur de Paris, Diacre, which was published 1731, but probably composed in 1728. 

 The account begins with the diacre's family circumstances and the difficulties he faced in pursuing his religious vocation against his parents' wishes.  He was obliged to study law and taught to ride a horse but resisted efforts "to form him for the world" (p.9-10) He was finally allowed to go on retreat for three months with Oratorians of St Magloire, and acquired himself a Jansenist spiritual director, père Gaffarel (p.11) He sought out the figurist scholar, the abbé Duguet.  Forced to leave, he spent most of the time in his room pursuing meditation and prayer.  It was at this time that he contracted smallpox and was scarred. Eventually his stubbornness prevailed and in August 1713 he was allowed to return to the seminary. He kept himself to himself, apart from his close association with his brother (p.17). He attended the conferences of the abbé d'Asfeld at St Roch; and helped with catechism classes in the nearby parish of St. Jacques-du-Haut-Pas (p.18)  After the death of his father, he returned to the paternal house to be with his brother, but passed part of the year (in 1717, 1718 and again 1719) in retreat at Boissy. Here he lived frugally, and occupied himself in charitable works:
 Everything about him spoke of simplicity and even poverty. His only furniture was a bed, a table, three chairs; but he impoverished himself thus only for the benefit of the poor.  He provided as far as he could for all their needs, he visited them in their illnesses, offered them remedies,  brought them broth with his own hands;he made homemade wine which he distributed to the poor, principally to the sick. (p.25)

Back in Paris, he assisted at the parish of Saint-Côme. He avoided attempts to appoint him a canon at Reims Cathedral, and later to become the parish priest of Saint-Côme, a project backed by Archbishop Noailles himself.  He consented to becoming a deacon in 1720 but resisted full ordination. 
He now withdrew to the Collège de Bayeux where he occupied himself in study and meditation, but always found time for deeds of charity.

  "He willingly left his books and his solitude to go to those in need or suffering and his door was always open.  He did not content himself with giving money to the  priest of S. Saint-Côme for the poor of the parish, he had a great number come to him each month so as to have the consolation of helping them personally.  He picked out those who were able to work and had them taught a trade. He sought ought families who had hidden their indigence for shame.  He considered how he could bring them salvation (p.35-6) 

At  this time and throughout his subsequently life, he offered sanctuary to  persecuted Jansenists.
He furnished them with all they needed  - lodging, board and upkeep.  He also consoled  and encouraged them with his discourses and impressed them with his humility and engaging affability. (p.39).

At this time he decided to devote himself entirely to God, and to find companions to join him in his life of penitence.

It was not to the priesthood, or even the ministry, that Our Saintly Deacon was called although he served well by his example and learning in the instruction of priests and ministers....He was attracted to absolute separation from the world, to retreat and penitence; if study entered into his plan it was mainly for his own edification and to arm himself against the errors of the time. From his earliest years, his heart and mind were inspired by the saints of Port-Royal, who had distinguished themselves both by the austerity of their lives and their love of  truth and justice. This was the model that he chose to imitate.  He wished to revive it  by assembling around him in his solitude a number of chosen companions.  This plan never left his heart...and he always executed it as far as God permitted. (p.50)

"The Sainted Deacon did not loose sight of his great plan, which was to form an Ecclesiastical community of penitents.  Several projects for regulations were found among his papers.  In a word he wanted to revive Port-Royal on earth."

Im 1721, about a year after his ordination as Deacon,he got to know a priest [the abbé Tournus]  who had come to Paris from the provinces with a similar plan. After three months of retreat, animated by renewed zeal,  he sold his furniture, his house in Palaiseau and dismissed his servants. He rented a room in the rue de l'Arbalète, next to the abbey of Val-de-Grâce in the Faubourg Saint-Marceau. He now severed all connections with his former colleagues, going only by the name of "M François".

There follows a general account of the penitent life he prepared to practise:

"He saw all about him and under the same roof, only working people, and the poor.  In his room everything breathed poverty; the bare walls; the total lack of furniture, even a cupboard; his bed with but a poor mattress; the fireplace which he lit only for cooking;  windows that closed badly and faced North.  There M. de Paris prepared his own food, eking out a tiny portion of meat. Later he renounced meat entirely, having already renounced wine; his most substantial meal in his solitude was hard-boiled eggs.
All this was but a was a prelude and a trial-run for his future penitence, heroic in itself and prodigious in the eyes of all  who observed it.......He confided that he believed he must attempt to appease the wrath of God which had been ignited by the Bull Unigenitus.  He said privately to M. Louis that, since he was useless otherwise to the Church, he hoped to serve it through his penitence.  It is evident from what followed how greatly he had been struck by the ills of the Church, the progress of error and scandal...."(p.51)

p.75 The deacon was joined by the abbé Tournus and four other like-minded men. They lived in the rue Saint-Jacques, again close to the abbey of  Val-de-Grâce.  He subsequently moved with" M. Louis" to an even more secluded location in the rue de Bourgogne [rue de Bourguignons], where they inhabited a lean-to ("cabane")  at the back of the property. (p.76)    Details are given  of the daily routine of the two men (p.77-8)

