In the Footsteps of St Louis Marie de Montfort


History of Montfort's Calvary subsequent to his death

After the prohibition of the Calvary and the order for its destruction, a force of militiamen was sent to Pontchâteau to supervise its demolition. Local men were rounded up to destroy it, but they were very unwilling to do so. They only removed the statues (including the figure of Christ on the Cross) after some soldiers had been ordered to cut down the cross, thus endangering the Christ. For three months they were kept at work, but did very little, and in the end the greater part of the earthworks were left standing. The chapel (according to Le Crom) was completed, after an appeal by Mgr. Bauveau, Bishop of Nantes, who wrote on 20th September 1710 to Father Le Teiller, the king's confessor, suggesting that it should be spared the destruction because of Masses which were attached to it (see Footnote). The Calvary statues were taken to the residence of a priest in Pontchâteau, M. de la Carrière, chaplain of Codrosy (Coët Rosic). It seems that St Louis Marie was ordered (by whom?) to have them removed from Pontchâteau altogether, perhaps to prevent the possibility of his returning there himself. On 29 January 1711, he wrote to M. de la Carrière, asking for the statues to be given to the bearer of the letter and Brother Nicolas. For some reason, this request was not complied with, and the statues remained at Pontchâteau until 1714, when St Louis Marie himself went there and removed them, taking them to the Hospital for Incurables at Nantes, where they remained for 34 years.

In 1747 or 1748, Fr. René Mulot, the superior of the "Missionaries of Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre" came with a group of the missionaries to give another mission at Pontchâteau. At this time the plan for the Calvary was revived. The Bishop of Nantes of the day, Mgr de la Muzanchère, was very encouraging; and the approval of the governor general of Brittany, the Duc de Ponthièvre, was obtained - he even came himself to lay the first stone and gave 600 francs towards the chapel. At the end of the mission, Fr. Audubon, who would later be superior of the Company of Mary, was left to oversee the work; he resided for nearly two years at the Château du Deffay, between Le Calvaire and Ste. Reine de Bretagne. It seems that the Bishop also wanted the Company of Mary to establish a residence close to the Calvary. However, once again, there were complaints made to the authorities in Versailles, citing the same reasons for concern as in 1710. Eventually, Fr Audubon abandoned the project, merely placing a cross on the hill and giving a simple blessing, though the chapel seems to have been at least partially completed. The statues for the Calvary had already been brought from Nantes, and were now left in the chapel at the Calvary, except for the figure of Christ, which was taken to Saint-Laurent. The projected residence of the Company of Mary in the area came to nothing at that time, even though, it seems, a house was prepared for them at Indre, near Pontchâteau.

In 1783-4, yet another mission was given by the missionaries of the Company of Mary at Pontchâteau. At that time, the cross which had been placed on the Calvary by Fr Audubon had rotted, and was replaced by a new one.

In 1793, during "The Terror", the Republican forces sacked the Calvary, which had already become a very popular place of pilgrimage, and burnt the chapel, along with the statues which had been left there (the figure of Christ, as noted above, had been taken to Saint-Laurent, and survived the attempted burning of the Maison du Saint-Esprit there).

After the years of war and terror, by 1803, three "modest" crosses had been erected on the hill, but a complete restoration had to wait until 1821, when the curé of Pontchâteau, M. l'abbé Gouray, began his great work of restoration, encouraged by the new Bishop of Nantes, Mgr. d'Audigné. Work was begun on January 5th, and progressed fairly rapidly, the Calvary being blessed by the Bishop on September 23rd, 1821, in the presence of an estimated 10,000 people, including Fr Gabriel Deshayes. The figure of Christ which had been intended for the first Calvary, and which had been kept at Saint Laurent since 1748, was brought to the Calvary at this time. Not all the work was finished by that date; it would continue for three or four more years, and indeed would not achieve its final form until 1856. When the restoration of the Calvary was finished, it seems that it had two stone staircases of 50 to 60 steps, one on each side of the chapel (newly restored), leading to the platform at the top, which was encircled by 16 pillars, between which hung the fifteen decades of an iron rosary; a cast-iron plinth, on which stood the three crosses, and which was decorated with a representation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; a wall with a circumference of 200 metres supporting an earth terrace round the main mound, the wall containing little Stations of the Cross, blessed in 1822; and a moat, 300 metres in circumference, 9 metres wide and 4 deep, which completely surrounded the Calvary.

