The Voyages Liturgiques (1718) of Jean-Baptiste des Marettes

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Jean-Baptiste Le Brun des Marettes (1651-1731), also known as Sir de Moléon, was a Rouennais editor attached to the Abbey of Port-Royal.

After his Father was imprisoned for his support of the Jansenists, de Moléon and the rest of the family were taken in by the community of Port-Royal. He pursued a minor career in editing, wrote also a life of St. Paulinus and translated the works of Lactantius and St. Prosper. But we are most indebted to him for his work Voyages Liturgiques de France, Paris, 1718, reprinted 1757), a lengthy account of the author’s observations of liturgical ceremonies in the major churches and monasteries of the Gallican church.

The text is a valuable eye-witness source for French liturgical life in the 17th century, cited by Jungmann more than fifty times, as De Moléon notes both what he sees being practiced in his own day and what he finds written in the most ancient Ordinals and other books of the communities he visits.

One of the most remarkable objects to behold in these accounts is the richness and integrity of the life of the cathedral chapters, the large clerical communities of the great cathedrals whose dedication alone made it possible to perform the solemn liturgical services of the Church in all their due fullness on every day of the year. The Rad Trad has an excellent article on the chapters, whose functions he summarizes here:

“The ‘chapter’ was a collection of stable priests, usually many dozen, who sung the full Divine Office and any prescribed votive Offices every day in a public church. This church was normally the cathedral of a diocese, but a city without a cathedral could have a “collegiate” church and a city with a cathedral chapter could have numerous additional collegiate churches; the city of Rome probably had nearly a dozen two centuries ago and today still has half a dozen. In addition to the Office, the priests, called “canons”, would offer any Masses prescribed by the kalendar in the solemn form and could celebrate private Masses for the intentions of their benefactors. Indeed, once upon a time no priest could be ordained without a financial path laid out in advance for him by his benefactors and his bishop. Each canon in a cathedral had the duty to pray for the intentions of his particular church and for his benefactors, living and dead.”

The violent disbanding of these communities, so rarely to be re-established, was one of the main factors that led to the diminishing of the splendor of Western liturgical life in the intervening centuries. Thus Jungmann could write about the fate of the High Mass:

“The real high Mass has again become rarer, the result of various con­curring forces. In the cities the collegiate chapters, whose first occupation was solemn divine service, have long since been dissolved. In cathedrals and to some extent also in the surviving monastic establishments, other activities have loomed larger. The independent life of clerical communi­ties, a cloistered and Godward life as it flourished in the later Middle Ages, is rarely possible since the secularization of the past few hundred years. Its outward expression in the daily high Mass has therefore disappeared with the disappearance of that life” [1]

The Rad Trad continues:

“For all their associated short-comings, the institution of canons safeguarded the liturgical tradition in their dioceses and connected the roots of the liturgy with the soil of the local community. The prayer in these cathedrals was very much the prayer many generations of people had offered to God and which they desired to pass on unaffected. Many of these churches retained infant Confirmation and Communion, frequent Communion of the faithful, full ceremonies of Holy Week that would blow the pre-Pacellian rites out of the water, and an overall generous view toward worship as the normative manner of Christian prayer.

In memory of these great chapters, and in hope of their renewal, we are pleased to begin to offer selections of the Voyages in English translation, beginning today with the Preface.

[[Now see the chapters on St. Maurice of Vienne and Rouen]]


Gallican 1

The taste I have always had for the rites and ancient customs of the churches of France has led me to undertake many journeys throughout the provinces of France. I have visited the greater part of the most well-known churches and cathedrals, and I believe that in the course of these journeys I have made some discoveries in ecclesiastical and pagan antiquity that may be of some use to the public and especially to the Church. My principal task has been to note the different rites and particular practices of the churches I have seen. I am convinced that they will be read with some amount of pleasure, and that those who travel to the same places, if they desire to stop to hear the High Mass or Vespers in the cathedral churches, will be edified by the ceremonies that take place there because they will be informed about them in advance, and will have learned the literal reasons for the practices and ceremonies of the Church, and the spirit of the prayers.

