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.)

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)

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]"

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. 

Monday 14 March 2016

The diacre Pâris, Jansenist saint

In the late 1720s and early 1730s the tomb of a humble deacon in the church of Saint-Médard was the scene of extraordinary miracles of healing.  The happenings are complex to unravel and even more difficult to explain; I thought I would ask the basic question: what is known about the diacre Pâris himself?

The sources

Accessible details of the life of François de Pâris  come almost exclusively from three popular biographies which were sold in the streets of Paris from 1731 onwards.  According to  the preface to the first (attributed to Pierre Boyer) the documentation had initially been gathered in support of Archbishop Noailles's abortive move to instigate the diacre's canonisation, As such they are essentially hagiographies, intended primarily to establish the fama sanctatis of the candidate. From 1731, as the miracles performed in his name increased, new editions of the texts amplified the deacon's status as a "holy martyr" of the Jansenist cause. However, modern historians have also found corroborating evidence from archival sources.

Family and early life

François de Pâris was born on 30th June 1690,  into a family of the  noblesse de robe originating from Champagne.  The family had moved to Paris at the time of the deacon's grandfather and in 1684  his father Nicolas had achieved the exalted position of conseiller in the Parlement of Paris. His background was not particularly devout, though there were ties to the Jansenist magistracy of the capital; the deacon's maternal uncle and executor of his father's will was Jérôme Le Féron, sous-doyen of the Grand’Chambre, whose sister had been a nun at Port-Royal.

 François entered the Church in the face of parental opposition since, as the eldest son, he was intended to follow his father into the legal profession. In 1713 having finished his license-en-droit  he was finally allowed to enter the seminary of Saint-Magloire. According to his biographers he had from the first demonstrated a predisposition for the religious life, giving himself over to frequent mortification, exercises of piety and solitary prayer. We are told that in the previous year he had  been disfigured by smallpox which he took as a sign to leave worldly vanities;  it was said that he later thanked God for the affliction.  

On his death in March 1714 Nicolas de Pâris partly disinherited François in favour of his younger son Jérôme-Nicolas, who now embarked upon a legal career in his stead.  The biographies relate that the future saint converted his share of the inheritance, which consisted mainly of furniture and silverware, into alms for the poor. Nonetheless the settlement left him adequately provided for: besides half his mother's goods, he retained a quarter of the income from his father's estate  - amounting to several  thousand livres a year. Jérôme-Nicolas was received into the Parlement in 1717 and married a wealthy heiress.  He features in the margins of the biographies as his brother's admiring supporter.

 The house in the rue des Bourguignons
François's deepening personal commitment clearly coincided with the widening crisis within the Church. At Saint-Magloire he entered definitively into the circle of the Jansenist figurists, attending the conferences of the abbé d'Asfeld at Saint-Roch. He also made the acquaintance of the prominent appellant  bishop  Jean Soanen of Senez. In 1714 at the age of twenty-four the future deacon produced a "Compendium of theology" which expressed his adherence to the Jansenist tenets of predestination and efficacious Grace, as well as confirming  his convinced Gallicanism.  In 1717, and again in 1720, he was numbered among the appellants. François de Pâris never wavered in his opposition to Unigenitus. His final profession of faith dictated on his deathbed denounced the Bull as "the work of the devil" and called upon the faithful to promulgate Jansenist authors, particularly the solitaires of Port-Royal.

 His biographers emphasise that the deacon always considered himself unworthy of clerical office and eschewed all positions of authority.  Nonetheless there was at first some question of a conventional ecclesiastical career.  He took Minor Orders in 1715 and, having left Saint-Magloire in 1717, was ordained a subdeacon in 1718.   In 1718 also he was refused a position as canon at the Cathedral in Reims due to his Jansenist views.  He now took up lodgings close to the College de Bayeux, another Jansenist stronghold. In 1720 he reluctantly consented to ordination as deacon, but resisted  pressure  - from Archbishop Noailles himself -  to become parish priest at St-Côme where he assisted. Perhaps only at this point was he definitively deflected into the ascetic life.

 At the beginning of 1723 he sold his country house, acquired in 1719 in the village of Palaiseau, the final resting place of the Arnauld family,  to install himself among the urban poor of  Paris. Until his death on 1st May 1727 he  resided in the  faubourg Saint-Marcel, chiefly in the rue Saint-Jacques then the rue de Bourguignon, near Saint-Médard, in the heart of Jansenist territory.

