St Louis Marie's calvary is at Le Calvaire, four kilometres to the West of Pontchâteau. The easiest way to reach it, whether you are coming from Montfort-sur-Meu or from the South, is to use the by-pass road (the N165) which runs round the North side of Pontchâteau.
If you are coming from Montfort-sur-Meu, head first of all for Redon (which, incidentally is twinned with Andover in Hampshire), then take the road for St Nazaire, passing through St Gildas-des-Bois (the mother house of the Sisters of St Gildas, founded by Fr Deshayes) and Drefféac. Four kilometres after Drefféac (2.5 miles), turn right onto the N165 (signposted for Vannes), then leave it again by the next exit (slip road to the right - signposted Beaulieu, Herbignac, etc). You drive 100 metres or so on the slip road before coming to the bridge over the main road (Avia garage on the far corner); turn left to cross over the main road. At the cross-roads at the other side, you will see the sign indicating Le Calvaire straight ahead. Half a mile down this road, turn right at the T-junction. The Calvary is on your right. The first building after this is the Missionary Museum. Opposite is a little road leading to the Hôtellerie and parking areas.
If, by any chance, you should miss the turning onto the N165 (it is a bit difficult to see, for example, in the dark), continue on towards the centre of Pontchâteau. When you come to a cross-roads with traffic lights, turn right (it is signposted Le Calvaire, among other things), follow this road round a right-hand bend, then, after another hundred and fifty yards or so, turn left towards Le Calvaire and Herbignac. When you come to the 60 km/hr zone, you have reached Le Calvaire. Drive on until you see the Calvary itself on your right.
If you are coming from the South (e.g. Saint Laurent-sur-Sèvre), you need to take the road for Vannes from Nantes (the N165). If you have taken the new high Cheviré Bridge to cross the Loire and avoid Nantes centre, watch for the directions to Vannes - you will eventually join the N165. You have a dual- carriageway for quite a long way, then the road narrows to three lanes (after the turn-off for St Nazaire - keep heading for Vannes). After another 10 km or so, the first turn-off for Pontchâteau appears (ignore it) then the road becomes dual-carriageway again. The exit for Le Calvaire is two exits after this (do not take the Pontchâteau exits), signposted for Beaulieu and Herbignac. Then follow the directions above.
Le Calvaire is much more than the Calvary, though that is clearly the centre-piece. The first Calvary was built in 1709-10 by the people of this area, following the preaching of St Louis Marie during the mission of Pontchâteau. Some of his enemies persuaded King Louis XIV that, at that time of war, the hill which had been raised could be used as a fortified encampment by English sailors in case of an invasion. The King ordered the destruction of the Calvary (for the details see, for example, Le Crom). It was rebuilt in 1821, by the Abbé Gouray, parish priest of Pontchâteau, whose tomb can be seen at the side of the chapel at the foot of the Calvary, and modified again some 40 years later. Thirty or so sites or monuments were erected at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, largely through the zeal of Fr. Barré, whose tomb can be found on the site. [For a fuller history of the Calvary, see the Appendix here]
Today the site is probably much more ambitious than even St Louis Marie had imagined it, but very much in his spirit, combining popular but solid devotion with a catechesis which involves much visual display (frescoes, dramatic reconstructions, displays of scripture texts, etc.). All the mysteries of the Rosary are represented, as well as the Way of the Cross.
A leaflet in English can be obtained, either from the little information centre next to the chapel at the foot of the Calvary, or (if that is closed), from the Montfortian Community house opposite the big Pilgrimage Chapel, the Museum, or the Sisters' house. It contains a plan of the site and a suggested route taking in all the different sites and monuments.
Perhaps the most precious material souvenir of St Louis Marie here (apart from the Calvary itself), is the figure of Christ on the Cross in the chapel at the foot of the Calvary. It is the figure Louis Marie had bought, in the first place, for his proposed Calvary at Montfort-sur-Meu (see above). Along with the other figures for the Calvary, it was kept for the Pontchâteau Calvary. When that was demolished, all the statues were taken to the Hospital for Incurables in Nantes (the Cour Catuit), and the figure of Christ eventually found its way back to Pontchâteau; the other statues were taken back to Pontchâteau by Fr. Audubon in 1747, but were destroyed when then chapel was burnt by the revolutionaries in 1794; the figure of Christ was spared because it was at St. Laurent. The cross on which it is mounted recalls the Mission Cross which was erected in Montbernage in 1705, on which were hung many of the "little hearts" of those who had renewed their Baptismal vows during the mission. The frescoes in this chapel represent scenes from the life of St Louis Marie; an English text explaining them is to be found in the chapel. The chapel itself appears to have been here even before St Louis Marie's day, perhaps in ruins, since the Bishop of Nantes of the day said that he had ordered its re-establishment. It was spared when the Calvary was condemned, and was soon afterwards completed. It was restored in 1747 by Fr Audubon. It was burnt out by the revolutionaries in 1794, and rebuilt in the restoration begun in 1821.