As for the rest, the reader will find in the Voyages a description of underground crypts that were the first churches of Christianity; ancient altars, the rood-screens and veils that surrounded them; the origin and use of these veils, lamps, candles, and chandeliers. He will find Canon priests, archdeacons and other dignitaries, who still today chant the Mass at the altar together with the bishop, and receive communion there with him under the two species; twelve curés cardinaux in many churches of France, and where this world “cardinal” comes from; the various habits of the canons, chaplains, and cantors, of the clerks and choir boys; the almuces they wear on their head, shoulders, and arms; their large almuces, mitres, small mitres, calottes, round birettas, and square birettas; the four different kinds of surplice, albs, tunics, and chasubles; napkins and maniples attached to the right arm of of nuns and choir boys, placed between their fingers, and why; the origin of the habit and hood of monks, and the veil of the nuns still consecrated by the bishop; their participation in the sacred Host, as the nuns who take communion during the Octave of their consecration, and new priests who commune for the first forty days after their ordination; the origin of the cloths of the Communion Table, the Kiss of Peace and Communion under two species that is still practiced in several churches; Confirmation given by the bishop to newly-baptized infants, Holy Communion from the chalice given to the same infants on the day of their Baptism, and to other children brought by their mothers and wet-nurses; the Scrutiny or Examination of catechumens, and the four kinds of bows, four kinds of prostrations used today among ecclesiastics and religious men and women; the severity used in Lyon and Rouen against canons and cantors who are absent from their functions during the office or who sin against good morals; the different kinds of inclinations, reverences, and genuflections, the fashionable reverence, in the manner of ladies, made by the cardinals when greeting the pope when he holds chapel, by foreign ambassadors greeting the King, by Canons and other ecclesiastics of many churches, and by all choir boys of all the churches of France; the practice of public penitence in the principal churches; of ashes, vergers, and sackcloth exposed in the church on Ash Wednesday; the bed of ashes on which the dying expire, both ecclesiastics and monks, and laymen; of lavatories to wash the dead before their burial, etc., along with the most significant ancient customs, rites, practices, and ceremonies of the Gallican Church that I have found in different places: the origin of the Collation on fasting days; dry masses and masses of the presanctified; agapes still practiced in churches today; bread baked for the poor, distributed to the poor during funerals and burials; houses, lands, and vineyards given to the Church to provide bread and wine necessary for the Sacrifice of the altar; bread and wine offered at masses for the dead, and carried to the altar; charters of donations made to churches and monasteries and placed on the altar; serfs or slaves of both sexes given to the church; the manumission and enfranchisement of these serfs, prisoners freed by bishops; the oath of fidelity and obedience sworn by suffragan bishops to their metropolitans, and by Abbots and Abbesses to the diocesan bishop; religious men and women who are still subject to the diocesan bishop and who sing the office of the diocese; public processions at which religious once assisted with the clergy and monks, in which rods, sticks, and clubs were carried, and where many canons and other ecclesiastics still walk barefoot; the processions held before mass and Vespers on major feasts to conduct the bishop from the episcopal palace to his church; Sunday processions before the High mass to sprinkle the altars, the church, the clergy and people, the dormitory, the infirmary, the cemetery, the cloister, the well, the refectory, and to bless the table; the announcement of Easter on the day of Epiphany; descriptions of the most important churches and monasteries along with their unique customs; the most beautiful mausolea of the realm, ancient caskets, tombs, and Sepulchers of Christians and pagans; urns where the ashes of cremated pagans were placed; amphitheaters, arenas, caves, aqueducts, and public baths, pyramids, asylums, ancient inscriptions both pagan and Christian, and the neighborhoods and places of the towns, churches, and palaces where all of these are found, of which the reader will find a number of engravings in this work.

