American Benedictine Review 17:3 (1966) 314-335.

MANY people realize that it will be almost impossible to convince the monks and nuns of France that what they fought so hard to maintain in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries should undergo some radical change before the dawn of the twenty-first century. There are also many individuals who feel that the French Benedictine contemplatives should not change anything in their traditional way of life.

An appreciation, in this era of aggiornamento, of the reasons for clinging to monasticism as historically practiced in France in the past two centuries can be attained only through the knowledge of the recent history of the French Benedictines. Granted that in the past the monas­teries were threatened by political changes, the contemporary French Benedictine cannot but feel threatened by the momentous changes in Catholicism today — changes which seemingly question the relevance of their historical way of life — that of the contemplative Benedictine.

The Congregation of France, under the leadership of the renowned Abbey of Saint-Pierre, Solesmes, is a case in point. In the face of attempts of the Third Republic to annihilate monasticism, it retained its traditional concepts, expanded its membership in spite of exile, and returned to plant its roots ever deeper in the soil of the land once known as the eldest daughter of the Church. Whatever moves are made by these monks today must be understood in the light of their recent history.



The Congregation of France traces its history to 1837, when Dom [p.315] Guéranger restored the old abbey of Solesmes and made it possible for Benedictine monks to live again in community. The present Congrega­tion includes all the daughter-houses of the abbey in France, England, Luxembourg, and Holland, as well as the sister-abbey at Solesmes (Sainte-Cécile) and its daughter houses. These houses had been founded to accompany the foundations of monks at Wisques and Kergonan (Brittany).

Closely affiliated, though not an integral part of the Congregation of France, is a group of non-cloistered active Sisters. In contrast to the life of contemplation lived by the nuns of Solesmes, that of these Sisters is dedicated to the care of the poor in all types of social service. Named Servantes-des-Pauvres (Servants of the Poor) by their founder, Dom Camille Leduc, a monk of Solesmes, they live and work among the lowest classes of people. Dispensaries are operated at various centers in large cities, and from there the Sisters go out alone to tend to the needs of the sick poor in their homes. The Institute was approved by the Holy See in 1887.[1]

In 1853 Dom Guéranger restored the ancient abbey of Ligugé in Vienne, and granted the house its new abbot, Dom Bastide of Solesmes, in 1864 [2] In 1865, through the mediation of Cardinal Pitra, the Congregation acquired the property in Marseille for the priory of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine.[3]

Before the end of the century, in spite of the anticlerical Ferry laws, the Congregation of France established five more houses: Saint-Paul at Wisques in Pas-de-Calais (1889), Sainte-Marie at Paris (1893), Saint-Maur-sur-Loire (the ancient abbey of Glanfeuil) in Maine-et-Loire (1894), Saint-Wandrille (medieval Fontenelle) in Seine-Maritime (1894), and Sainte-Anne at Kergonan in Morbihan 1897).[4]

     In the nineteenth century, these monasteries always maintained an [p.316] extra-legal existence, “on the margin of the law,” says Abbé de Bertier de Sauvigny.[5] Though never authorized by the French government, the monks were tolerated — at least until 1880. Congregations of women, by virtue of a law promulgated in 1825, could be authorized simply upon presentation of their constitutions previously approved by the bishop of their diocese, and the registration of these by the Council of State.[6] In 1852 Louis-Napoleon decreed that congregations of women religious dedicated to the education of youth and care of the sick could secure authorization by a simple decree of the President of the Republic.[7]

The existence of the monasteries became most precarious when the elections of 1876 and 1877 put a majority of anti-clericals into the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. These Republican Opportunists (so called because they proposed waiting for the opportune moment to introduce reforms and even to make a final break with the Church) used anti-clericalism as a weapon against the monarchists united in loyalty to the Church, as a “cause” to promote that unity so eagerly desired by the statesmen of the Third Republic.






The premier, Jules Ferry, in March 1880, promulgated two decrees. The first dissolved the Jesuit order in France. The second threatened dissolution for all congregations that did not apply for authorization. Forty-five superiors and delegates of religious institutes of men met at the Oratory in Paris on April 27. They unanimously resolved to remain united in a common refusal to seek authorization.[8]

In July, the Jesuits were forced to evacuate. Within a few months, about 261 communities of men numbering 5,643 persons were [p.317]  dispersed [9] The government at this point did not dare to touch the congregations of women. They were still too popular with the people.

Among the men expelled were the monks of Solesmes. The story of the siege and capture of the Benedictine abbey on November 6, 1880, was reported by Le Temps (November 10, 1880).

Saturday morning, at 4 A.M., a detachment of artillery composed of 200 men of the Twenty-sixth Artillery was sent into Solesmes: at the same time six brigades of gendarmes were stationed on the roads leading to the abbey to halt traffic.

At 6:15 M. Jolliet, sub-prefect of LaFléche, assisted by M. Abord, secretary-general of the prefecture demanded that the religious open the door.

The Abbot refused to open it, so the men proceeded to force the first door, which was accomplished only at 8 A.M. Behind it they found piles of stones and planks which they had to remove.

After that it was necessary to breach another formidable barricade behind a second door before they could penetrate into the monastery.

At 8:15 they forced the door of the first bedroom. Inside they found a priest whom they were obliged to carry out in spite of his lively resistance. This scene was repeated for the 82 Benedictines in the abbey. By noon, however, only fifteen had been transported outdoors.

