In the Footsteps of St Louis Marie de Montfort

Northern Area


Birthplace of St Louis Marie (Maison Natale)

Birthplace of St Louis MarieSt Louis-Marie was born at No 15, Rue de la Saulnerie. The house is owned today jointly by the three Montfortian congregations: the Montfort Missionaries, the Daughters of Wisdom and the Brothers of St Gabriel.

How to find the Maison Natale

If you are arriving from the direction of Rennes, on entering Montfort-sur-Meu, you will cross the railway line, with the station on your right. Follow the road leading to the "Centre-Ville". After about 200 yards, you come to a junction where the main road swings right, while ahead of you is an area which gives priority to pedestrians; enter this area (you can do so even in a car). After another 50 to 100 yards, the Rue de la Saulnerie opens on your right (there is a chemist's shop on the right-hand corner) - it is a one-way street at this point. The Maison Natale is a few yards up on the left-hand side. You can park there for a few moments only - to park for a longer period, drive further up the street and take the first turning on your left. This will bring you down a slight hill and round a left-hand bend to a parking area next to the River Meu, immediately behind the Maison Natale -you can then walk around the block to the front entrance of the house.

If you are coming from St. Malo, Mont St-Michel, etc., you will probably enter the town in the same way.

If you are coming from the South, e.g. from Plélan-le-Grand, you will come to a roundabout at the edge of the central area of the town. Drive more or less straight ahead, towards the "Centre-Ville". After a few yards you cross the river Meu, and enter a pedestrianised area (priority to pedestrians, but you can drive in). On your left at this point is the parking area mentioned above, immediately behind the Maison Natale. To reach the front of the house, drive a few yards further into the pedestrian area, and turn left into the Rue de la Saulnerie, with the chemist's shop on the far corner.

The Maison Natale saw the birth of four of the children of the Grignion family:

  1. 16 February 1672: Jean-Baptiste, who died aged five months;
  2. 31 January 1673: LOUIS, baptised the following day in St John's;
  3. 24 February 1674: Joseph-Pierre, who became a Dominican;
  4. 26 March 1675: Renée, the first of the girls.

The oldest part of the house is the front, which certainly existed before the date (1667) which can be seen high up on the chimney at the left hand side when standing in the road: Louis-Marie's grandfather, the advocate Maître Eustache Grignion, was already living here in 1653; his office was the room at the extreme left viewed from the road.

Ceramic of BaptismLouis Marie did not live here for very long, since almost immediately after his birth he was given into the care of the wet-nurse, Mère André, at La Bachelleraye; and since his parents bought the farm at Le Bois-Marquer on the 16th July 1675 and went to live there three months later, it is probable that Louis Marie went directly from La Bachelleraye to the Bois-Marquer. However, it is clear that Montfort meant much to St Louis-Marie, who preferred to be called simply "the priest from Montfort", probably because it was there that he was baptised. Baptism, for him, was perhaps the most important moment of life, being the moment when he was dedicated to God. In the Maison Natale, a beautiful ceramic by Fr. Leidi, Italian Montfortian, commemorates Louis Marie's baptism and the moment when he ratified this for himself in his personal consecration to Jesus through the hands of Mary.

In the oratory at the Maison Natale can be seen the statue, in painted wood, of Our Lady of Wisdom which is said to have been carved by St Louis Marie himself at St Lazare. It was taken to the Montfort hospital in 1797 by Sister St Maixent, and has been kept at the Maison Natale since 1977. The base of the altar is a piece of the ancient oak tree known as the "Chêne aux Vendeurs" (the Sellers' Oak), so called because it was the meeting place for travelling salesmen for many years. It was under this oak that the 12th century heretic Eon de l'Etoile sought to have himself recognised as someone sent by God. The figure of Christ on the wall and the tabernacle are the work of Fr Leidi.

O.L.of WisdomAlso in the house can be seen a block of stone, known as "Fr de Montfort's pillow", which was bought from Jean Leclerc by Sister St Patrice of the Montfort hospital for 5 francs in 1842.