In the immediate vicinity of Le Calvaire are two of the little hamlets which are mentioned as having provided food for the poorer of the volunteers working on the building of the Calvary. Walk down the road opposite the Museum, past the Hôtellerie, to the Route du Père de Montfort, and there turn right, then walk down the road past the Sisters' house (on the left, at the end of a short lane, is the Fontaine du Père de Montfort, said to be the spring where the workers obtained water during the building of the Calvary). About a quarter of a mile further on you will come to Les Métairies; this is where the farmer is said to have hidden so as not to have to give his last crust to the workers, but was then discovered by Louis Marie. Returning towards the Calvary, on the right at the crossroads is the Route de la Madeleine. A little way down here, the houses set back a distance from the road form La Viauderie; here the widow Jeanne Guigan is said to have seen Louis Marie talking to a lady in white while he was on his way to take a meal with her. When he arrived, she was surprised to find him alone, and on questioning him about the lady in white, was told by him that it had been the Blessed Virgin.
A little further along the Route de la Madeleine, in the field on the left- hand side, can be seen the large standing stone, the menhir known as the Madeleine, which can also be seen from the back of the Scala Sancta. Its presence, and the fact that the whole of this area on which the Calvary is built was known as La Lande de la Madeleine, could provide another explanation, apart from the fact that this is the highest point in the area, and apart from the legend of the doves at Sainte Reine de Bretagne (see below), as to why St Louis Marie chose this spot to build his Calvary. Often the name "Madeleine" applied to a place indicated the presence of practices in the area which were in some way reprehensible, perhaps going back to pagan customs. The menhir of the Madeleine would indicate ancient pagan rituals in the area. Did St Louis Marie have it in mind to "cleanse" this area by making it a place of Christian devotion?
In the Temple of Jerusalem at Le Calvaire, in the large roofed hall, can be seen a relic of St Louis Marie's mission at Crossac, which probably was given just before the mission at Pontchâteau; it is the pulpit in which he preached in the old church at Crossac. When the new church was built, the pulpit was given to St Guillaume, and was brought to Le Calvaire in 1987. The support of the table with the statue of Our Lady in this hall is the sounding-board which was above the pulpit, while the front of the altar holds the underside of this.
Before the mission in Pontchâteau in 1709, and during the building of the Calvary, St Louis Marie preached in many places in the area. If you have time, you might like to visit some of these places.
The mission at Campbon, 10 km from Pontchâteau, took place in Lent 1709. It was here that St Louis Marie incurred the wrath of the Sénéchal of the Ducs de Coislin, Guischard de la Chauvelière, by having all the tombstones removed from the church and the arms of the Ducs de Coislin painted over. M. de la Chauvelière arrested Louis Marie at the time but could not get the consent of his master to proceed against him in law; he bided his time, however, and it was he who engineered the royal edict ordering the destruction of the Calvary in 1710. It was in the hamlet of Montmignac, just outside Campbon on the Pontchâteau side, that a group of men lay in wait for Louis Marie and M. des Bastières, who were due to go from Campbon to Pontchâteau. M. des Bastières heard of the plot, and, with difficulty, persuaded St Louis Marie to delay the journey. But somehow the news reached Nantes that the two priests had been killed, and some good people had already asked for Masses to be said for the repose of their souls!
The mission in Crossac, 6 or 7 km from Pontchâteau, took place after the mission in Campbon. Once again, the church was cleared of its tombstones, but this time St Louis Marie took the precaution of having a notary witness an agreement made by the parishioners that they would no longer demand their right to be buried in the church. As mentioned above, the pulpit in which St Louis Marie preached in the church at Crossac is now at Le Calvaire.
According to one tradition, it was here (4 km down the road from Le Calvaire in the direction of Herbignac) that Louis Marie first began the building of the Calvary. The story of the two doves which kept carrying off the soil and depositing it at the present site, is perhaps legendary, but there is still, according to Le Crom, a little hillock recalling the memory of the work begun here (is this the site of the present calvary of Sainte Reine?). There is a fine statue of St Louis Marie in a little park near the church.
