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La Rochelle

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The Diocese of La Rochelle (Rupellensis), suffragan of Bordeaux, comprises the entire Department of Charente-Inférieure. The See of Maillezais (see L UÇON ) was transferred on 7 May, 1648, to La Rochelle, which diocese just, previous to the Revolution, aside from the territory of the former Bishop of Maillezais, included the present arrondissements of Marennes, Rochefort, La Rochelle, and a part of Saint-Jean d'Angély. At the Concordat the entire territory of the former See of Saintes (less the part comprised in the Department of Charente, and belonging to the See of Angoulême ) and of the See of Luçon was added to it. In 1821 a see was established at Luçon, and had under its jurisdiction, aside from the former Diocese of Luçon, almost the entire former Diocese of Maillezais; so that Maillezais, once transferred to La Rochelle, no longer belongs to the diocese now known as La Rochelle et Saintes.


Mgr Landriot, a well-known religious writer, occupied this see from 1856 to 1867. St. Louis of France is the titular saint of the cathedral of La Rochelle and the patron of the city. St. Eutropius, first Bishop of Saintes, is the principal patron of the present Diocese of La Rochelle. In this diocese are especially honoured : St. Gemme, martyr (century unknown); St. Seronius, martyr (third century); St. Martin, Abbot of the Saintes monastery (fifth century); St. Vaise, martyr about 500; St. Maclovius (Malo), first Bishop of Aleth, Brittany, who died in Saintonge about 570; St. Amand, Bishop of Maastricht (seventh century). From 1534 La Rochelle and the Province of Aunis were a centre of Calvinism. In 1573 the city successfully resisted the Duke of Anjou, brother of Charles IX, and remained the chief fortress of the Huguenots in France. But in 1627 the alliance of La Rochelle with the English proved to Louis XIII and to Richelieu that the political independence of the Protestants would be a menace to France ; the famous siege of La Rochelle (5 August, 1627-28 October, 1628), in the course of which the population was reduced from 18,000 inhabitants to 5000, terminated with a capitulation which put an end to the political claims of the Calvinistic minority.


Saintes had a certain importance under the Romans, as is proved by many existing monuments. The oldest bishop of known date is Peter, who took part in the Council of Orléans (511). The first bishop, however, is St. Eutropius. Venantius Fortunatus, in a poem written in the second half of the sixth century, makes explicit mention of him in connexion with Saintes. Eutropius was said to be a Persian of royal descent, ordained and sent to Gaul by St. Clement; at Saintes he converted to Christianity the governor's daughter, St. Eustelle, and like her suffered martyrdom. This tradition is noted by Gregory of Tours, with a cautious ut fertur ; Saintes is thus the only church of Gaul which Gregory traces back to the first century. This evidence is much weakened, says Mgr Duchesne, by Gregory's remark to the effect that no one knew the history of St. Eutropius before the removal of his relics by Bishop Palladius, which took place about 590. At this tardy date seems to have arisen the account of Eutropius as a martyr. Among the bishops of Saintes are mentioned: St. Vivianus (119-52?), once Count of Saintes, later a monk ; St. Trojanus, died about 532; St. Concordius (middle of the sixth century); S. Pallais (Palladius), about 580, to whom St. Gregory the Great recommended St. Augustine on way to England ; St. Leontius , bishop in 625; Cardinal Raimond Perauld (1503-05), an ecclesiastical writer, several times nuncio, legate for a crusade against the infidels and the re-establishment of peace between Maximilian and Louis XII; Cardinal François Soderini (1507-16), who died in Rome as dean of the Sacred College, and his nephew Jules Soderini (1516-44); Charles of Bourbon (1544-50), cardinal in 1548, afterward Archbishop of Rouen, whom Mayenne wished later to make King of France ; Pierre Louis de La Rochefoucauld (1782-92), massacred at Paris with his brother, the Bishop of Beauvais, 2 September, 1792, thus closing the list of the bishops of the diocese as it opened, with a martyr.