The others had taken refuge in the chapel and were chanting psalms while the bells of the convent Sainte-Cécile sounded the tocsin and that of the monks responded.

The sub-prefect then set to attacking the lateral door at the left of the chapel which was barricaded by chairs and benches. This consumed another hour and a half.

Fifty or sixty monks occupied the choir stalls. Several women, among whom was the Duchess de Chevreuse, were present.

At the entrance of the sub-prefect, violent protests and threats were heard. The women plunged toward M. Jolliet who required the intervention of a detachment of 25 artillery men to rescue him.

The Abbot addressed the sub-prefect, reading to him the formula of excommunication and advising him to submit to the divine laws. “Sir,” responded M. Jolliet, “I know only the human laws which I am sent to enforce. M. Commissaire, execute the law.”

The police commissioner evicted the women from the chapel. When they refused to take the door which had been opened — under pretext that they would be excommunicated, it was necessary to open another for them... .

The monks, having refused to leave willingly, were carried out one by  [p.318]  one. They prostrated on the floor chanting psalms. It was necessary to take them by their head and feet.

In the course of this operation, ... one of the monks being carried out protested, “I want to sec the sub-prefect, I want to speak to him, I am his relative.” M. Jolliet responded, “Here I have no relatives; it is necessary that the law be enforced. Make them all get out!”

The Abbot left last at 3:30 P. M., carrying the Blessed Sacrament, to which the troops, following the prescriptions of the Concordat, rendered military honors.

There remained then only six monks barricaded in the bell-tower, where they continued to ring the tocsin. They had destroyed several of the steps of the staircase, so it was necessary to force three doors and a trap door to reach them. They too were finally expelled so that at 4:45 all was finished. The officials affixed the seals.

As they left the abbey the executors of the law were greeted with frenetic cries, “Down with the house-breakers! Down with the sub-prefect! Death to the sub-prefect!”

This was not all. When the sub-prefect and his agent came outside the chapel door, they found eight monks lying flat on the walk an­nouncing to the men that they would have to pass over their prostrate bodies. It was necessary to remove them one by one to clear a passage for the officials. [10]

Offers of lodging by witnesses of the assault were gratefully accepted by the monks. At one point they occupied rooms in twenty-two houses, ate in three different “refectories” and met only for the recitation of Matins at 4:30 each morning, a later conventual Mass and evening Vespers — all at the parish church adjacent to the abbey.

At this juncture the abbey property was not actually confiscated. About twenty-one monks: those listed as legal proprietors, the ill, several lay brothers, and the librarians, were soon permitted to return to the abbey. In a suspiciously short time, the wax seals placed on all the property melted away — as wax will do. By March 1882, all of the monks had quietly reassumed their places in the monastery and again taken up community life, only to be expelled anew before the end of the month. When the second infiltration was followed by a third expulsion in June 1885, the government went through the expensive process of reinforcing the 160 wax seals on the doors and furniture with iron. [p.319] Five gendarmes and a brigadier took up residence around the clock to prevent any repetition of the previous farce.[11]

By March 27, 1894, the shrewd Dom Delatte had secured illegal reoccupation and the gendarmes, shifted into smaller and smaller quarters, finally gave up in disgust and left the premises![12]

With a bit less resistance, and considerably less sensation, all the abbeys of monks in France were forced to evacuate temporarily.






The worst was yet to come. When Waldeck-Rousseau assumed power as premier in 1899, he led a government dominated by Republicans who still feared that unless the power of the Church were curbed, the form of government which they cherished would continue to be in danger. They were determined that that power would be curbed — at any cost.

Thus the stage was set for the acts that would mean a decade of anxiety for all, a long intermission of exile for some, and the final scene for others, as the congregations stood apprehensively waiting for the curtain to rise on the twentieth century.

The Dreyfus [13] case is usually considered one of the primary causes of the legislation directed against the religious orders at the beginning of the century. The affair generated a new upsurge of the anti-clericalism which had lost favor in the conciliatory atmosphere of the ralliement, the attempt during the 1890’s by Pope Leo XIII and a few leading clergymen to promote a certain acceptance of Republican form of government by the French Catholics. This spirit evaporated in the opposition to Dreyfus. Waldeck-Rousseau was convinced that only after a shattering blow to the Church’s influence in politics and a period of salutary laic education, would the country be ready for a “rehabilitation of Dreyfus.” [14]

The Catholics and the Masons, generally, found themselves on opposing [p.320] sides. Charges and counter-charges were made. Hilaire Barenton, for example, pointed out that laicism was only Masonic clericalism. France, he deplored, was no longer a Republic, but a Freemasonry, governed by Freemasons for the profit of Freemasons.[15] It is true, however, that, since 1876, the Society had abandoned its traditional deism for the open profession of. positivism. Though never very large numerically, the Masons could wield immense power because they held the influential positions.