Once the mound itself and the main works had been completed, the embellishments were at first minor: a new Way of the Cross was blessed in 1838; and a statue of St. Louis Marie was erected in front of the chapel in 1841 (a rather unusual statue representing the saint with a shovel). Then in 1851, a Jubilee year, the then Bishop of Nantes, Mgr. Jaquemet, made a pilgrimage to the Calvary, at which time he expressed his desire that the Calvary become, as St Louis Marie himself had intended, "a living sermon", by representing the mysteries of the Rosary and the scenes of the Passion "in a way suited to every mind". For this purpose he ordered a special collection to be made throughout the diocese on January 11th 1852, to finance a new Way of the Cross and monuments representing the mysteries of the Rosary. Work was started in 1853, but the project was not then realised in its entirety: the stations of the Cross were not renewed and the 15 chapels of the mysteries of the Rosary, which had been intended to be built outside the moat, were not constructed. However it seems to have been then that the steps were built, and cast-iron crosses erected on the cast-iron plinth mentioned above. The Bishop presided a solemn blessing on September 14th, 1856, attended once again by thousands of the faithful. The following year, 1857, M. Gouray died, and was buried at the Calvary, behind the statue of St. Louis Marie in front of the chapel.

Several people, it seems, had expressed the desire that the missionaries of Saint-Laurent (the Company of Mary) should take up residence at the Calvary. Some say it was the Abbé Jean-Baptiste Verger, curé of Ste Reine de Bretagne (a nephew of the Montfortian Fr. Verger who was murdered in La Rochelle during the "Terror"), who made the suggestion to Mgr Jaquemet; the Abbé Gouray had certainly expressed the desire to have at least one priest at the Calvary to take charge of the pilgrimage, which was becoming increasingly popular; according to others, it was Mgr Jaquemet's own desire. In any case, an agreement was signed on October 1st 1863 between the Bishop and Fr. Denis, Superior General of the Company of Mary; the missionaries were to preach with the Jesuits and the Diocesan missionaries. A house was built for the missionaries (which later became the farm, and has since disappeared), and four Brothers arrived in the Spring of 1865. The first Superior, Fr Bignonet, arrived at the Calvary on 29th August 1865. The "Fabrique" (those in charge of the material goods of the parish) of Pontchâteau were not very pleased, fearing that the direction of the Calvary would be taken out of their hands. They were particularly opposed to the construction of a new chapel to the West of the Calvary itself. They twice opposed an application to build it on land belonging to the Fabrique, and eventually it was built on land bought for the Bishopric by the Abbé Verger after 1852, and this chapel (the present "Pilgrimage chapel") was blessed in 1873 by Bishop Fournier, under the title "Notre Dame de Pitié", and consecrated on 13th October 1875 by Mgr Guilloux, Archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, assisted by Mgr Fournier and by Mgr. Bécale, Bishop of Vannes.