It may perhaps be accounted a fault that I have mixed profane antiquity with ecclesiastical things. But one may easily be comforted, if one wishes, by drawing some utility and instruction from it. Was not the Church built on the ruins of Paganism? And what danger could there be in showing that the pagans adored false divinities and placed all their glory in superb edifices, in statues and inscriptions, in order to immortalize their name and memory; that they passed their time in games, spectacles, and other public entertainment that were sometimes horrifying, because among these frightful diversions there were athletic combats, gladiators and ferocious beasts, in which the martyrs were sometimes cast to be devoured in the arenas of the amphitheaters? Is it so terrible that I have noted what I have seen, and described it in passing, in addition to pyramids, urns, and other things of this nature? All of this will do nothing less than help us better understand how much more spiritual and excellent our religion is than that of the pagans, and how necessary it was that the apostles and their successors worked to reduce the pride of these sages of the world under the yoke of the Gospel and to the humble maxims of the crucified Jesus.

In my descriptions of cities I have not amused myself by recounting the old fables that are told about their foundation and etymology, and I think that they will not be sorely missed, because in all such things there is almost nothing verifiable. But I have reported a few interesting things about them, and about their privileges and prerogatives.

The style of these accounts is simple, natural, and without affectation, as befits a traveller, and as concise as I was able. I have tried to wed utility and pleasure, so that every reader may find something pleasing. I have noted in each place that which is most curious and most worthy of observation, and I have put the names of cities, countries, and rivers in Latin for the benefit of men of letters. They will find them listed in alphabetical order at the end of the book. I have also added an index of the main subjects, for the convenience of all.

Since most of my visits were made ten years ago, and some of them even eight or ten years before, I beg the reader to read them as part of their time, so that he does not accuse me of falsehood if some changes have happened in the meantime, since I cannot guarantee things have remained the same. The many works with which I have been charged and certain other business that arose have prevented me from publishing them sooner.

(French text from Wikisource)

Le goût que j’ai toujours eu pour les Rits & les anciens Uſages des Égliſes de France, m’a engagé à faire pluſieurs voyages dans les Provinces de France; j’ai viſité la plus grande partie des Égliſes & des Cathédrales les plus célèbres, & j’ai cru y avoir fait des Découvertes ſur l’Antiquité eccléſiaſtique & payenne, qui pouvoient être de quelque utilité au public & ſur tout à l’Églife. Je me ſuis attaché principalement à marquer les différents Rits & les pratiques particulières des Égliſes que j’ai vûes; & j’ai tout lieu de croire qu’on les lira avec quelque forte de ſatisfaction, & que ceux qui voyageant dans les mêmes lieux que je cite, voudront bien s’arrêter à entendre la grand’Meſſe ou les Vêpres dans les Égliſes Cathédrales, ſeront édifiez des cérémonies qui s’y font, parce qu’ils feront inſtruits & prévenus, & qu’ils auront appris les raiſons littérales des pratiques & des cérémonies de l’Église, & ſon eſprit dans ſes prières.