They rose two hours after midnight to observe the Vigil (Night office) laid down in the rule of St Benedict; M. de Paris had always venerated the Benedictine order, particularly the Benedictines of St Maur, because of their attachment to the truth...After the Vigils, they followed [a regime of meditation and prayer]

They observed a constant regime of  fasting and abstinence;  the only exceptions were Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, when M. Paris had a small portion of meat brought from the local auberge for himself and his companion.  They took only one meal, at six o'clock in the evening.  It consisted of cabbage soup and boiled rice, with cheap rough bread.  They would cook a quantity of cabbage in one go which would serve to provide pottage for a dozen or so days.  They picked these cabbages as they needed them.  They also cooked enough rice for a week.  M. de Paris decided this was not extreme enough and without the regard he had for M.Louis he would have reduced himself to bread and water. 

They took it in turns during the week to cook and each read  in turn whilst their companion took his meal....

They tended the garden themselves; it was the duty of M. de Paris to draw water from a deep well and to do the watering.  The housework was also shared between the two solitaries, but M. de Paris took over the most humble and humiliating tasks.

The Holy Penitent always wore linen but he wore only the most coarse serge shirts; the start of this mortification originated with an act of charity towards a poor man whom he met in the street almost naked; he had taken him into a quiet dark alley and given him the shirt he was wearing; from that moment on he did not care to wear good shirts again. 

In the beginning he slept fully clothed on a hard palliasse , often on the bare earth...Subsequently he yielded to his confessor who made him use a mattress; but it was hard, poorly made one, more likely to cause suffering than to relieve it.  Later on he slept on a miserable plank that had served as a shutter or a door.  In the end, he used an overturned wardrobe.

For several years he had worn a hair shirt (and used other instruments of mortification) but his Confessor obliged him to stop and permitted him only (a chain around his arm)

It would be difficult to enter into the detail of all the means employed by the sainted Penitent to inflict suffering on himself.... (p.79-81)

He was also distinguished by his humility and the care he took to remain unknown

He went about in a coarse cassock, always well-worn, with heavy coarse shoes and a hat which was old and battered.  He went out himself to buy vegetables and bread for the week, and carried them with the air of a poor man who had nothing.  Out in the streets one day with an friend who was an ecclesiastic, the latter remarked on his strangely neglected appearance.  Perhaps I am making you ashamed, said this humble man, in a gentle tone, full of modesty; if you like I can walk behind you at a distance.  He was not at all troubled by such reproaches.... (p.83-4)

 He lived a life of poverty: 

We are already remarked on the love that the Sainted Deacon had for Evangelical poverty, but he pushed the practice much further when he buried himself in the rue de Bourgogne.  He practised to the letter, without taking formal vows, the regime prescribed to the poorest Religiuex. 
[He gave over all control of his revenue to his brother and asked for funds as for charity].

He sold his few remaining pieces of silverware in his solitude; he gave his linen, even his shirts. He did not think to save for the morrow: the revenues he received passed strait into the hands of the poor of the Parish or to people who suffered for the cause of the Church...He himself appeared in the streets like a poor man...One day, when visiting an Ecclesastic who had been reduced to poverty by necessity, he noticed that he had only a very poor cloak; he orderd a new cloak for himself and during a second visit to the Ecclesiastic took the old cloak when he left and left the new on in its stead. (p.89)

He practised public penance:

[He added] humiliations in the view of the whole Church, as if a man so innocent and pure was distined to make of himself a public victim of expiation.  When the faithful of the parish assembled, he left his retreat with the air of a penitent worn down under the weight of his sins, his eyes lowered, his head bent; he entered the church and took the last place...Although with his Ecclesiastical robes and tonsure, he always remained in the lowest ranks, among the poor(p.94-5).

The deacon decided to take up weaving but was double-crossed when he tried to acquire a loom.

Among his resolutions...was to give a considerable time every day to working with his hands.  For the first four months this work consisted, as we have seen, in cooking, repairing cloths and tending the garden.  But zeal pushed him further.  He wanted not only the merit of earning his living by his own work, but also to make an honest and legitimate profit in order to add to his fund of alms....

He entered into an agreement with a master weaver of the Faubourg for 200 livres to learn the work.  He attended lessons assiduously between 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon.  His work was at first so hard for him, that at the end of three hours he couldn't move his arms or legs....

The weaver swindled him, selling him a loom for 280 livres and failing to deliver it.  A lawyer of his acquaintance got redress but in the end the deacon refused his money back and bought another loom for 300 livres.  It is recorded that the master later ran into financial trouble and "had to disappear for a time". (p.97-103)

At the insistence of the curé of Saint-Médard and of his confessor, he was obliged up duties in the parish, teaching clerics and catechism classes.  He was joined by a third companion, M. de Congis, and received various Jansenist sympathisers whom he sustained at his personal expense. At this time his penitence redoubled; he lived on a sort of potage of boiled vegetables and slept on an old cupboard with a stone for a pillow.  The Vie describes his piety, works of charity and his dedication to the Appelant cause, including the idea that his penitence stood to assuage divine anger at the Bull Unigenitus.  There follows an account of his final pilgrimages, last lingering illness and death.

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