The life of a Jansenist ascetic 

François de Pâris now lived out the life of a Jansenist ascetic, "figuring"  in his own person the penitence of the faithful for the corruption of the Church . There is little doubt that the deacon himself took on this role consciously.   We are told that it was his contention that, whereas others had been blessed with the talent to defend the Church with their writings, he had been called to defend it "with his prayers and his tears" and to offer himself to God as an expiatory victim [Boyer, Vie p.60]

His existence henceforth was one of extreme austerity and self-mortification. The hagiographies abound with details of his heroic deprivations  He slept on an old armoire, covered himself with a sheet bristling with iron wires that tore his flesh, arose at two every morning and retired at ten every evening.  He wore a hair shirt, a spiked metal belt, and a chain around his right arm.  He beat himself with an iron-tipped lash until the blood ran down his back.  He lit no fire for warmth even in the depths of winter.  His one meal a day consisted of bread, rice, and cabbage or vegetable soup prepared without seasonings, with bread and water on fast days and meat only at Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. It detracts little from this stark catalogue  to observe, with Christine Gouzi, that certain of these details, for instance the particulars of his diet, are consciously patterned on  existing  lives of the saints (François de Sales, St Bernard, Ignatius Loyola, Vincent de Paul  - who was beatified in 1729) [Gouzi, "L'image..", p.19]

Paris's asceticism gradually deepened.  He refused to take communion from 1723 to 1725 and seldom left his tiny lodgings except to attend church services - though he was finally prevailed upon by the curé of St Médard, Nicolas Pommart, to take catechism classes and to train younger clergy for holy orders.  Engaged on these and other charitable works, he made his way around the streets unshod, so that his bare feet became cut and bruised from the paving stones.

Sunday 13 March 2016

The Nouvelles ecclésiastiques

It is one of the great paradoxes of 18th-century thought, that the most successful clandestine publication of the age was not an Enlightenment work at all, but the Jansenist journal, the Nouvelles ecclésiastiques. Despite the best endeavours of the authorities, the Nouvelles ecclésiastiques appeared entirely illegally, without a break from 1728 to its final demise in 1802.  It was, as Professor McManners observes, "one of the most effective and organised propaganda sheets of all time."(Church and society in eighteenth-century France, v.2 (1998) p.423)

Saturday 12 March 2016

The destruction of Port-Royal, 1709-13

Here are two anonymous oil paintings from the Museum at Port-Royal des Champs which depict significant episodes from the infamous destruction of the Abbey and its community of nuns. I can't find the exact provenance, although they are listed as part of the Port-Royal collection by the 1840s. 

The dispersal of the nuns of Port-Royal

 29th October 1709 . The royal arrêt ordering the dispersion of the community is read by the marquis d'Argenson to the twenty-two remaining nuns of Port-Royal in the Chapter House. Anonymous oil

On 26th October 1709 the Council of State issued an arrêt ordering the arrest and dispersal of  the nuns of Port-Royal des Champs.  Three days later, at 7.30 in the morning, as the sisters came from mass, the lieutenant-general of police, d'Argenson, accompanied by three police officers and an armed force of no less that three hundred archers, appeared at the gate of the convent.  He brought with him blank lettres de cachet, one for each of the fifteen nuns and seven postulates.  When the prioress Mother Du Mesnil opened only the grille in the door, he grew angry at this disrespect shown to a royal minister. The prioress would not fill in the arrest warrants  and refused to recognise the Council's orders without a copy of the proceedings.

Friday 11 March 2016

Unigenitus in the Clementine Library

A second important source of printed material relating to the Unigenitus controversy is to be found not in Paris, but in Washington DC at the Catholic University of America.  In 1928 the University acquired the so-called "Clementine Library", a collection of 10,000 books and pamphets amassed in their palace in Urbino by the Albani family  (of which Pope Clement XI was the most distinguished member).  In 2015 the library announced the completion of a project to catalogue and add to WorldCat one section, the Miscellanea Relativa alla Bolla Unigenitus, a thousand or so pamphlets, manuscripts and other items relating to early 18th-century French Jansenism. The Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections Lenore Rouse has also made the contents accessible via a series of  blog posts