The premier also appealed to the avaricious. He publicly estimated that the immovable property of the religious congregations totaled at least a billion francs. A bill providing severe authorization restrictions was debated for six months by the Deputies and the Senators. This Law of Associations was finally passed on June 30, 1901. The President of the Republic signed the law on July 1. It was promulgated the next day.[16]

According to Article 13 of the new law, all congregations which failed to apply for and secure authorization from the legislature were subject to dissolution. Article 15 required that each congregation, re­questing the authorities for authorization, send them a list of receipts and expenses, an inventory of all movable and immovable property, and a complete list of its members — specifying their surnames, reli­gious names, nationality, age, place of birth, and date of entry into religion. False reports would bring heavy penalties upon the perpetrators.[17] Unless the unauthorized congregation applied for authorization within three months, it would be dissolved and its property would be at the disposal of a tribunal which would name an official liquidator.[18]

There was some provision for appeal to courts. A small pension and provision for medical care for the sick was to be provided by the liquidator from the proceeds of the sale of the property. A ministerial decree accompanying the law included a clause which required all applicants to submit a copy of the community constitutions. This [p.321] document must also specify explicitly that the group was under the direct jurisdiction of the bishop of the diocese![19]






The papal nuncio was recalled from Paris in protest. He had earlier warned the foreign minister, Delcassé, that the Pope would send for him in protest as soon as the bill became law.[20] In his letter of sympathy to the superiors general on July 6, the Pope encouraged resignation, confidence, and trust. He counseled compassion and dignity and sug­gested that they render good for evil. But there was no definite state­ment to guide them as to the course they should take — to apply for authorization or wait for expulsion.[21] Correspondents in Rome in­formed the French press that the feeling there was that the pontiff preferred not to give a direct line of conduct. The superiors were to determine what was in the best interests of the Church and the indi­vidual congregation.[22] Most of them presumed, however, that the Pope preferred that they apply for authorization.[23]

A letter from the Sacred Congregation of Religious on July 10 confirmed this presumption, but left other questions unanswered.[24] Cardinal Gotti’s covering letter, more strongly than the text of the note itself, emphasized that the pontiff still desired that the exempt orders retain their right of traditional papal jurisdiction.[25] Consequently, the [p.322] Benedictine monks of the Congregation of France saw in the Roman injunctions an irreconcilable conflict with the ministerial decrees![26]

At the General Chapter of the Congregation the preceding April, it had already been decided that if the law under debate in the Chambers at the time was passed, the monks would not solicit authorization. They unanimously preferred exile rather than maintain a dishonorable vas­salage to the State and a precarious future existence.[27]

Dom Delatte, Abbot General of the Congregation, in anonymous press releases (“Examen de conscience d’un Religieux”) charged that at the price demanded by the government he would become “the ward of the State and my tutor would be the Minister of the Interior.” [28] He warned that with the passage of the religious under the yoke of the State, would go the Church. He drew some very black and white comparisons between the religious and the sectarian officials and ended by reasserting his refusal to exact from Satan, at the price of his dignity, “the right of being, of living, and of acting.” [29]






As a result of the July elections, the government felt that it had received something of a stamp of approval upon its actions. With a larger following in the Deputy and the Senate ranks, the government became bolder. It published abroad its disapproval of any foreign government’s permitting the relocation of the French monasteries. Bishop Heylen of Namur in Belgium defied the Republicans and welcomed the Frenchmen to his diocese. At one time, consequently, he found himself with two hundred French communities who had come under his two conditions: that they be self-supporting and that they refrain from soliciting aid from the Belgians [30] In June 1901, the peasants and workingmen of Solesmes and the neighboring towns of Vion and Juigné had peti­tioned their deputy, Baron d’Estournelles, to use his influence to [p.323] preserve the monks and nuns of Solesmes. “The suppression of the two abbeys of Solesmes,” the petition stated, “is for us a matter of life or death.” [31] The signers emphasized that this was not a political, but a social question, a question of bread.[32]

The burden of locating a refuge in England for the two Solesmes abbeys fell upon the shoulders of the procurator of Saint-Pierre, Dom Maurice Noetinger and Prior Fernand Cabrol of Farnborough. By mid-August they had located two sites on the Island of Wight in the diocese of Portsmouth. On August 19 the Abbess of Sainte-Cécile, her prioress, and two nuns left for England to complete the negotiations for the property.

The estate, Northwood, which the nuns were to occupy, had be­longed to a Squire Ward. It was in West-Cowes, the northern section of the Isle of Wight. The monks were to reside at a former Benedictine priory, Appuldurcombe House, in the southern region of the Island. Both sites could be only provisional as they were too small to accom­modate the numbers residing there, especially in regard to chapel space, and rooms to accommodate the 70,000 volume library of Saint-Pierre.[33]






During the final preparations for the evacuation of the monasteries of monks and nuns in Solesmes, there were many manifestations of the esteem in which the people of the environs held the abbeys. The mayor and municipal council of Solesmes sent a letter to Dom Delatte and the Abbess expressing their regret upon hearing the news of the imminent departure of the communities and their hopes for a speedy return. Another sympathy note, signed by two hundred forty-one of their neighbors — officials, aristocrats, laborers and peasants — was jointly addressed to the two superiors.[34]

The monks and nuns departed at intervals in small groups but the most publicized evacuation was that of September 17, when twenty [p.324] nuns left Sainte-Cécile and the Abbot and a group of monks departed from Saint-Pierre for England.[35]  As more than two hundred relatives, friends, and reporters gathered around him, at 6:30 A.M., Dom Delatte dramatically opened the cloister door of Sainte-Cécile, individually greeted and blessed each nun, and after permitting them last embraces and farewells with their assembled relatives, placed them in the carriages which conveyed them to the railroad station at Sablé.[36]