Au reſte on trouvera dans ces Voyages la forme des Cryptes ſouterraines qui étoient les premières Égliſes du Chriſtianiſme; celle des anciens Autels, des Rideaux & des Paremens qui les environnoient; l’origine & l’uſage de ces Paremens, des Lampes, des Cierges, des Chandeliers. On y verra des Chanoines Prêtres, des Archidiacres ou d’autres Dignitaires, qui chantent encore aujourd’hui la Meſſe à l’Autel conjointement avec l’Évêque, & qui y communient avec lui ſous les deux espèces; douze Curez Cardinaux en pluſieurs Égliſes de France, & d’où vient ce mot de Cardinaux; les differens Habits des Chanoines, des Chapelains ou Chantres, des Clercs & des Enfans de chœur; leurs Aumuſſes ſur la tête, ſur les épaules, ſur les bras; leurs Aumuſſons, Mitres, Mitelles, Calottes, Bonnets ronds, Bonnets quarrez; les quatre différentes ſortes de Surpelis, les Aubes, Tuniques, Chaſubles; des Mouchoirs & Manipules attachez au bras gauche des Religieuſes confacrées & des Enfans de chœur, & paſſez entre leurs doigts, & pourquoi : l’origine de l’Habit & du Capuchon des Moines, du Voile des Religieuſes conſacrées encore aujourd’hui par l’Évêque; la participation de la ſainte Hoſtie, dont elles ſe communioient elles-mêmes durant l’Octave de leur Conſécration, de celle dont ſe communioient les nouveaux Prêtres pendant les quarante premiers jours d’après leur ordination; l’origine des nappes de la Table de la Communion, le baiſer de paix & la Communion sous les deux espèces qu’on trouve encore en usage en différentes Églises; la Confirmation donnée par l’Evêque aux petits enfans nouveaux baptisez, la sainte Communion du Calice donnée aux mêmes enfans au jour de leur Baptême, & à ceux qui étoient portez par leurs mères & par leurs nourrices : le Scrutin ou Examen des Catécumenes, & quatre ſortes d’inclinations, quatre ſortes de proſternemens ou proſtrations encore aujourd’hui en usage parmi les Eccleſiaiſtiques & les Religieux & Religieuſes : la rigueur exercée à Lyon & à Rouen contre les Chanoines & les Chantres qui manquent en tour d’office à faire leurs fonctions, ou qui pechent contre les mœurs : les différentes ſortes d’inclinations, de révérences & de génuflexions, la révérence à la mode des Dames, faite par les Cardinaux ſaluans le Pape lorsqu’il tient Chapelle, par les Ambaſſadeurs étrangers ſaluans le Roi, par les Chanoines & autres Eccleſiaſtiques de plusieurs Églises, & par tous les Enfans de chœur de toutes les Églises Cathédrales de France : l’usage de la Pénitence publique dans les principales Églises : des Cendres, des Verges & le Cilice exposez dans les Églises au Mercredi des Cendres : la couche de cendres sur laquelle expiroient les mourans, tant Eceleſiaſtiques & Moines, que laïques : des Lavatoires pour laver les morts avant que de les enſevelir, &c. avec les anciens uſages, rits, pratiques, & les cérémonies les plus considérables de l’Égliſe Gallicane, que j’ai retrouvées par parties : l’origine de )a Collation aux jours de jeûnes : des Meſſes ſeches, des Messes des préſanctifiez; des Agapes encore aujourd’hui en usage dans les Égliſes : des pains fondez pour les pauvres, distribuez aux pauvres dans les Obits & Enterremens : des Maisons, Terres, & Vignes données à l’Eglise pour fournir le pain & le vin nécessaires aux Sacrifices des Autels; pain & vin offerts aux Meſſes pour les morts, & portez sur l’Autel; anciennes Fondations pour avoir part aux prières de l’Égliſe : Chartres de Donations faites aux Égliſes & aux Monastères, miſes sur l’Autel : Serfs ou Eſclaves de l’un & de l’autre ſexe donnez aux Égliſes; manumiſſion ou affranchiſſement de ces Serfs; Prisonniers délivrez par les Évêques : Serment de fidélité & d’obéissance rendu par les Évêques Suffragans aux Metropolitains, & par les Abbez & Abbesses à l’Évêque Dioceſain : Religieux & Religieuses qui ſont encore aujourd’hui sous la dépendance de l’Évêque Dioceſain, & qui font l’Office du Dioceſe : Proceſſions publiques auſquelles les Religieuses aſſiſtoient autrefois avec le Clergé & les Moines, ou l’on porte des baguettes, des cannes, des bâtons, & où pluſieurs Chanoines & autres Eccleſiaſtiques vont encore nuds pieds : les Proceſſions des grandes Fêtes avant la Meſſe & Vêpres pour conduire l’Évêque de son Hôtel Episſcopal à l’Églises; celle des Dimanches avant la grand’Meſſe faite pour aſperſer les Autels, l’Église, le Clergé & le peuple, le Dortoir, l’Infirmerie, le Cimetière, le Cloître, le Puits, le Refectoir, & en benir la Table : l’Annonce de la Pâque au jour de l’Épiphanie : la description des Églises & des Monastères les plus considerables, avec leurs pratiques ſingulières : les plus beaux Mauſolées du Royaume, d’anciens Cercueils, Tombeaux & Sépulcres des Chrétiens & des Payens : des Urnes dans leſquelles on mettoit les cendres des corps des Payens qu’on avoit brûlez : des Amphithéâtres, des Arènes, des Grottes, des Aqueducs, des Bains publics, des Pyramides, des Aſyles, d’anciennes Inſcriptions tant Payennes que Chrétiennes, & les quartiers & les endroits des Villes, Églises & Places où tout cela se trouve, & dont on verra plusieurs Figures gravées dans cet Ouvrage.