The bound volumes of the Miscellanea Relativa alla Bolla Unigenitus  

CUA Rare Books and Specialist Collections - Clementine Library

The End of the Beginning: CUA Rare Books completes cataloging of the Miscellanea Relativa alla Bolla Unigenitus 21/03/15

1. Unigenitus 101

2. Unveiling Unigenitus:   Rare Books marks the 300th Anniversity of the controversial constitution

3. Unigenitus at 300: Selections from the Miscellanea Relativa alla Bolla Unigenitus.

4. Jansenism in the Albani Library:  Unigenitus 1713-2013

5. Deepening divisions:  Unigenitus 1713-2013: . 16/03/14

Public opinion, protest and litigation:
 -Broadside supposedly by the  tailors' guild of Malaucène in Provence, evoking Gallican liberties and rejecting the imposition of Unigenitus.

 - Lettre d’une dame de Paris au pape sur la Constitution (1714), an early example of a  Jansenist "letter from a lady of quality".

-  Various lawsuits related to the refus des sacraments.

Bishop Soanen and the Council of Embrun

Response of the satirists:  Various pamphets.  This Sarcellade is the only pamphlet in the collection to be illustrated;  the peasants of Sarcelles present their harangue to the Archbishop.

6. The Convulsionary Phenomenon: Unigenitus 1713-2013 01/04/14
Documents relating to the miracles of Saint-Médard  and Louis Basile Carré de Montgeron's  La Vérité des Miracles (1737)

7. Jansenists, Printing, and Censorship: Unigenitus 1713-2013 23/6/14
Various arrêts and notices relating to the condemnation of various Jansenist works, including the Nouvelles ecclésiastiques in 1731.

Monday 7 March 2016

The Bull Unigenitus at the Bibliothèque Mazarine

Unigenitus:  Bull of pope Clement XI, dated 8th September 1713, condemning 101 propositions from Quesnel's Le Nouveau Testament en françois avec des Réflexions morales.  Presented to Louis XIV on 3rd October 1713
Text in English, Papal Encyclicals online

Bibliothèque Mazarine
8th September 2013 was the tricentenary of the publication of the Bull Unigenitus. To mark the occasion, the Société des Amis de Port-Royal held a Colloquium and the Bibliothèque Mazarine, in collaboration with the Bibliothèque de la Société de Port-Royal, mounted an exhibition of printed material relating to Jansenism.  The library has subsequently set up a very fine "virtual exhibition" on its website.  I don't want to infringe copyright by reproducing too many pictures - they are there to be seen - but here is a brief summary:

The virtual exhibition is divided into three sections:


This presents examples of most of the key texts and official documents:

- The Augustinus of Jansen and the 1653 papal constitution condemning five of Jansen's propositions.
- Quesnel's  Nouveau Testament;  Unigenitus in Latin and French
Mandement of Cardinal de Noailles and the formal registration of the Bull in France. Various protests and appeals.


Writings for and against Unigenitus, for example: Quesnel's Mémoires, 1714-7; the Hexaples, 1721 (a  refutation of Unigenitus so-named because of its format in six columns)

Le Jeu de la Constitution: c. 1721.  Variant on the popular Game of the goose ("Jeu d'oie"), a sort of Snakes and Ladders.  Square 58, which sends the player back to the beginning of the game, depicts the skeleton of Pope Clement XI, who died in 1721.(Waddesdon Manor has a coloured version of this same engraving).  The section  also contains various examples of writings for and against the Jansenist Convulsionaries.


The popular movement beyond the immediate clerical debate.

-  Satirical works, for example the Sarcellades, anticlerical poems from the early 1730s which purported to be penned by peasants from the Paris suburb of Sarcelles.
- Various engraved portraits of major figures of the Jansenist controversy.
- Copies of the Nouvelles ecclésiastiques. and the Jesuit Journal de Trévoux (left)
- Carré de Montgeron's, La vérité des miracles, illustrated by Jean Restout.


Bibliothèque Mazarine:  1713 : L'Affaire Unigenitus (exposition virtuelle).  Curated by Stéphanie Rambaud.

See also
Archives de France, Commémorations nationales 2013: "Publication de la bulle Unigenitus 3 Septembre 1713",

Bibliothèque de la Société de Port-Royal: "La bulle Unigenitus Dei Filius"

Société des Amis de Port-Royal:   Colloque 2013 : le choc de l’Unigenitus
Summaries in English:

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