In the garden, the granite altar table comes from the château de la Garaye near Dinan; almost certainly St Louis Marie said Mass there on this altar. The statue of St Louis Marie and the statue of Mary with the infant Jesus in the outdoor chapel (a copy of the statue of Our Lady, Queen of All Hearts, to be found at Montbernage in Poitiers), were originally in the Abbaye St Jacques just outside Montfort (see below), as was the group of statues representing Mary, Queen of All Hearts and St Louis Marie to be found in the garden of the old Gendarmerie next door to the Maison Natale. The open-air chapel in the garden of the Maison Natale recalls St Louis Marie's stay with several of the first brothers who accompanied him at St Lazare, just outside Montfort (see below), where it is said he placed an enormous Rosary, accompanied by the name of Jesus and a picture of a dove representing the Holy Spirit. This reminds us of the important part played by visual symbols in the teaching of St Louis Marie.



La Butte de la Motte (Church square)

On exiting from the front door of the Maison natale, turn left up the Rue de la Saulnerie, then turn right up the first little street. You will see the present parish church on the left, and the round Tour de la Motte on the right. Go round the back of the church into the square, the Place St Louis- Marie Grignion de Montfort. You are now standing on the "Butte de la Motte", where the ancient feudal castle dungeon stood. The present church did not exist in St Louis Marie's day, but was built in 1850 to replace the three ancient parish churches of Montfort, those of St Jean, St Nicolas and Coulon. In September 1707, St Louis Marie came with M. Leuduger and a fairly large group of missionaries to preach a mission in Montfort. He wanted to build a large and imposing calvary on the Butte de la Motte; he had already bought the figures (of Christ and others) for this calvary in St Brieuc. However, the building of the calvary was forbidden; upon which he made the prediction that one day this very place would be a place of prayer. The statues he had bought were later to be erected on his Calvary at Pontchateau in 1710; the figure of Christ is now to be seen in the little chapel at the foot of the Pontchâteau calvary.

The statue of St Louis Marie in the tower of the existing parish church recalls the "sermon" on the Cross which he preached during the mission at Montfort: instead of preaching, he simply held up his crucifix, saying "Look what our sins have done to our Saviour"; then he presented the crucifix to each member of the congregation to venerate; it is said to have been one of the most moving moments of the whole mission.

Since his canonization in 1947, the parish church has been dedicated to St Louis Marie. The two windows in the Choir portray him, while the Stations of the Cross were given to the church in 1966 by the Montfortian Seminary at the Abbaye St Jacques upon its closure. The upper part of the retable of the right-hand side altar recalls the legend of the Duck of "Montfort-la-Cane".


The chapel of St Joseph (Saint-Jean)

From the church square, cross the main road, turn left, then right following the main road. Go past the large presbytery, and ahead you will see the Chapel of St Joseph. This chapel is built on the site of the ancient parish church of St Jean, where Louis Marie was baptised the day after his birth in 1673, and where he gave the famous sermon on the Cross in 1707. All that remains of the old parish church is the doorway, and the sacristy which can be seen behind the chapel of St Joseph if you go into the cemetery just beyond the chapel. In this sacristy, the register of Baptism would have been signed.


The Mairie (Town Hall)

Baptismal recordThe Baptismal register is now kept in the Mairie (the Town Hall), which is on the opposite side of the road from the presbytery and the chapel of St Joseph, a little way back towards the church square. You can see the register with its entry of St Louis Marie's baptism, if you telephone the Mairie beforehand - the telephone number can be obtained at the Maison Natale. The Mairie itself is housed in the old buildings of the Ursuline Convent, built in 1639, where most of the Grignion daughters in the 18th century were boarders.


The old Presbytery

As you stand outside the presbytery facing the Mairie, the very old building just to the right of the Mairie is the old presbytery of the church of St Jean. It was here that, in 1707, when St Louis Marie was staying at St Lazare with the Brothers, he was summoned by the Bishop of Saint Malo to be told that he could not teach or preach in the diocese. As he was leaving, the rector of Bréal and Dean of Montfort, M. Pierre-Henry Hindré, arrived and immediately went to the defence of St Louis Marie, upon which the Bishop withdrew his prohibition.



The Banquet for the PoorTo get to Couascavre and the Abbaye St-Jacques from the Maison Natale, take the road out of the town which crosses the river Meu, behind the Maison Natale. At the roundabout, turn left (fourth exit from the roundabout, the Boulevard du Général de Gaulle or Boulevard Carnot). At the next junction, follow the road round to the right. Stay on this road for perhaps half a mile, until the Abbey buildings are ahead of you in the middle of a fork in the road. You can park either in the road which goes to the right, or, by taking the road to the left, in the parking area of the Abbey, which is now an agricultural college.