On pourra peut-être me blâmer d’y avoir mêlé des Antiquitez profanes avec des choses eccleſiaſtiques. Mais il ſera fort aiſé, si l’on veut, d’en tirer de l’utilité & quelque inſtruction. N’est-ce pas ſur les ruines du Paganisme que l’Église a été édifiée ? Et quel danger peut-il arriver de faire voir que les Payens adoroient de fauſſes Divinitez qu’ils mettoient toute leur gloire à des édifices superbes, à des Statues & à des Inſcriptions pour éterniſer par là leur nom & leur mémoire; qu’ils ſe repaiſſoient de jeux, de ſpectacles & d’autres divertiſſemens publics qui faiſoient quelquefois horreur, puisque parmi ces divertiſſemens affreux il y avoit des combats d’Athlètes, de Gladiateurs & de bêtes féroces, auſquelles on expoſoit quelquefois les Martyrs pour être dévorez : ce qui ſe faiſoit dans les Arènes au milieu des Amphitheatres. Doit-on trouver mauvais que je marque ceux que j’ai vûs, que j’en faſſe en paſſant la deſcription, auſſi bien que des Pyramides, des Urnes, & autres choses de cette nature? Cela ne ſervira qu’à nous faire mieux concevoir combien notre Religion eſt plus ſpirituelle & plus excellente que celle des Payens, & combien il a fallu que les Apôtres & leurs succeſſeurs ayent travaillé pour réduire l’orgueil de ces Sages du monde ſous le joug de l’Évangile, & aux humbles maximes d’un Jesus crucifié.

En faiſant la deſcription des Villes je ne me ſuis point amuſé à raconter les fables anciennes qu’on debite ſur la fondation & l’étimologie de quelques-unes, & je crois qu’on ne doit pas les regretter puisqu’il n’y a en tout cela preſque rien de certain. Mais auſſi je n’ai pas négligé de rapporter certains mots qui leur font propres, & leurs privileges & prérogatives.

Le ſtyle de ces Voyages est ſimple, naturel & sans affectation, tel qu’il convient à un voyageur, & le plus concis que j’ai pû. J’ai tâché d’y joindre l’utile à l’agréable, de sorte qu’il n’y ait personne qui n’y trouve de quoi ſe ſatisfaire. J’ai marqué à chaque endroit ce qu’il y a de plus curieux & de plus digne de remarque, & j’y ai mis en latin les noms de Villes, de Pays, de Rivières, en faveur des gens de lettres. Ils les trouveront diſpoſez par ordre alphabétique à la fin du Livre, auquel j’ajouterai aussi une table des principales matières, pour la commodité d’un chacun.

Comme la plûpart de ces Voyages ont été faits il y a dix ans, & quelques-uns même encore huit ou dix ans auparavant, je prie le Lecteur de les ſupposer de ce tems-là, afin qu’on ne m’accuſe point de fauſſeté, s’il eſt arrivé quelques changemens depuis, n’en pouvant pas être garant. Plusieurs Ouvrages dont j’ai été chargé, & quelques affaires qui me ſont ſurvenues, m’ont empêché de les publier plutôt.


[1] Missarum Sollemnia, vol. 1, pg. 206.

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