Saturday 23 November 2019

More Royal memorabilia under the hammer

OSENAT, "Royauté à Versailles", Saturday 23rd November 2019, Versailles, Hôtel des ventes du Château

Dominique Bonnet, "Un os et une mèche de cheveux de Louis XVI en vente à Versailles", Paris Match, 21.11.2019

Here is yet another auction of royal/18th-century memorabilia, which takes place today (23rd November) at the new Versailles premises of the auction house Osenat. 

Tuesday 19 November 2019

The Vestal Virgins of Jean Raoux

Last year I was lucking enough to go on a visit to Lille.  

Here are my photos of two of the most striking 18th-century paintings from the  Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, Jean Raoux's Vierges antiques and its pendant piece Vierges modernes.

Virgins of Ancient Times (The Vestal Virgins)
Oil on canvas, 92cm x 72.5cm. Signed and dated 1727

Virgins of Modern Times
Oil on canvas, 92cm  x 72.5cm, signed and dated 1728

Jean Raoux (1677-1734) was a fashionable painter of the Regency period. He worked largely under the patronage of  Philippe de Vendôme, the Grand Prior of the Order of Malta, in the Temple.  His pictures were "sought after for their frivolous grace and gentle eroticism". Many were virtuoso displays of painterly technique; he was renowned for his depiction of textiles, particularly, as here, satin.  Raoux was among the first to present his sitters - aristocrats, actresses and ladies of fashion - in allegorical guise. He supplied costumes and settings with a nostalgic neoclassical veneer.  He also frequently painted genre paintings of young women, alone or in small groups - as gardeners, shepherdesses etc. His 18th-century biographer, Antoine Joseph Dezallier d'Argenville, has a pretty anecdote about how he spotted a poor girl in church with her mother and prevailed on her to pose. (Abrégé de la vie des plus fameux peintres, vol.III,  Paris, 1752,  p.259-67.)

Raoux is usually credited with inventing, or at least pioneering,  the genre of the "Vestal Virgin".  In 1727-28 when these two pictures were painted, the subject was in vogue due to the appearance in 1725 of the abbé Nadal's  Histoire des Vestales.  Kathleen Nicholson notes that Raoux imagined the Vestals with archaeological correctness, six in number, in their round Temple of Vesta. The subject allowed him to depict "a society of exotic but purposeful women cloistered by their vows"; the maintenance of the perpetual fire dedicated to Vesta suggested their "ardent purity"(Nicolson, 1997)

The companion painting,  the Modern Virgins,  has been subject to various interpretations.  According to Humphrey Wine, the former curator of 17th and 18th century French paintings at the National Gallery, the two pictures are a contrasting pair which recall the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins.  Whereas the Vestals are united in common purpose, their modern counterparts appear distracted or self-absorbed. The statue to the left of the Vestal painting holds an effigy of Minerva, goddess of wisdom, but  the Modern Virgins are presided over by Apollo, god of Music and the Arts (on the painted ceiling).  The elaborate architecture and ornate buffet suggest "a light-hearted commentary on contemporary debates about the extent to which luxurious living and the acquisition of luxury objects was morally justifiable. " (Wine,1992). 

Personally I am not sure that such a moralising reading is warranted -  Raoux's gloriously painted table and glittering surfaces seem, if anything, a celebration of modern  Arts.  According to Kathleen Nicholson, the second painting shows "a sorority of contemporary virgins who provide models of learning and refinement as they study, make garlands, and attend to table settings". The pairing of the images and their tone "suggests a relatively straight reading of the Vestals", who are admired for their decorum and dignity. (Nicolson, 1997)

Raoux's composition was evidently popular and he painted a number of variations on the theme.  The two prominent figures on the left of the Vestal painting appear in several different versions. Others pictures, for example one in the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, depicted an individual Vesta bearing a flaming basin.  There are also Vestal portraits of named women.  One is of a little girl, Mademoiselle de Pressoy (1724), who was only eight years old.  A second, poignant, image shows Madame Boucher, née Marie-Françoise Perdrigeon (1728) a young bride who was to die at the tragically early age of seventeen.  Both these images of purity stand in contrast to later, more questionable Vestal Virgins, notably Nattier's Madame de Pompadour as Vestal.

Vestals tending the Sacred Hearth, 1730
Painting bought by Frederick the Great in 1747 for Sans-Souci

Vestal carrying the Sacred Fire, 1728-29
In the Musée Fabre, Montpellier

Portrait of Mlle de Pressoy, aged eight.
Portrait of  Marie-Françoise Perdrigeon wife of Etienne-Paul Boucher, 
 Musée des Beaux-Arts Dijon  (copy of 1733 after an original dated 1728)

Vestal Virgin in The Hermitage, St. Petersburg


 Katharine Baetjer, Masterworks from the Musée Des Beaux-arts, Lille.  No 24 and 25 "Vierges antiques" and "Vierges modernes" Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992, p.130-3.