Shortly after ten o’clock that same morning, in a torrential rain, over four hundred persons silently gathered at the abbey entrance to witness the departure of the monks of Saint-Pierre. Another one thousand five hundred persons lined the street as the cortege of carriages passed through the town. At the depot in Sablé hundreds more awaited the emigrants. [37] As the train pulled out of the depot there were great acclamations of “Long live the Benedictines,” and hopefully, “See you soon.”[38]

The religious were received by the English (Catholic and Protestant) with the greatest sympathy [39] Not only did the King’s sister, Princess [p.325] Beatrix, governor of the Island, honor them with a visit, but the King and Queen themselves toured the abbey and conversed with the nuns.[40]



When larger, more suitable buildings became available, both abbeys transferred, though they still remained on the Island. Sainte-Cécile moved to Ryde in 1906. Two years later the monks reoccupied the site of the twelfth-century Cistercian monastery — Quarr Abbey, where they began the construction of a permanent church and residence wing. [41]

At the departure of the members of Ligugé Abbey, first-born of Solesmes, attention evolved around writers and scholars: These were two historians, Dom François Chamard, and Dom Jean Besse; and a famous lay oblate, the renowned novelist, Joris-Karl Huysmans, a convert to Catholicism.

Both Dom Chamard and Dom Besse, founder of Revue Mabillon, received comparably less attention than Huysmans. After his conver­sion, the novelist had quickly been attracted to the celebration of the liturgy as it was enacted in Benedictine monasteries. In En Route he had immortalized the nuns of Saint-Louis in Paris. In l’Oblat, which he was writing in 1901, he did the same for the abbot of Ligugé, Dom Bourigaud, and his close friend, Dom Chamard.

When his beloved monks went into exile, the novelist reluctantly chose to return to Paris for the remaining six months of his life. Reporters lionized him during his last days at Ligugé and his first days in Paris, where he occupied the guest quarters of the monastery on rue Monsieur.[42]

By the time Huysmans left Ligugé the abbey was deserted. Like those of Solesmes, the monks left in small groups, publicly regretted by most of the local villagers.[43] The community settled in Belgium, at  [p.326]  Huck-la-Ville near Nonnay in the province of Limbourg.[44] The abbot, Dom Bourigaud, was among those who would never return. [45]

In 1903 they transferred to the abbey-congested province of Namur, where at Chevetogne they received a cordial welcome from clergy, bishop, and people. When the chateau became too small, they added a wing and chapel. The monks remained there in exile for nineteen years.[46]






Ligugé’s house of studies at Paris, Sainte-Marie, opted for dispersion rather than attempt to finance an exile alone. Evacuation day was set for September 24. The day preceding, after a sermon full of pathos, as the prior bade farewell to the laymen and women who had crowded into the chapel, the participants with one voice responded aloud, “Au revoir, au revoir!” [47]

The monks either were incardinated into the secular priesthood [48] or joined the communities already exiled in Belgium and Italy. The prior and three monks returned to Paris to guard the property and to continue their scholarly research.[49] The celebrated Norman abbey of Fontenelle was evacuated on Sep­tember 26. The community first halted at Voneche in the diocese of [p.327] Namur, then in 1904 at Dongelberg. In 1913 they again transferred, this time to the Belgian province of Luxembourg.[50]

The monks of the Angevin abbey of Saint-Maur-de-Glanfeuil also halted provisionally in Namur. In 1909, thanks to the generosity of relatives of the former abbot, Dom Edouard du Coetlosquet, the monks occupied a newly constructed abbey overlooking the medieval town of Clervaux in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. It became a permanent exile.[51]

The monks of Sainte-Anne of Kergonan remained, throughout the whole period of exile, in the diocese of Namur. The nuns of Kergonan (Saint-Michel) chose England rather than Belgium [52] They first resided at an estate called Blake Hall in Essex, not far from London. A group of Anglican nuns who joined the Church in 1908, credited these Bene­dictines as the source of their inspiration.[53] On the whole, the English were always very sympathetic and tolerant, with one exception. Accord­ing to the annalist of Kergonan, a severe restriction was imposed upon them. Instead of the customary twenty to thirty times daily (each period of prayer had three signals) the bells could be rung for services only twice, at 8 A.M. and 6 P.M. daily.[54]

In October 1902, the community joined Sainte-Cécile on the Isle of Wight. They occupied Clarence House in East Cowes, where they cul­tivated the friendship of their neighbors, the Governor, Princess Beatrix and her daughter, the future queen of Alphonse XIII of Spain.[55]

The monks of Saint-Paul de Wisques also settled temporarily in the province of Namur. From there they moved to Hainaut. In 1907 they occupied a newly constructed abbey at Oosterhout, a village in the heavily Catholic section of North Brabant in the Netherlands.[56] The nuns of Wisque had preceded the monks to Oosterhout by six years.[57] [p.328] The monks of Sainte-Madeleine at Marseilles separated into two groups — at Verres and San Miguel in northern Italy. In 1906 they were reunited at Aquafredda on Lake Como. Their final transfer in Italy was to Chiari near Brescia in 1911.[58]

Thus every member monastery of the Congregation of France completed its exit from France before the October 1 (1901) deadline.