Besné, La Chapelle-de-Marais, Missillac, Herbignac, Camoël and Assérac, according to Le Crom, were all places where Louis Marie preached. Most could be visited in a round trip of three hours or so. The same circuit should include St Molf, the last place where he preached in the diocese of Nantes.
On the Sunday following the day on which the Calvary was to be blessed, still not knowing that the King had ordered its destruction, knowing only that the Bishop would not allow it to be blessed, St Louis Marie began a mission at St Molf, 27 km from Pontchâteau, near Guérande. However, within a week, M. Olivier, the priest with whom he had been working for some time, but whom he did not want to work with in this mission, arrived with a note from the Bishop, forbidding him to preach or hear confessions in his diocese from that moment on, and appointing M. Olivier himself to finish the mission at St Molf. On reading the note, St Louis Marie is said to have wept. He left immediately, hoping to get the Bishop to relent, and it was only then that he learnt of the order to destroy the Calvary. He was not, however, forbidden to say Mass; so he took up residence in the Rue des Hauts-Pavés in Nantes (see below), where he stayed for some months, perhaps waiting for a sign from God, and in the meantime occupying himself with work for the Hospital for Incurables, with writing and with prayer; until, about the beginning of Lent 1711, he left for Luçon and La Rochelle.
Parking in Nantes is not always easy. There is a fairly large parking area in the Cours St André, entrance in the Place Maréchal Foch, near the Cathedral, which is fairly central for the various Montfortian sites; or you may be able to find a parking place in the streets to the East of here; or, perhaps as a last resort, you could ask to park in the grounds of the La Sagesse convent, next to the Jardin des Plantes in the Rue Frédéric Cailliaud. Nantes also has a fairly extensive one-way street system, so be careful. The area in the town centre, especially to the West of the Cours des 50 Otages, is largely pedestrianised (i.e. with priority to pedestrians, though you can drive through), and so tends to become very congested for motor traffic - it is best to avoid these areas in a car, if possible.
St Louis Marie stayed here, in the community of M. René Lévêque, from Autumn 1700 until the end of August 1701, apart from the time he was away in Fontevrault and Poitiers, and when he gave missions in Grandchamp and Le Pellerin. His letters of the time, nos 5 to 9, show that he was not happy there.
The building which housed the community of St Clément is now the Fire Station (Pompiers) in the Rue Maréchal Joffre, which runs up North West from the Place Maréchal Foch. The church of St Clément is reached just before this, a 19th century building with, in the apse, a 16th century Madonna, Notre Dame de Toute Grâce.
Walking from St Clément church, SW down the Rue Guib. De Luzinais, or the Rue Lorette de la Refoulais, you come to the Rue Gambetta. Here the cloisters of this convent can be seen. Louis Marie was the Spiritual Director to several of the Sisters here.
At the Place Sophie Trébuchet, on the left-hand side as you are facing away from the city centre, the Rue Gaston Turpin joins the Rue Gambetta. The Sisters of Providence run a Maison de Retraite here at No. 87. Here there is a statue of St Louis Marie with a poor man.
Continuing up the Rue Gaston Turpin as far as the Rue des Coulmiers, then turning left, brings you back to the Rue Maréchal Joffre. Turn right and take the next street on the left, the Rue Evêque Emilien. Here is the church of St Donatien, where St Louis Marie preached a mission in June 1710, during which he had some banners made. In the church, on the left near the choir, is a picture representing great devotees of the Rosary, among them St Louis Marie. In the cemetery near the church is the chapel of St Stephen, which is very ancient. Louis Marie put a statue here of Our Lady, Queen of all Hearts. On 21st June 1710, he also blessed a bell here, called Anne-Marie, of which he was the "godfather".
The next sites to be visited are at the other side of the city centre, so you may wish to park a little closer (it is about 2.5 km from St Donatien, about half that from the parking area in Cours St André). There is parking, if you can get a space, in the Place Viarme, which is central for both sites.
From the Place Viarme, walk SW down the Rue Sarrazin to the Place St Similien. Here is the church of St Similien, where St Louis Marie preached a mission in 1708, during which he established an association of the Friends of the Cross. In the present church, which is built on the site of the old one, is a statue of St Louis Marie behind the choir, and a window showing him in prayer, above Our Lady of Mercy.
Walk back to the Place Viarme, then up the right side of the Place, to the Rue des Hauts Pavés (which, incidentally, is the road to Vannes, therefore the road you would take to drive from here to Pontchâteau). It was here, at nos 19-21, in the Cour Catuit, that St Louis Marie normally stayed, in "La Providence", when he was in Nantes, notably after the interdiction of the Calvary in Pontchâteau, and where he founded the Hospital for Incurables. The old buildings have completely disappeared, but there is a plaque which commemorates St Louis Marie's presence here.