Humphrey Wine, Notice on the pictures in: Tradition & Revolution in French Art 1700-1880: paintings & drawings from Lille.  Published to accompany an exhibition at the National Gallery London, 24 March - 11 July 1993. p.165-6.

Kathleen Nicholson, "The ideology of feminine 'virtue': the vestal virgin in French eighteenth-century allegorical portraiture", in Portraiture: facing the subject, ed. Joanna Woodall (1997) p. 52-74.

Sister Rose - Saint or Sinner?

Even if the claim to "possession" did not involve demons but righteous spirits and divine inspiration, the ecclesiastical authorities would be suspicious.  At the end of the seventeenth century in Paris, Catherine d'Almayrac, "Soeur Rose" was famous for the visionary power she achieved through deep internal tribulations. "I do not know if it is God or the Devil who makes me suffer, but what does it matter whether it is the master or the servant?"  Cardinal Noailles, the archbishop did not care either, and ordered her out of his diocese. McManners p.229-30

It is clear that the psychically gifted, charismatic girl/woman is a recurrent figure of mystically inclined movements of the 18th-century - whether prophetesses, convulsionaries, saints or sorceresses.  In the early years of the century, one such, Sister Rose, earned a reputation as a "béate" - a holy woman.  Despite attracting rich and influential supporters, she was condemned by the ecclesiastical authorities and expelled from the diocese of Paris by two successive archbishops.  Robert Mandrou places her treatment in the context of the late 17th and early 18th-century rejection of witchcraft: the "pitiless pursuit of ecstatic nuns" like Sister Rose - or the similar case of Marie Bucailles in Valognes - reflected a change in judicial attitude and signalled a "profound transformation in mentalities" (p.245-77)  Certainly, as is clear from the 1682 edict against "false sorcerers", there was an increased reluctance on the part of secular courts to meddle with the supernatural. The ecclesiastical authorities also acted robustly in this case.

On the other hand, the story of Sister Rose illustrates clearly the difficulties confronting the spiritually-minded at this period, when faced with presumed mystic experience and claims of possible divine intervention in the world. 

Beginnings - In Toulouse

Catherine d'Almayrac (or "Dalmairac"), variously known as "Soeur Rose" and "Soeur de Sainte-Croix", was peasant girl from the Midi;   By the time she began her Parisian "career" in the closing years of the 17th century, she was already well-known to the judiciary in Toulouse.

Catherine was born on 24th August 1651 in the tiny hamlet of  Lanhac / Lagnac,  about fifteen miles from  Rodez.   In November 1668 she  married a local peasant called Jean Souques and followed her husband to  nearby Sévérac-l'Eglise.  Her strange moods and extravagant behaviour soon made conjugal life impossible.  According to her version of events, she had been constrained to marry by her father, but preferred to remain faithful to  a vow of virginity made at the age of thirteen.  After eighteen months of marriage,  she abandoned her husband altogether.   She spent the next three or four years living either with her father, or with uncles in Besonne. One one occasion she attempted suicide by throwing herself off a bridge into the river Aveyron; she was later to attribute her miraculous survival to the protection of the Virgin.

In 1674 she returned to Sévérac, where her behaviour encouraged rumours that she was possessed.  Her parents and husband took her to the Bishop of Rodez, Mgr Gabriel le Voyer de Paulmy, who charged the curé of Sévérac, Dupuis, with examining her case.  She stayed for a year in the presbytery in Sévérac.  Dupuis, who  had originally been sceptical, fell totally under her spell.   Instances of supposed possession multiplied; Dupuis "conducted frequent exorcisms in public, in the most extravagant forms".  In these ceremonies, which sometimes took place at night,  he would evoke the name and merits of the possessed herself, who he was now convinced was the queen and mistress of demons, predestined to glory.

Faced with rumours of sacrilege, the Bishop was soon obliged to begin an information against Dupuis himself.  He entrusted the inquiry to the abbé Bayot de Moussy, his nephew and vicaire-général.  The latter discovered that Catherine slept in the curé's own bedroom - supposedly  because her episodes of possession were so sudden and violent, that they required immediate exorcism. More scandalous still,  Dupuis would display her in his church for the adoration of the faithful; he had her carried in procession through the parish, and on one occasion had her recite from the pulpit a strange sermon du diable which he himself had composed. There were great crowds of spectators  – some said a thousand strong - and the number of proselytes grew. New adepts would chant Sancta Katharina ora pro nobis, and shower the young woman with offerings and gifts.

The affair was soon the talk of the diocese and beyond.  In the Paris at the 1675 Assembly of Clergy, “several prelates” taunted to Bishop that he should have a good missionary in his diocese since the Devil himself had been seen there. The inquiry was escalated: Dupuis was imprisoned and removed from his benefice.  Catherine was confined by episcopal order with the nuns of St-Catherine in Rodez, where she remained for four months, watched closely by Bayot de Moussy.