During the liquidation process, the men in power began to realize that, instead of the anticipated billion, only some million francs would eventually accrue from the sale of monastic property. By 1908 only 29 million francs had been netted from all the liquidations. Although the property had sold for a total of 95 million (about $19,000,000), 12 million had to be repaid to the treasury to compensate for earlier ex­penses drawn by the liquidators. The courts reclaimed 32 million for the congregations; while the liquidators’ current expenses totalled 22 million.[59]

As early as 1905 the newspapers began to remind their readers that the milliard (the billion francs) would not be attained. The Journal Flêchois pointed out that congregational property was being sold at about one-sixth to one-fourth its value. The reason lay, it surmised, in the difficulty of adapting the institutional property to other uses and the fear of excommunication by potential buyers. It also suggested that much “French Catholic money” had gone out to foreign lands. Solesmes, it charges, carried out twenty-six million to England.[60]

In October, 19o1, the Civil Tribunal of La Flèche decreed that in consequence of failure to comply with the Law of Associations, all eight French monasteries of the unauthorized Congregation of France headed by Solesmes, were dissolved and subject to liquidation.[61] The court ordered seals to be affixed to the goods of the abbeys and named [p.329] as liquidator of the whole congregation, Victor Ménage, a Parisian lawyer.[62]

On November i6 seals were placed on the printing press of Solesmes Abbey, of which Desclée and Company, the well-known Parisian printers and publishers claimed the ownership by dint of previous transfer of title.[63] When the liquidator arrived on November 23 to make an inventory of the abbey itself, the Civil Society, a group of laymen in whose name the property was legally registered refused to allow the doors to be opened to Ménage.

The abbey’s staunch friends — the president of the lay society, the Count de Bastard; the society’s lawyer, and the mayor of Solesmes, Jules Alain, stood their ground in front of the locked door while Ménage tried to break their resolution. Finally the liquidator gave up for the day and left the premises.[64]

Ménage returned on December 6 with a formidable army to aid him The press had another field day. Le Figaro (December 7, 1901) re­ported that for the third time, there had been a house-breaking at the Abbey of Solesmes. It sounded like 1880 all over again, except that there were no monks left to carry out. Entrance was gained by force, and eventually the inventory of press and abbey was completed and the occupation by gendarmes begun again.[65]

Desclée and the Civil Society both resorted to the courts but lost their appeals and were condemned to costs.[66] In 1909 the abbey was put up for sale. Potential buyers were warned by the exiled abbot, in a letter published by the French Catholic press, that the monastery and furniture had all been acquired or constructed with the intention of devoting it to religion, so any purchaser would automatically incur the penalty of excommunication.[67] When the Civil Tribunal of La Flèche put the abbey on the auctioneer’s block on July 22, no buyer presented himself  [p.330] it was given back to Ménage.[68] Eventually, in July 1910, it was pur­chased for the monks by a devoted friend and benefactor, the Marquis de Juigné, who held it for them until their return from England.[69]

The nuns’ abbey at Solesmes was also sold. Like that of the monks, it was repurchased by friends, a family of one of the nuns, and held for the former residents’ reoccupation.[70]

Liquidation of Ligugé Abbey ultimately followed the same pattern. Court appeals were lost [71] and the abbey put on auction in 1912. Baron de Clock, former president of the Civil Society, purchased the fifteen lot divisions en bloc. Before negotiations were completed, however, the Baron died, but his wishes were honored by the executors of his will. His heirs acquired the monastery and remained legal proprietors until 1929.[72]

Ste-Marie, in Paris, was sold to a devout Catholic, Mlle. Lozouet, who used it as a boarding school. When she died in 1907, her brother in­herited the property.[73] Friends repurchased the abbey at St. Wandrille, but made the mistake of leasing the buildings to others for twenty-five years. Long before the expiration of the lease, the monks would have liked to return, but could not reoccupy their abbey.[74]

The abbey property of Saint-Maur-de-Glanfeuil was purchased by several individuals. One of these resold the property to the monks who had borrowed the money to pay her price. After 1918 the monks’ property was rented to the Assumptionist Fathers for an annual fee of 50o francs ($100) and that lease was renewed in 1924 for another twenty-five years. The monks at Clervaux had no intention of returning [p.331]  to France, so in 1949 they sold the property to the Assumptionists. Today it is a boarding school for boys.[75]

The houses at Kergonan and Wisques suffered similarly. Friends purchased the abbeys and awaited the return of the monks. The Con­gregation’s monastery at Marseilles was definitively lost. The Archbishop bought the monastery and leased it for a school.






World War I not only saved many of the convents destined for dis­solution from the effects of the decrees against them, but it wrought a complete change in the attitude toward religious. The anti-clericalism so prevalent in the pre-war period was completely undermined. The thousands of clergy who served along with the ordinary French soldier, living and eating with him in all the filth of the trenches and barracks, going over the top and being mangled and killed along with them, engendered a new respect for the cassock and clerical habit.[76] After the war the Church was seen in a new guise, that of the clerics in the ranks, crawling through no man’s land to battle the enemy or to give absolution to the dying, or of the nuns nursing on the battle-field or in the convents they had converted into first-aid stations or hospitals. Five thousand of the thirty thousand priests engaged in the ranks, as chap­lains, or as stretcher-bearers, lost their lives in the service of the country which had first proscribed, then drafted them. Approximately eighty-five to one hundred Benedictines of the Subiaco and the Congregation of France re-entered France from England, Wales, Spain, Belgium, and Holland to answer the call to the tricolor or even to volunteer.[77] At least twenty-six of them, eleven from the Congregation of France were killed.[78]

In view of the heroism and service of the religious, their could be no official objection to the reconstitution of religious community life on the soil for which so many had died in its defense. So throughout the early [p.332] twenties the government winked at the re-establishment of religious houses.