This square is near the North bank of the river, close to the Place Cdt. J. L'Herminier, just West of the Pont Anne de Bretagne. It is in front of the church of St Louis (or N.D. du Bon Port). The hospital (Sanitat) was to the right of the church. It was used as a prison during the French Revolution, and a number of Daughters of Wisdom were imprisoned there. The Brothers mentioned in St Louis Marie's will are said to have taught there.
These are to be found on the Ile de Nantes, just at the other side of the Pont Gal. Audibert over the Madeleine arm of the river, to the west of the Boulevard des Martyrs Nantais. It was here that Louis Marie went to the aid of the inhabitants during the flooding of January 1711.
South of the Loire is a region where St Louis Marie was very active in preaching missions in 1708, as well as the one in Bouguenais in 1710.
No mission was preached here, but in the Lady Chapel, on the right-hand wall, is the text of St Louis Marie's taking possession (by proxy, 15 June 1695) of the chaplaincy of St Julien-de-Concelles, which had been given him in 1695 by Mme. de Mortemart, thus enabling him to attend the Petit Saint Sulpice. In the choir is a window representing St Louis Marie.
St Louis Marie preached a mission here in September/October 1708, accompanied by Brother Mathurin, who summoned the people to the mission by ringing his bell and singing "Alerte, alerte, alerte, la mission est ouverte". The "Providence" (residence of the missionaries) was at No 10 Rue François Luneau; the old presbytery at nos 17-19. On the heights of Fromenteau, M. Barrin (Vicar General of Nantes) gave a piece of land where the Mission Cross was erected at the close of the mission.
St Louis Marie preached a mission in the three parishes of St Christophe-la-Couperie, La Boissière-du-Doré, and La Remaudière towards the end of 1708, after the mission at Vallet, principally in the church at La Boissière.
The mission here took place towards the end of 1708, after the one at La Boissière-du-Doré. There were two religious centres here in Louis Marie's day: Notre-Dame and Saint Sauveur. The Blessed Virgin appeared to him here. A statue of Our Lady attributed to him was found here by Fr. Besnard; it is now at St Laurent-sur-Sèvre.
St Louis Marie preached the mission here, accompanied by M. des Bastières, in November 1708. The parish priest, who had not himself asked for the mission, and who was in conflict with a number of noble families of the region who were favourable to Louis Marie, made a lot of difficulties for the missionaries. St Louis Marie sought strength by praying often in the chapel of Notre-Dame des Ombres, which still exists on the property of Les Huguetières (take the road from la Chevrolière towards Le Bignon - the D62 - just beyond the junction of the D262 and D178 at Tournebride, on the right). There is a statue of Louis Marie on the left-hand side of the facade of the present-day church in La Chevrolière; and the house where he stayed during the mission is at the end of the Impasse Montfort (on the other side of the road from the church, to the left, next to the Crédit Mutuelle). La Chevrolière is today "twinned" with Lyndhurst in the New Forest, near to where the Montfort Missionaries have a House of Prayer at Ashurst.
The mission here followed that at La Chevrolière, therefore towards the end of 1708. Everything seemed to be going so well, that St. Louis Marie said to M. des Bastières, "It is bad for us here!". M. des Bastières, surprised, replied, "Not at all. Where would we find a better place?" "The problem is," Louis Marie replied, "that we are too much at ease here. The mission will be fruitless. No cross, what a cross!" M. des Bastières had great difficulty in persuading him to stay. In fact, the mission was a great success. Brother Pierre, who was with them during this mission, was cured by St. Louis Marie here. The mission ended with a great bonfire.
This mission took place in December 1708, when the terrible winter of 1708-9 had already set in. St Louis Marie lodged during the mission at Chateauthébaud, in the house of the missionaries of St Clément, at La Chauvinière; the chapel where he said Mass can still be seen. In the present-day church at St Fiacre, the fresco in the vault of the choir shows St Louis Marie kneeling, leaning on the cross.
St Louis Marie preached the mission here in 1710, and inaugurated the banners which had been made at St Donatien. In the present church, there is a stained-glass window which recalls the saving of St Louis Marie's donkey: while preaching one day, he suddenly stopped and cried out, "Two men are needed to go and save my donkey, which is drowning at the bottom of the village!" Some men went and found it exactly as he had said.