Finally,  the ecclesiastical authorities judged that she was not truly possessed, but merely "a magician or a sorceress".  She was ordered to return to the custody of her husband in Sévérac. Instead she made common cause with Dupuis who had appealed to the Parlement of Toulouse, counting on the the support of two conseillers, Dejean and Jougla de Paraza, whom he had served as a tutor.  It was a prolonged hearing but finally the ecclesiastical judgment was overturned. Dupuis was restored to his parish in 1680, where he died shortly afterwards.

Meanwhile in 1677 Catherine started proceedings before the officialité of Rodez to have her marriage set aside in order - she said - to enter the religious life.  In this she was unsuccessful - the Parlement of Toulouse  intervened to annul the "amicable separation" between the spouses and in 1680 the dissolution of the marriage was refused.  The Parlement declined to pass any judgment on the claims of possession and diabolical intervention: ["Her husband claimed that he had had complete knowledge of his wife;  her exorcist maintained that a demon succubus had taken her place."(cited Mandrou)] Her movements after Dupuis's trial are not entirely certain;  at one point  she  was expelled from the sanctuary of  Notre-Dame de Guaraison in the diocese of Auch.  Eventually she returned to Sévérac where she cared for Dupuis during his final illness.

In Paris - First Stay

Catherine first came to Paris at the end of 1693.  At this point she changed her name to Soeur Rose, with the surname Mademoiselle de la Croix or de Sainte-Croix.  She claimed to have become a Tertiary of the order of Saint-Dominic, though there is no evidence to substantiate this.  Soon she settled in lodgings "chez une fruitière"  in the rue Saint-Dominique, where the Jansenist writer Mlle de Joncoux witnessed one of her seizures.  Her strange ecstatic states and her reputation as a miracle worker rapidly attracted attention.  Her principal advocate at this time was her spiritual director, the abbé Jean-Jacques Boileau, tutor in the household of the duc de Luynes, and an influential figure in Jansenist circles.  On the other hand, she excited the emnity of Mme de Guyon.  The ecclesiastical authorities in Paris were also suspicious;  within the year Archbishop Harlay had ordered her to leave the diocese.

Again there is a gap in the record, this time of five years. At one point,  she was expelled from the house of the Hospitaller Sisters in  Toulouse; apparently for faking stigmata on her hands and feet with scissors - a seemingly crude imposture.

In Paris - Second Stay

Sister Rose returned to Paris in 1699 or the beginning of 1700. This time she travelled in a litter "as a woman of consequence" at the expense of the Toulouse magistrate Jean de Jougla de Paraza, whom she prophesied would be married in the capital. (Not perhaps so prescient a prediction since she herself furnished the bride.  She persuaded Boileau that the union was essential to de Paraza's salvation.)

The climate in Paris was now more favourable towards her.  Archbishop Harlay had been succeeded by Cardinal de Noailles;  Boileau had joined the Archbishop's household; and also became spiritual director to the nuns of La Trappe.  La Tour, the superior general of the Oratory, was another influential adherent, the confessor to several well-born ladies. They introduced their protegée to the women of the Court.  Rose benefited from their patronage and assumed the air of a woman of quality herself.  She lodged for a while with Mme Amelot de la Houssaye, then enjoyed the hospitality of the marquise de Vibraye, former lady-in-waiting to the duchesse de Guise. At first she was accommodated in the marquise's apartment in the Luxembourg Palace, then, when once again chased from Paris, at the château in Vibraye, where she stayed from 7th June to 24th August 1701.  More critical observers noted that the holy life she assumed was a veneer.  She evidently enjoyed the trappings of wealth; at Vibraye, to everyone's surprise, she appeared with an elaborate curled hairstyle. There are also several mentions of her excessive use of carriages placed at her disposal. 

Who were her supporters?

Jacques Joseph Duguet

A few individuals, like the magistrate Jougla de Paraza and his brother, knew Rose previously and had followed her from Toulouse. Saint-Simon's editor, Arthur de Boislisle adds a few further names to the list of well-to- female sympathisers -the comtesse de Turbilly;  Mme de Harlay-Bonneuil, the wife of the ambassador; Mme Daguesseau,  mother of Louis XV's future chancellor; Mme de Guitaud;Madame de Sévigné; Mlle de Beauvau -  who placed Rose at the head of a charitable dispensary. Her male adherents were fewer but among them was  M de Harlay, the conseiller d'Etat, who, having regarded her at first as a sorceress, then fell entirely under her control.The well-born young chevalier de Gondé, abandoned his military career to attach himself to her service .  He boasted of her remedies, and took care of her carriage. Apparently they called each other familiarly Maman and Mon fils.