By the time a slight reaction of anti-clericalism recurred in 1924, the Benedictines had returned, with the exception of those who preferred permanent expatriation — the monks of Clervaux and those members who remained in England and Holland to maintain the new abbeys established there at Quarr and Oosterhout. Since the abbey at Marseilles was no longer theirs, the monks accepted the invitation, in 1922, from the Cistercians at Hautecombe, the picturesque abbey of Savoy on the Lac du Bourget, to replace their dwindling community.[79] The monks of St. Wandrille lived for nine years in a seminary at Le Réray and re­turned to their abbey only in 1931.[80] Ste-Marie at Paris was repurchased by the new prior at a cost of 200,000 francs.[81]

Though hardly calculable in terms of dollars and cents, the financial burden thrust upon the French Benedictines by the application of the laic laws was staggering. In addition to underwriting the high cost of shipping their movable articles into exile, they sustained permanent losses as well — the presses of Solesmes and Ligugé and the latter’s magnificent new organ — a story which bears telling all by itself. Thousands of francs, moreover, were needed for the repurchase and renovation of their buildings, or for new construction.

Just how much of the present impoverishment of many French monasteries, especially of the nuns, can be attributed to the laic laws and how much to two devastating wars and a lack of a regular source of income, remains unanswered. However, it is hardly debatable that the material losses of the period of 1901-1914 contributed immeasurably to the lowering of the already frugal living standards of the religious. The material shock of this era continues to be felt in French Benedictine circles.

Article Sixteen of the Law of 1901 was abrogated only on April 8, 1942, under the Vichy government. Henceforth, though not legal, the [p.333] unauthorized congregations would no longer be illicit. Authorization may now be accorded by simple decree. The law is still juridically insufficient to congregations of men in regard to ownership of property. Consequently most congregations of men still hold their property in the name of an autonomous civil society of their lay friends.[82] The monks remain in France, not illicitly, but extra-legally. Is it any wonder, then, that any move to change anything in that existence, even by the Church, should be held highly suspect?

[1] Gabriel Meunier, Dom Leduc, Moine de Solesmes et l’oeuvres des Oblates Servantes des Pauvres (Angers: Editions de l’Ouest, 1923). Membership in the Institute increased from 4o in 1905 to 362 in 1960. It has twenty-four centers in eighteen French and Belgian cities (Benedictine Catalogus 196o; Archives of the Servantes des Pauvres at Angers).

[2] Dom Roger Gazeau, “Le Choix du Premier Abbé de Ligugé,” Revue Mabil­lon, LIV (1964), 136.

[3] Marcel Sahler, Les Grands Ordres Monastiques des origines à 1949 (Auch: F. Cocharaux, 1949), I, 12-15.

[4] Ibid., I, 15-20; II, 75-76. Ligugé made the foundations at Saint-Wandrille and in Paris. The other abbeys were daughter-houses of Solesmes.

[5] G. de Bertier de Sauvigny, La Restauration (Paris: Flammarion, 1955), 425.

[6] J. B. Duvergier, Collection complète des lois, décrets, ordonnonces, réglemens, avis du Conseil-d’Etat (Paris: Guyot et Scribe, 1836-1924), XXV, 159-163; Bertier de Sauvigny, op. cit., p. 424. Of the 280o religious associations in existence in the 1830’s about 1500 were officially authorized. Cf. Paul Nourrisson, Histoire regale des congrégations religieuses en France depuis 1789 (Paris: Recueil Sirey, 1920), I, 131.

[7] Jean Maurain, La Politique ecclésiastique du Second Empire de 1852 á 1869 (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1930) p. 17; Duvergier, op. cit., LII, 751-752; Nourrisson, op. cit., II, III.

[8] Abbé A. Boulenger, Histoire générale de l’Eglise (Paris: Emmanuel Vitte, 1950), IX, 289.

[9] Nourrison, op. cit., II, 234.

[10] Le Temps, November ro, 0880.

[11] For the next ten years, the anecdotes surrounding this “occupation” of the abbey were collected and edited by the monks. This delightful “opus gendarmi-cum” is still preserved in manuscript in the archives of St. Pierre, Solesmes.

[12] Augustin Savaton, Dom Paul Delatte, Abbé dc Solesmes (Paris: Librairie Plon, 1954), p. 139.

[13] L’affaire Dreyfus eut pour première conséquence de déterminer de nouvelles mesures contre les congrégations” (Boulenger, op. cit., IX, 357).

[14] Nicholas Halasz, Captain Dreyfus: The Story of a Mass Hysteria (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1955), p. 240.

[15] La Guerre aux Congrégations (Paris, n. p., n. d.). This pamphlet from the ministry files (Archives Nationales, Paris, Fig, 6214) claimed that the Masons had succeeded in the Revolution only because Catholicism had been tainted with "jansenistic gallicanism" but now could withstand all aggression. (How shattered the author must have been in 1905 when the separation of church and state took place in France!)

[16] Journal Official de la Républic Française, July 2, 1901, pp. 4025-4027.

[17] Ibid., p. 4026.

[18] Ibid., p. 4026.

[19] Ibid., p. 4027.