In the meantime, a new house was built by the missionaries (part of the present Foyer de la Madeleine) and blessed in 1868. In 1871, a request was made by Mgr. Guilloux, Archbishop of Port-au-Prince, to open a seminary at the Calvary for the training of secular clergy for the mission of Haiti. This "Grand Séminaire" of St Francis Xavier was duly opened at the end of 1872 and its direction confided, with the agreement of the Holy See, to the Missionaries of the Company of Mary. Two years or so later, the idea of an "Ecole Apostolique" was broached, and one or two boys were even given some lessons by the Professors of the Seminary, among these boys Fr. Guiot (later missionary and Bishop in Haiti?). It was not, however, until 1875 that the means were found to press forward with the plan. Then Mgr Guilloux, having found few recruits for his Seminary, suggested the attaching of an Ecole Apostolique (or Junior Seminary) to the "Grand Séminaire". This was opened at the beginning of 1876, and from the start was of a mixed nature, some of its students being destined for the secular clergy of Haiti, and some for the Company of Mary (to be educated at the expense of the congregation). At first it was lodged on the ground floor of the Major Seminary, with Fr Barré (then a Professor in the Seminary) as its director, but later in 1876 a new wing was built adjoining the chapel to house the Ecole Apostolique. Fr Maurille (later to be Superior General) then became its director, and among the other professors was Fr. Pondurand, who was later to go to England.

In 1878, the Daughters of Wisdom arrived at the Calvary, and were housed in a new building built for them opposite the new chapel (now the Fathers' community house).

The Bishops of Haiti decided in 1883 to abandon the idea of a Junior Seminary at the Calvary, though the Major Seminary continued to exist until 1894. Thus the Ecole Apostolique became a purely Company of Mary affair. Before that, however, the expulsion of certain religious from their houses in 1880 (all congregations which were not authorised, among them the Company of Mary) caused the Company of Mary to look elsewhere for a place to establish its novitiate (until then, where? ...perhaps at the Calvary...). Fr Fleurance, at the request of the Superior General of the day, Fr Guyot, went to Holland and found a place at Schimmert, and the novitiate was duly opened there in September 1881. At the end of the first novitiate year, a scholasticate was also started there. Shortly afterwards, a number of young boys having asked to join the Company of Mary, a new Ecole Apostolique was also founded there, known as Ste. Marie. Fr. Barré, who had already been named director of the Scholasticate, was also to be in charge of the Ecole Apostolique. He remained in Holland, it seems, until 1885, when he was appointed once again to Pontchâteau as a missionary.

It was Fr. Barré who was largely responsible for the further development of the pilgrimage site at the Calvary. Beginning with the Scala Sancta and the Praetorium in 1891, a complete Way of the Cross, and a series of monuments representing the different mysteries of the Rosary and of the lives of Jesus and Mary were built, with the help of crowds of volunteers, recalling the days of the building of the original Calvary. Fr Barré was appointed director of the Pilgrimage in 1894, when the Haitian Major Seminary (of which he had been the Superior from 1887 until that year) was transferred to St. Jacques de Laudrisson (?) (it was also the year that the Novitiate of the Company of Mary returned from Holland to Pontchâteau); and he remained the driving force behind the development until his departure to Saint-Laurent in 1913 (he died the following year, and his remains were transferred to the Calvary, to be re-interred in a tomb near the "Grotte de l'Agonie", in 1935). Some time before, or during 1895, the Calvary hill itself was completely remodelled (photographs of around 1895 show it almost as it is today): the two staircases were removed, to be replaced by a winding footpath; the height was raised, allowing "Adam's Cave" to be built, and leaving the cast iron plinth inside it (date on plinth: 1854); and the crosses were cut from the plinth and re-erected further apart (a curious detail: one can still see the arms of the former statue of Mary Magdalen, which had been cast as one piece with the cross of Christ, encircling the base of the cross).

The dates of the various monuments are as follows:

1891    The Praetorium and Scala Sancta
1892    The "Grotte de l'Agonie"
1894    The House of Nazareth
1895    The "Grotte d'Adam"
1899    The Way of the Cross
1900    The "old" Visitation
1902    The "Grotte de Bethléem"
1913    The Ascension
1933-35    The Temple of Jerusalem
1938    The cenacle
1939    The "new" Visitation