In addition, Rose took it upon herself to offer spiritual direction to a number of clerics. One such was the abbé Dejean, son of the magistrate and a canon from Toulouse; another was the abbé de la Garde who renounced his prieuré near Toulouse to be near her.  (A third priest Bignot was eventually persuaded to enter the Trappists and make over his benefice in Rodez to La Garde.)  In Paris, the persuasive powers  of the abbé de Boileau, brought more prominent  clerical sympathisers, among them La Tour, père Clavel and Le Clerc, superior of the Dominican order.   By far the most significant however, was Jacques Joseph Duguet (1649-1733), former professor at the Oratorian seminary of Saint-Magloire. The leading Jansenist theologian at this time, Duguet was  a man of enormous moral authority.  He became totally convinced by Sister Rose.

What was the basis of her attraction? 

Three hundred years later, it is impossible to gauge Rose's sincerity. She was evidently motivated by self-interest  but we cannot know whether she was guilty of imposture or merely deluded -  possibly a mixture of both. However, she managed to persuade intelligent and pious figures that she could work wonders, prophesy; discern men's minds and hearts, that she was a saint inspired by God.

At the core of her authority were her episodes of apparent possession or religious ecstasy.  These must have been impressive to persuade so temperamentally cautious a manas Duguet. Eyewitness accounts suggest some kind of epilepsy, possibly a psychosomatic disorder.  Descriptions are roughly similar: she would fall into a catatonic trance; her breathing and pulse would slow to nothing, her limbs become rigid, eyes unfocused; she would emit strange noises like death-rattles.  Sometimes blood would flow from her mouth.  She was unaware of her surrounding but seems to have developed the ability to resurface at will, in response to a given signal.  Experts from the Medical Faculty had examined her but professed themselves mystified.

Supporters struggled to explain the religious significance of these occurrences. In 1680s they thought largely in terms of possession (whether benine or diabolical). However, by the 1690s the episodes were accepted as God-given and attention focused on the inexplicable ability of Rose's directors to call her back from unconsciousness.  Rose herself maintained that she fell into an esctatic trance and enjoyed a vision of God. As Jansenists, Duguet and Boileau, were atune to the idea that the will of God might be immanent in the world.  Their associate, the comte de Charmel, came close to the view that Rose's affliction, like that of the later Convulsionnaires, was a figure of the suffering of Christ in his Church.

Rose was unusual in that she was not a young girl but a middle-aged woman.  Her performance had little in the way of sexual undertones. (She  was variously described as ugly, thin, yellow in complexion, though extremely lively.) On the other hand, she was able to muster a considerable air of authority, taking it upon herself to give moral advice and spiritual direction.  She seems, in fact, to have tried out a number of different tactics to gain recognition.  Her "prophecies" amounted to little; Jougla's marriage and a few thinly-veiled threats directed at Archbishop Noailles are all that is recorded.  Critics said that she researched her information in advance.  She had no formal education, so possibly her inventive powers were limited.  She achieved greater success with "conversions", that is moral reformations, the most notable of which involved Jougla de Paraza's brother, the  abbé Jean-Ignace de Jougla.

She also acquired something of a reputation for miraculous healings. Her admirers rather optimistically dubbed her the "la nouvelle thaumaturge de notre siècle". In 1701 she told Dom Lamy, with a degree of verisimilitude,  that demands for cures were taking over her time.  There seemed an unlimited well of suffering to tap, hope born of desperation among highborn and poor alike.  Even the hostile Mlle Jongoux was prevailed upon to approach Duguet on her uncle's behalf.  Rose's best publicised cures involved the abbé Maisne, secretary to Rancé at the abbey of La Trappe, and  the "mad priest" Monsieur Félix, who was tutor to the children of M. de Harlay (he subsequently lapsed). Arthur de Boislisle lists among the hopefuls the comtesse de Turbilly who suffered from rheumatism and the comte de Xaintrailles, who was afflicted with a continuous tremor. The wife of a mason from Montmirail brought an arm which had withered after a botched surgical procedure: Sister Rose is reported to have pulled at the arm repeatedly and with force, causing great pain, but then announced that sadly she was unable to affect a cure. 

Sister Rose and the abbé Thiers

Unsurprisingly, many failed to succumb to Rose's charms.  D'Argenson kept her under police surveillance and, without powerful protectors, she would no doubt have been quietly consigned to a prison cell.  During her second stay in Paris, supporters attempted to orchestrate her defence.  She made two journeys to La Trappe where Duguet and Charmel tried unsuccessfully to enlist the authority of Rancé: "to enlighten the great master about so extraordinary a person, to obtain his approval and to raise up their saint by so great a witness".  It was on the first of these trips, in April 1700  that the abbé de Jougla was persuaded to become novice. On the  second in August, the visitors stayed for six weeks.  Saint-Simon, who was passing a few days at the abbey, met Rose on several occasions; he found her "more extraordinary than anything else" and made the acquaintaince of Duguet, whom he found charming. Rancé, however, refused firmly to see Rose, despite her success with the abbé Maisne. M. de Saint-Louis, a former colonel of cavalry, who had retired to La Trappe, was likewise unimpressed.  Rose was irritated and accused him of pride and vanity.  The situation was made decidedly uncomfortable by Rancé's own death on 26th October 1700.