[20] Le Rappel du Nonce. Unsigned memorandum, July 5, 1901. A. N. Fi9. 6268. The writer added that the nuncio was “personellement désolé” not neces­sarily because of the passage of the law, but because this contre-temps interrupted his tenure at Paris— thereby causing him to lose the customary reward for a five-six year stint at the French nunciature—a cardinal’s hat.

[21] “Le Pape et les Congrégations,” Semaine Religieuse du diocèse d’Angers, July 14, 1901, pp. 748-753. Le Temps printed the letter on July 7, 1901.

[22] La Croix, July 9, 1901.

[23] R. P. (Edouard) Lecanuet, L’Eglise de France sous la Troisième République (Paris: Félix Alcan, 193o), III, 293. Dom Boniface Natter of Buckfast Abbey, wrote from Rome, September 2, 1901, to the Abbot of EnCalcat that the Holy See was insisting that the monks retain their exemption from episcopal jurisdiction, while he confirmed his earlier correspondance from Subiaco (August 8 and 28, 19o1) which stated that it seemed certain that the Pope favored application for authorization (Correspondance of Dom Natter, D-1603, 1604, 1605, EnCalcat Abbey archives).

[24] “Instructions de la Sacrée Congrégation des Evêques et Réguliers,” Semaine Religieuse du diocèse d’Angers, July 21, 1901, pp. 791-792.

[25] La Vérité Française, August 19, 1901.

[26] Memorandum. Abbey archives, St. Pierre, Solesmes.

[27] Ibid., Savaton, p. 206.

[28] La Vérité Franfaise, July 24, August 7, August 23, 1901.  The articles were reprinted later at Solesmes in a sixteen page brochure and sold at quantity rates. The memorandum in the Solesmes archives names Delatte as the author. So does Lecanuet (III, 294) and Savaton (p. 207).

[29] La Vérité Franfaise, July 24, 1901. “Satanisme hiss e au government .. . Nous sommes les hommes de Dieu ...”

[30] L’Abbaye Sainte-Anne de Kergonan (n. p., n. d.), p. II.

[31] Journal Fléchais, June 26, 1901.

[32] Ibid., June 26, 1901.

[33] Courrier de la Vienne et Deux Sèvres (Poitiers), September 18, 1901; Journal des Débats, September 9, 19o1; Le Figaro, September 14, 1901.

[34] Archives, Abbeys St. Pierre and Ste. Cécile, Solesmes. The letters were corn mented on or published in the Journal dc Sablé, September 8, 1901; Le Temps, September 15, and the Gazette de France, September 14, 1901.

[35] Dom Hubert Van Zeller (The Benedictine Idea, p. 192) erroneously reports the date of departure as 1903.

[36] This all made for very sentimental copy in the pro-religious press. From descriptions of “the birds leaving the nest where they have chanted so long” to speculations that some were now “out” for the first time in zo years, detailed reports appeared in Le Figaro, September 19, 190!; La Libre Parole, September 18; Le Matin, September 18, and the Gazette de France, September 20, 1901. The latter newspaper contrasted the women inundated in tears with the calm, collected nuns. All these dailies also included in the same article the story of the monks’ departure later that morning.

[37] The estimate of the numbers on the platform at the depot varied with each newspaper. The Gazette de France (September 20, 1901) reported zoo; Le Figaro (September 19) z,000; La Libre Parole (September r8) 3,000. A nobleman writ­ing to his son, a monk already in England, said that 500 platform tickets had been sold (Memorandum, Archives St. Pierre, Solesmes).

[38] “Vivent les Péres, vivent les Bénédictins, vive le Pére Abbé, á bientot.” Le Matin, September 18, 1901. A memorandum in the archives of St. Pierre, Solesmes, noted that when the train reached Sablé, the Dean ordered the church bells tolled.

[39] There was no objection to their appearance outside the abbey in their habits, but the children often found it irresistible to refrain from comparing the new term, “monks” with a more familiar term, “monkeys” (Archives, St. Pierre, Solesmes). The Weekly Supplement of Le Gaulois (October 6, 1901) printed a report from the exiles and an eleven column illustrated study of the deserted abbey.

[40] Archives, St. Pierre, Solesmes.

[41] Le Monastère Sainte-Cécile de Solesmes, p. 72; Bulletin de Saint Martin et de Saint Benoit (Ligugé), August 1907, p. 312.

[42] Le Courrier de la Vienne et Deux-Sèvres (Poitiers) September 9-19, 1901; Le Figaro, September 17, 1901; Le Monde Illustré, October 26, 1901. Pierre-Marie Quervelle et al. in Les Bénédictines de la rue Monsieur (Paris: Editions F. X. LeRoux, 195o) prints pictures of the novelist’s quarters, an excerpt from En Route, and a study of René Rancoeur, “Huysmans: rue Monsieur.”

[43] Le Soleil, September 28, 1901; La Croix, September 3o. The Prefect of Vienne had predicted to the Minister that although about one-third of the inhabi tants of Ligugé depended upon the abbey for existence, there would be no mani­festations as the anti-clerical mayor had recently been re-elected (Letter to Minister for Religious Affairs, July 31, 1907, National Archives, Paris, Fi9. 6273).

[44] The Bishop of Luxembourg wrote to the Abbot, July 3o, 1901, (Archives, Abbey at Ligugé) that he had read rumors that the monks might choose an exile in his diocese. He warned them that there were already too many houses of religion there for the Catholics to maintain, and that the Chambers were presently debating the juridical status of the monasteries in Luxembourg. In view of this insecurity he could not permit their coming.