In 1901, new anti-Religious laws in France forced the community of missionaries to leave their posts as educators at the Calvary. This was the occasion of a new transfer of the Ecole Apostolique, first of all to Santbergen in Belgium, and in 1910 to Romsey in England. By the same laws the religious were forbidden to own any property, and what property they had was sold. M. de la Villeboisnet, of the Château du Deffay, bought much of the land and so became the legal owner of the Calvary, keeping it in trust until the laws were repealed later in the century. Fr. Barré stayed on at the Calvary as "owner-cultivator" and a priest of Nantes, until his departure for Saint-Laurent in 1913. By 1927, it was possible to reestablish the Ecole Apostolique at the Calvary, and it remained there until 1968 (?), when it was finally closed and the buildings sold. In the meantime, even during the German occupation between 1940 and 1944, various restoration works continued, bringing the Pilgrimage site to its present-day state.


  • Anon. Vie de M. J.-B.-Julien Verger, Curé de Sainte Reine, Nantes 1878
  • Un Père de la Compagnie de Marie, Le Calvaire du Bienheureux Louis-Marie de Montfort à Pontchâteau, Guide du Pèlerin, Nantes 1891
  • Anon. Le Christ du B. Montfort au Calvaire de Pontchâteau, Nantes, date unknown (probably 1891)
  • Fêtes Jubilaires de l'école apostolique de Pont-Château, Le Calvaire, 12 & 13 juin, Redon, 1901
  • Louis Le Crom, Un Apôtre Marial, Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, Tourcoing, 1947
  • Manuscript notes of Fr. Tanguy in the archives of the Missionaries of the Company of Mary, Le Calvaire
  • Henri Daniel, Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, Ce qu'il fut - ce qu'il fit, 1967
  • André Martin, Pontchâteau au 19ème siècle, Saint-Nazaire 1990



The history of the chapel which is to be seen today at the foot of the Calvary is somewhat uncertain. According to Fr. Henri Daniel (Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, Ce qu'il fut - ce qu'il fit, Tequi, 1967), there was near the site of the Calvary the ruins of an old leper-house, with a chapel dedicated to St Mary Magdalen, to which were still attached a certain number of foundation Masses (pg.161). This would seem to be the chapel referred to in the letter addressed on September 20th, 1710, by Mgr. Bauveau, Bishop of Nantes, to Fr. Teiller, the King's confessor; this letter is cited by both Daniel and Le Crom. Le Crom seems to assume that this chapel was on the site of the Calvary; he says that it was spared at the time of the demolition of the Calvary, and completed, and adds in a footnote that it was restored in 1747 by Fr. Audubon (pgs 237-8). That there was a chapel of some sort at the Calvary in 1710, seems clear from the letter, cited by Daniel (pg. 172), of M. de Torcy to the Maréchal de Châteaurenault, in which M. de Torcy notes that "the King has been informed... that, outside the underground chamber, a chapel has been constructed whose walls have not yet been finished...". But is this chapel the same as the chapel of St. Mary Magdalen mentioned by the Bishop? Today there exists a site in the Forêt de la Madeleine, some distance away from the Calvary, which some say is the site of the old leper-house and the Chapel of St. Mary Magdalen. And in his notes on the Calvary (see sources), Fr. Tanguy says that in 1747 the chapel of St. Mary Magdalen was "transferred" to the foot of the Calvary; would this mean that the title of the old chapel and perhaps the masses attached to it were transferred to the chapel at the Calvary, which seems to have been rebuilt at that time? On the other hand, the "Guide du Pèlerin" of 1891 (see sources), says that in 1747, the Duc de Ponthièvre, Governor General of Brittany, whose consent had been obtained to proceed with a restoration of the Calvary, gave "a gift of 25 louis to begin the construction of the chapel which was to be erected near the Calvary" (pg. 47); which gives no indication that this construction was to be a rebuilding of a former chapel. It seem that Fr. Le Crom is mistaken in his assumption that the chapel of St. Mary Magdalen, which Bishop Bauveau recommends should be reestablished, is the chapel at the Calvary, even if, later on, this chapel received the title of St. Mary Magdalen.


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