Jean-Baptiste Thiers
Portrait from the website of the Cercle de Recherches 
Généalogiques du Perche-Gouët (C.R.G.P.G.)
 Finally  in February 1701 Archbishop Noailles expelled Rose without further formality from his dioceses. She first retired to Compans, with Mme de Harley, but Bossuet as Bishop of Meaux proved no more tolerant.  She then took refuge in Vibraye.  Soon her comings and goings  again alerted the authorities.  The Bishop of Le Mans, Ludovic de La Vergne de Montenard de Tresson,was obliged, by order of the King, to instigate an inquiry. It was Rose's ill-fortune that the man charged with the investigation, the current curé of Vibraye, chanced to be none other than the formidable Jean-Baptiste Thiers (1638-1703), author of the hugely erudite and sceptical Traité des superstitionsIn a letter to the bishop, Thiers cuts to the heart of the matter: "the difficulty is to know if [her visions] are true and free from illusion and imposture and if they come from God or the Devil, who often transforms himself (as the apostle says 2 Cor 11) into an angel of light". In his subsequent memoir, he concludes robustly that Rose is a false saint: she should give up her "airs of importance", repent her errors and return to her husband. 

Little is known of Rose's subsequent career. Having been forced to leave Maine, she journeyed to Savoy, to Annecy, where she died on 12th April 1722, after receiving the sacraments of the church.  The abbé Boileau remained loyal to the end.  Duguet, too remained under her spell for a long time and even visited her in Annecy in 1715.  Finally, however, he changed his mind; hence his undisguised disgust at the antic of the later Jansenist charismatics:  "I was the dupe of Sister Rose I do not want to be that of the Convulsionaries".


A. de Boislisle."La Béate Rose et ses miracles" Mémoires de Saint-Simon vol., p.460-510

L. Froger, "Thiers, curé de Vibraye et la béate Rose", Union historique et littéraire. du Maine, vol. 1(6), June 1893, p.165-168.

M. Constans, "Mademoiselle de Sainte-Croix ou Soeur Rose (1651-1722) "Mémoires de la Société des lettres, sciences et arts de l'Aveyron, vol.21 (1921), p.253-307.

Robert Mandrou, Magistrats et sorciers en France au XVII siècle (1980 ed.) [For loan on Internet Archive]; p.474-6.

"A Vibraye en 1700 : sœur Rose, ange ou démon ?" Nogent-le-Rotrous sous la Révolution française [blog] post of 07.03.2016


An account of a visit:  Mlle de Joncoux

The Jansenist writer Françoise-Marguerite de Joncoux (1668-1715) has left an account of three visits she and her mother paid to Sister Rose in her lodgings in the rue Saint-Dominique in 1693 and 1694. Her impression of Sister Rose was not favourable:

I don't know what to say about her furnishings, because that sort of thing does not make much impression on me.  I recall that everything seemed clean about her person and in the room.  For several months she had not left her bed; she was often in such a terrible state that those who did not know that she was afflicted by a miracle pro gloria Dei, thought she was on her deathbed and wanted to fetch the last sacraments.   However, she did not seem to me to be ill; her face was full.  She did not have the appearance of an invalid or of a person who ate as little as they said.  She seemed to me about 45 or 50 years old, extremely ugly, with a proud and confident air, more man than woman.  My mother shared my judgment.

When informed by Rose that the doctors had not been able to accertain the cause of her illness, Mlle de Joncoux primly delivered a "little sermon" advising her to place her trust in Jesus-Christ.  She had initially hoped that Rose would bring about the reformation of one of her relatives; but, Rose warned her that her prayers might  just encourage divine anger  and, in effect, the person had strayed even more since then.  During the second visit, she heard Rose speak very loudly and laugh merrily with her servant, "But I could not understand a word of what she said, because she spoke in son jargon de Toulouse". On the third visit, the servant refused them entry. 
See  F.Ellen Weaver, Mademoiselle de Joncoux : polémique janséniste à la veille de la bulle Unigenitus, (Cerf, 2002), p.109-11

Descriptions of Sister Rose's ecstasies

Mlle de Joncoux:
Mlle de Joncoux presently made a fourth visit to Rose in the company of Boileau, where they were witnesses to one of her "états de béate" We approached the sick woman.  It was hot and she was cold, even though her movements were agitated;  no pulse, no breathing, her intestines were making a great noise.  Here eyes were still open, looking up fixedly, without movement, without blinking or focusing.  She did not seem as ugly in this state as she had the first time.  Her expression seemed full of suffering and her eyes suggested a state of profond comtemplation.