[45] Dom Bourigaud (7827-7900) had been professed at Solesmes in 1869, twenty-one years after ordination. Before this he had been a successful religious artist. His biography is printed in the Bulletin de Saint Martin et de Saint Benoît (Ligugé), February through November 1917.

[46] Ibid., November 7906, p. 7; L’Abbaye Saint Martin de Ligugé (Ligugé; Imprimerie Aubin, 1948), p. 36.

[47] Chronique de l’Abbaye, Archives of Sainte-Marie, Paris.

[48] This kind of move did not meet government approval either. On November 74 the Premier had directed the prefects to take special note of the recruitment of parochial clergy from non-authorized congregations (Ministry to Prefects, Na­tional Archives, Paris, F19. 6268).

[49] Bulletin des Congrégations (Bonne Press), May 7, 1904, p. 300.

[50] Lucien David, L’Abbaye Saint-Wandrille de Fontenelle (Saint Wandrille: Editions de Fontenelle, 1957), pp. 25-26; Dom Gabriel Gontard, L’Abbaye Saint-Wandrille de Fontenelle (Saint Wandrille: Editions de Fontenelle, 2d edition, 1954), P. 4; Interview with Abbot Gontard, September 15, 1961. In 1912 a group of the monks were sent to Canada where they established the monastery of Saint-Benoît du Lac in the province of Quebec.

[51] L’Abbaye Saint-Maurice-et-Saint-Maur de Clervaux (Luxembourg: Bourg-Bourger, 1961), passim.

[52] Annales, Archives of Saint-Michel, Kergonan.

[53] Ibid.

[54] lbid.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Chronique de l’Abbaye de Saint-Paul, Archives Abbey St. Paulusabdij, Oosterhout; L’Abbaye Saint-Paul de Wisques (Wizernes: n. p., 1947), pp. 44-52.

[57] Interview with Mère Cécile Castle, Oosterhout, September 11, 1961.

[58] Le Temps (October 7, 190 1) reported that the Prince of Monaco had refused to allow the monks to emigrate to his principality. The truth of this report is denied by Abbot Edouard Dupriez in a letter to the writer (August 24, 1962) from Hautecombe Abbey — present home of the Marseilles monks.

[59] P. Rimbault, Histoire politique des congrégations religieuses françaises, 1790-1914 (Paris: Letouzey et And, 1926), p. 269.

[60] Journal Fléchois (Le Flèche), October 13, 1905.

[61] Ibid., October 3o, 1901.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Gazette de France, November 23, 1901.

[64] Le Monde 111ustré, November 3o, 1901.

[65] Notes of Dom Chaumet made on the scene, Archives, St. Pierre, Solesmes.

[66] Cour d’Appel d’Angers, Ménage c. Desclée, Lefèvre et Cie, July 23, 1902, Victor Ménage, liquidation des biens des Congrégations dissoutes (Paris: Arthur Rousseau, 1903-05), I, 790-192; Ménage c. Société Civile de Saint-Pierre de Solesmes, July 23, 1902, ¡bid., I, 187-189.

[67] Bulletin de Saint-Martin et Saint-Benoit, August 1909, P. 309.

[68] Ibid.; Procureur général to the appellate court of Angers to Minister of Justice, December 23, 1910, National Archives, Paris, BB3o. 1614.

[69] Henri Quentin, Notice Historique sur l’Abbaye de Solesmes (Tours: Maison Alfred Mané et fils, 1924), p. 81.

[70] Interview with archivist, Ste. Cécile, Solesmes, July 3, 1961.

[71] Ménage, op cit., I, 20, 47-48. Telegram to Abbot at Chevetogne from lawyer, Poitiers, December 26, 1909 (“Tout est fini — perdu — Duclos”) Archives, Abbey, Ligugé.

[72] Archives, Abbey, Ligugé.

[73] “Histoire de l’Abbaye,” Ms. Archives, Abbey, Ste. Marie, Paris, pp. 76-7.

[74] Interview with Dom Gabriel Gontard, Abbot of Saint Wandrille (September ¡5, 1961). Abbot Gontard resigned early in 1962. Dom Ignace Dalle was elected March 3, and consecrated May 12, 1962.

[75] “Renseignements sur les diverses transmissions de propriftE de l’Abbaye de Saint-Maur-sur-Loire,” Archives Abbey, Clervaux, Luxembourg.

[76] Alfred F. Schnepp, “The Decline of French Anti-clericalism,” Catholic World, CXLVIII (March 1939), 664-67.

[77] Reports of archivists.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Bernard Laure, Hautecombe (Abbaye d’Hautecombe, n. d.), p. 37.

[80] Interview with Abbot Gontard, Saint-Wandrille, September 15, 1961. During World War II the abbey was badly damaged in the Normandy invasion. One monk was killed and a wing of the abbey completely destroyed by American bombs. The monks and German occupation soldiers jointly occupied the building for many months. They more or less amicably cooperated in sharing the same refectory, kitchen, and recreation rooms.

[81] Interview with Prior Dom Jean de Monléon, Paris, August 24, 1961; “Chronique” Ms. Archives Abbey, Ste. Marie, Paris.

[82] Adrien Dansette in The Catholic Church in World Affairs, cd. Waldemar Gurian and M. A. Fitzsimons (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1954), P. 251.

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