Several councils were held at Saintes: in 562 or 563, when Bishop Emerius, illegally elected, was deposed and Heraclius appointed in his stead; other councils were held in 579, 1074 or 1075, 1080, 1081, at which last, metropolitan authority over the sees of Lower Brittany was granted to Tours as against the claims of Dol, and William VII gave the church of St. Eutropius to the monks of Cluny; also in 1083, 1088, 1089, 1097. The crypt of St. Eutropius, one of the largest in France, dates from the beginning of the twelfth century. Urban II consecrated it on 20 April, 1096. Kings of France and England, and dukes of Guyenne, enriched the church with numerous foundations. Charles VII made a pilgrimage to it in 1441. Louis XI himself wrote a prayer against dropsy, in honour of St. Eutropius. Through the Middle Ages many pilgrimages were made to the tomb. In 1568 the Calvinists ravaged the crypt, but the tomb of St. Eutropius was so well hidden by the monks that it was thought to be lost; it was not until 19 May, 1843, that it was again discovered. In a Bull of Nicholas V, 1451, it is said that the cathedral of Saintes was the second church ever dedicated to St. Peter. Geoffrey Martel, Count of Anjou, and his wife, Agnes of Burgundy, founded in 1047 the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Saintes for Benedictine nuns, which foundation was sanctioned by a Bull of Leo IX . During seven centuries this monastery had thirty abbesses, most of them daughters of the first families of France. The abbey church, now a military barrack, is Poitou Romanesque of the twelfth century. The Church of Saintes claims the honour of being the first to begin the practice of the Angelus ; when John XXII heard of this pious custom he solemnly authorized it by two Bulls (1318, 1327). The monastery of "Angeriacum", founded in 768 by Pepin the Short, was the beginning of the town of Saint-Jean-d'Angély. In 1010 Abbot Alduin, while having the walls of the church restored, declared that he found in a cylindrical stone a silver reliquary containing the head of St. John the Baptist ; William V, Duke of Aquitaine, had the relic exposed, and King Robert and Queen Constance inspected it. The future fifteenth-century Cardinal Jean de La Balue was Abbot of Saint-Jean-d'Angély. Bernard Palissy, the famous artist in ceramics (1510-90), was one of the founders of the Protestant Reform Church of Saintes, and his atelier was about 1562 a secret assembly-place of the Huguenots ; for this he was summoned before the Parliament. Aside from the Basilica of St. Eutropius, the principal pilgrimages of the diocese are: Our Lady of Corme-Ecluse, near Saujon; Our Lady of Pity, at Croix-Gente (twelfth century); Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, at Jaugou.

There were in the Diocese of La Rochelle, when the Associations Law was enforced, Lazarists, Little Brothers of Mary, Marianists, Children of Mary Immaculate, and a local congregation called the Brothers of St. Francis of Assisi, known as "farming brothers"; this congregation, founded in 1841 by Père Deshayes, then superior general of the Missionaries of the Holy Ghost, the Daughters of Wisdom, and the St. Gabriel Brothers, looked after the agricultural instruction of foundlings. Three congregations of women trace their origin to this diocese : the xxyyyk.htm">Providence Sisters of St. Joseph, a teaching order founded at La Rochelle in 1658 by Isabelle Mauriet; xxyyyk.htm">Providence Sisters of St. Mary, a teaching order founded in 1818, with the motherhouse at Saintes; Ursulines of the Sacred heart, a nursing and teaching order, founded in 1807 by Père Charles Barreaud, with motherhouse at Pons. In 1900, before the Associations Law, the religious congregations had in the diocese one crèche, 34 day nurseries, one convalescent home for children, an institute for the blind, an agricultural settlement for boys, 8 orphanages for girls, an industrial room, a society for the preservation of young girls from danger, 14 hospitals, homes, and asylums for the aged, 18 convents of visiting nurses, 2 houses of retreat, and an insane asylum. In 1905 (last year of the Concordat ) the Diocese of La Rochelle had 452,149 inhabitants, 46 parishes, 326 succursal churches, 52 curacies.

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