Boileau, at their request, brought her back from her trance with a sharp command to ask God for relief.  She recovered immediately.  Boileau assured them that in this state she saw nothing, heard nothing and sensed nothing. She had obeyed instantly even when he had only made an interior command.
After he had brought her to her senses, he spoke to her of God and she fell into ecstasy and remained immobile, her hands laid out on the bed to form a cross, her eyes raised,again without movement or pulse.  This time she only came round on the second command.   

Mlle de Jongeux remained sceptical:
I continued to impress on [Boileau] my fear he was mistaken.  I urged him to be cautious, because such extraordinary things demand caution, especially if they concern women.  I put it to him that the life of this woman was idle and useless and that there was nothing holy about the multiplicity of supposed miracles that brought her back from all sorts of extraordinary states.  They seemed to have no other goal, than to make her regarded as a saint.  If I was in his place, I would leave her in these states until she was obliged to come round by herself.....

Here is another account, this time of a seizure which took place at La Trappe
When she realised what was about to happen, she lay down on the bed;  she groaned like someone about to die;  her stomach swelled up, her arms and legs went rigid, her face changed and then she coughed up a considerable amount of  blood.  In that state, she looked as though she had died; she had already been given extreme-unction on fifteen occasions without noticing.
quoted Constans,(1921), p. 287-8.

A meeting with Dom Lamy

In a letter to Fénelon, 3rd Feb 1701, the Benedictine scholar describes a visit he made with Mabillon to see Sister Rose in the Luxembourg Palace. .
I spent almost an hour and a half with the holy woman; she spoke to me almost exclusively about her miracles or about the supernatural illnesses she had experienced the first time she was in Paris.  She described them to me as periodic convulsions, during which she knew nothing of the outside world but her spirit was wholly occupied by God.  She assured me that nothing similar would happen again, that the time of trials had passed....After this she recounted several of her miracles.  She told me that she did not want them known, for fear that she would be inundated with petitioners: "To undertake to do miracles, she said, one must feel carried away by the spirit of God..  She had no leisure to pray because she was occupied from morning to night with requests on behalf of the sick.  On the subject of her piety, it often seemed that she misled me and I took my leave.
Constans,(1921), p. 285-6.

A police report

The number of the dupes and protectors of Sister Rose grows daily.  It seems, nevertheless, that it has become more difficult to see her and that she has become more careful and suspicious.  She used to say...that the ecclesiastic with the children of Monsieur de Harlay had been perfectly cured of madness and this cure was due to her prayers. 
Report of D'Argenson, February 1701

A testimony in support of Rose: the comte de Charmel

Louis de Ligny, comte de Charmel, a former Courtier and royal official, retired from public life "without backward glance" in the late 1680s and devoted himself to a life of austere penance.  He was exiled from Paris for his Jansenist sympathies in 1706 . Charmel came to believe in Rose through the influence of La Tour, Duguet and Boileau. In 1700 her supporters circulated a letter  by him to the abbess of Notre-Dame des Clairets, in which he describes Rose's miraculous gifts. His interpretation clearly anticipates later understanding of the Convulsionnaires.

God has given to her extraordinary and abundant gifts. He has honoured her with the ability to speak of holy matters with wisdom; to cure the sick; to perform miracles; to utter prophesies; to understand minds and hearts; also to speak and interpret different tongues.  She experiences ecstasies and raptures which she can leave at will at the slightest  command of her directors and superiors. She has visions and revelations, and it is thus that she discovered the iniquities of madame Guyon;  she knows what happens in distant countries; she often feels in her own person the visible effects of the protection of the Virgin Mary.  She has exposed herself more than once to the danger of death rather than violate the vow of virginity which she took at the age of thirteen.  She has bled abundantly from the mouth on certain Fridays, above all Good Friday, in order to enact in her own flesh the suffering of Christ; she suffers herself for his body which is the Church.  She is always fasting;  God never refuses her prayers; in imitation of the Saints, she has suffered persecution; she has performed more wonders than Saint-Theresa;  she is a woman inspired by God, an incomparable woman, a great servant of God;  she is a saintly woman and has been since her childhood, in so far as is possible in this life.
Mémoires de Saint-Simon, ed. Boislisle , vol.8, p.79.
Translated from Constans "Mademoiselle de Sainte-Croix.." (1921), p. 282-3.

A miraculous conversion

The abbé Jean-Ignace de Jougla, brother of the magistrate, was a young man in his early thirties at the time of his "conversion";  he had been a parish priest in Toulouse.  After life of debauchery, he entered the abbey of La Trappe under the name of Arsène;  he became master of the novices;  prieur of the abbey of Buonsolaze in Tuscany, then finally abbot of Tamiers in Savoy in 1707.   He died on 24th June 1727. Rose "directed" Jougla for six months and followed him to La Trappe to quieten his anxieties. His account is found in two letters, dated 21 April 1700 and January 1701, addressed to his brother and father.

You are witness to the wise conduct which this servant of God has show in order to start me out on the road of penitence which God laid down for me .... She did not speak to me of La Trappe until I was in a state to receive the proposition.....I always come back to what that woman said to me, and I conclude that I must do as she wishes, if I want to be saved.
Von Tippelskirch, X. (2010). Publier l'expérience radicale: Le cas de la conversion d'un trappiste. Archives de sciences sociales des religions, 55(150), 99-115

The assessment of Saint-Simon

Saint-Simon met Duguet for the first time at La Trappe with Charmel and Rose;  was surprised by his veneration for her.
Monsieur, the cardinal de Noailles has chased out of his diocese, Mlle Rose, the famous beate of ectasies, and extraordinary visions, who... is a real enigma.  She is formerly from Gascony, or rather from Languedoc, with a strong accent; square, medium height, very thin, her face yellow, extremely ugly, with lively eyes; she has an ardent contenance, but one which she knows how to soften;  lively, eloquent, learned, with a prophetic air which impresses....  This creature has always been an enigma...She has made great and surprising conversions, she has spoken of most extraordinary things, many very hidden, in the past, and prophesied others in the future which have come to pass.  She has performed surprising cures where there has been no remedy.  She has had on her side men who are wise, cautious, very learned and pious, of sublime minds, who had nothing to gain from this attachment, yet conserved it their whole life.

The verdict of the ab Thiers

 BN. MS 18832 contains Thiers's account of his interrogation of Sister Rose.  It is clearly the draft of a work intended for publication. The summary contains a thorough demolition of the wretched Rose. The first part demonstrates that she is no saint;  the second offers  a point-by-point refutation of her supposed miracles and divine gifts.

The entire  manuscript, in his original hand, is reproduced on Gallica:

BN. MS 18832 - Recueil concernant Catherine d'Almayrac, du diocèse de Rodez, appelée aussi la soeur Rose ou Rose de Sainte-Croix.

Curious question: Whether sister Rose is a saint

(Summary of chapters)

State of the question: For some time Sister Rose has been the talk of society; she has been chased twice from Paris; excessive praise from her partisans; their steps to secure her reputation for saintiness. Opposing sentiments of disinterested and unprejudiced people.  Reasons that the question was examined and for making the results public.

Part 1: Reasons which show that the claim to sainthood of Sister Rose is extremely suspect

1. Sister Rose left her husband without legitimate cause.  There are proofs she is  married and the ecclesiastical authorities of Rodez rejected her demand for the marriage to be nullified.  This answers her contention that she is not married and is a virgin.  Prisque and Maimelle (?) were recognised to be false prophetesses because they had separated from their husbands.

2. Sister Rose threw herself off a bridge into a river to save herself or escape  from the hands of her husband; she remained two or three hours under the water without drowning, if her partisans are to be believed.  This action is against the law of God and in consequence, according to Saint Thomas, a sin against religion and saintliness.

3. History of the curé of Séverac, with whom Sister Rose lived for a year, pretending to be possessed and sleeping in his chamber.  This curé had her put on an altar, had her carried in procession, and had her preach in the pulpit of his Church.   Trial of this curé with these facts.  Sister Rose was confined with the nuns of Ste Catherine in Rodez by order of the late Monsieur de Paulmy, bishop of Rodez;  after examining her for four months, he declared she was not possessed.  Six reflections on these adventures.

4. Sister Rose was expelled from Notre Dame de Garaison and twice from Paris;  she changed her name from Catherine to Sister de la Croix.  She claimed that she received the name of Sister Rose when she entered the Tertiary order of St. Dominic.  Two reasons demonstrate she never made any profession in that order.

5. Sister Rose interfered in many affairs which did not concern her.  She married, directed, dogmatised without vocation against the precepts of the Apostle and the opinions of the Fathers.  In doing this, she had self-interested and base motives; if she did good it was incidental.  She would have done better to return to her husband and live with him as a good and honourable woman.

6. Her airs of grandeur in the world are proof against her saintliness.   She preferred to be in high society; she had herself called Mademoiselle, even though she was only the wife of a peasant; she had a chamber maid that she called Demoiselle.  She had use of fine horses and carriage. She did not lack for money.  She made it clear in her responses to M. Thiers, that humility was not her favourite virtue.  However, one cannot be a saint unless one is humble.

7. Sister Rose is convicted of dissimulation and lies:
She was recognised as a fraud by the Sisters Hospitallers of Toulouse over the stigmata she claimed an angel had made in the night on her hands and feet in the night. She claimed she was possessed when she was not. She  put forward many lies about her marriage and her husband. She added insult and impudence to pretence and lies, in an interview she had with Monsieur de St Louis at La Trappe.

8.  Malicious suspicions shown by Sister Rose, contrary to charity -  against the honest women who lived in the same house as her; against  the late abbot of La Trappe.  She has lost her temper at Vibraye on several occasions, notably when Monsieur Thiers questioned her about Madame Guyon and Monsieur de Saint Louis.  The turbulent, difficult and angry spirit she has shown is not a mark of sainthood.

9. Sister Rose is not sufficiently careful to preserve her reputation for chastity and modesty.  She has familiar relations with men, which is always dangerous. She has given proof of this at Vibraye and at La Trappe.  Several respectable people have been scandalised by her manners, and her over-free speech which does not suit an honourable woman.

10.  Sister Rose does not display any marks of piety.  She does not pray to God in the evening before going to bed.  She does not go to mass in an edifying manner.  She was no more devout at La Trappe than at Vibraye, where she has been three months without receiving the sacraments, even on Assumption Day.  This has not edified the parish, where she was heralded before her arrival as a saint.

Part 2: Response to the arguments of Sister Rose's partisans in favour of her saintliness.

1. The extraordinary gifts attributed to Sister Rose. Such gifts do not sanctify those who are favoured with them;  they are graces freely given to bring others to God; they do not make their recipients agreeable to God or unite them to Him.

2. The gift of speaking of God with wisdom that is attributed to Sister Rose. There is only one deposition in her favour.  She did not speak with her responses to Monsieur Thiers during her interrogation.

3. The gift of healing which Sister Rose is said to be favoured with.  There is no certain proof that she has performed cures by extraordinary means.  On the occasion of her healing of a furious and lunatic priest: she showed temerity and ignorance.  If she has successfully cured anyone, it was through natural remedies and not miracles.  All those she has tried to cure at Vibraie either have not been cured, or are worse than before.

4. Miracles are not always a mark of sanctity.  According to Scripture and the Fathers, the wicked, heretics, false prophets and demons have performed them. No miracle can be publicised without the approval of the Church.  In St. Augustine's view, the age of miracles is passed.

5. The gift of prophecy that Sister Rose is believed to be favoured wit.   She has the marks of a false prophet rather than a true one.   Her prophecy to M. de Paraza could have been predicted by natural means.  She questions the friends and servants of those to whom she makes pronouncements about the past or the future, so that they will believe she is a prophetess. 

6. The discernment of men's spirits and the understanding of hearts imputed to Sister Rose.  She has neither.  She was challenged to provide proofs and she did not.  She has only revealed hidden things which she has learned by ordinary and natural means.

7. The gift of speaking and understanding different languages.  According to the rites of the Church, it is the mark of the Devil to speak in unknown tongues.  We do not believe that Sister Rose is possessed; but she guesses what is said in foreign languages that she does not understand.  Examples.

8. The gift of  making conversions attributed to Sister Rose.  It is God alone who can bring about conversion. Those which Sister Rose has performed are very suspect....She would be better to work on her own reformation than that of others.

9. The ecstasies and raptures of Sister Rose....The ecstasies of Sister Rose are very suspect.  They may arise from some natural cause.  They could be secret and voluntary like those of the fanatics of Dauphiné and Le Vivaret.  The life of Sister Rose does not conform to the gifts of God which are attributed to her.

10. The visions and revelations of Sister Rose. These are declared personally to her friends and are suspect for that reason.  They are false according to the five rules Cardinal Bona gives to recognise false from true.  Pope Gregory was deceived by the visions and revelations of St Catherine and St Briget.  The partisans of Sister Rose are so dazzled by her marvels that they dare to say she has performed more extraordinary feats that St Theresa.

11. The protection of the Holy Virgin.  Sister Rose's partisans say that she has often felt the effects but the occasions only show her confusion.  Her life in no way conforms to that of the Virgin.  She does not maintain any devotion to the Virgin.

12. The blood which flows from Sister Rose's mouth.  This could occur naturally or by artifice, without miracle.  It is an illusion to see it as a mark of sanctity.

13. The fasts of Sister Rose.  This is not a mark of sanctity.  Many religious observe fasts without being saints.  Reasons to doubt her abstinence.

14. The power of Sister Rose's prayers.  She is presumptuous to claim that God never refuses her prayers.  That presumption is a sin which God punishes.

15.  The persecution of Sister Roses.  She calls persecution what is not.  It  is not the persecution in itself, but its cause which sanctifies.  If she has attracted persecution it is through her bad conduct.  How much she has become misliked in Vibraie.

16.  Examples of greatmen who have been seduced by women.... The supporters of Sister Rose should take note.
 Constans (1921) Appendix II, p.299-304.
The text is also  reproduced in Robert Mandrou, Possession et sorcellerie, p.245-72, together with Thiers's letter to the bishop.  (BnF, 20973)
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