Couascavre or the "chêne Colas" was at the end of the little village of the Abbey on the road which forks left at the Abbey. Here were three little houses belonging to the Grignion family, of which it appears nothing remains today (though one can see the kind of houses they would have been on examining some of the other old houses in the village). Louis Marie's parents retired here in 1707, and here his father died in 1716, three months before his son, and was buried in the chapel of the Abbey (see below). It was probably here that the famous "banquet of the poor" took place: Louis Marie accepted an invitation to dine with his parents, provided he could bring some of his friends as well - by which he meant the poor. In 1710, a ten-year-old child called Bizette died "at the home of M. de la Bachelleraye"; it is possible that Louis Marie confided this child to his parents during the mission of 1707.


The Abbaye Saint-Jacques

The Abbaye St-Jacques was founded in 1152 by William of Montfort, and was still inhabited by the Génovéfain monks at the time of Louis Marie. Later, it was occupied by the Ursuline Sisters. Between 1922 and 1966 it was the seminary of the Montfort Fathers of the French Province, and until 1940 the scholastics of the Province of Great Britain and Ireland also did their philosophical and theological studies there. The chapel was restored in the 13th and 14th centuries, but unfortunately was burnt out in a fire in 1976; its most remarkable architectural feature, the doorway with its rare three- lobed arcade, can still be seen in the road which forks right at the Abbey corner. In this chapel are buried the remains of three of St Louis Marie's family:

  1. His father, Jean-Baptiste Grignion (1647-1716), d. 21 January 1716;
  2. His sister, Françoise-Marguerite (1679-1721);
  3. His youngest sister, Jeanne-Marguerite (1691-1708), d. 25 February 1708, while Louis Marie was staying at Saint-Lazare.


La Bachelleraye

Mère André's House

To reach La Bachelleraye, drive out of the town towards Rennes. Immediately after crossing the railway bridge (with the station on your left), turn left onto the road to Bédée. After perhaps a mile, you will see a fairly large electricity sub-station on the right. Turn right into the road immediately following this. After half a mile or so, you will come to a group of buildings straddling the road. This is "La Bachelleraye", a farm belonging to Louis Marie's father, where lived "Mère André", the wet-nurse to whom Louis Marie was confided after his birth. She probably lived in the furthest house on the right, which has recently been renovated, and St Louis Marie would therefore have passed his first two years or so in this house. On the left-hand side of the road, just at the start of the three or four buildings, is the old communal outdoor bread oven which would have probably been in use in Louis Marie's day. In 1679, so as to provide him with the necessary "clerical title", Louis Marie's parents bestowed on him the usufruct of this farm of La Bachelleraye, by which he became the "Sire de la Bachelleraye" and was incardinated at his ordination into the Diocese of Saint-Malo. When St Louis Marie returned to the Montfort district in 1707, Mère André had left La Bachelleraye and was living at Heurtebize (see below).



Heurtebise (Later home of Mère André)

To reach Heurtebize, drive out of Montfort towards the south, taking (at the roundabout) the road towards Talensac - the third exit from the roundabout if you have come to it from the Rue de la Saulnerie - be careful here, as you have to cross the traffic which may be coming down to the roundabout from the direction of Plélan-le-Grand. Twenty yards or so up the road to Talensac, turn right into the road which is signposted "Saint-Lazare". Drive up the hill for about a mile, until you come to a road on the left which is signposted for Saint-Lazare, La Massonaye and Heurtebize. Drive straight along this road (about half a mile) as far as the buildings of Saint Lazare straight ahead of you. Follow the road round to the left, and drive on for a further two or three hundred yards. On the left you will see a cross with some wrought-iron railings; this is Heurtebize, the site of the house to which it is thought Mère André retired from La Bachelleraye to live with her son-in-law. The cross which marks the site was blessed in 1873 by M. Delafosse, Vicar General of Rennes.


La Massonaye (Pierre Belin)

Although the story is a little uncertain, it appears that when St Louis Marie left M. Leuduger's mission team during the mission at Moncontour in 1707, he decided to come to rest at Saint-Lazare. Passing Mère André's house at Heurtebize, he asked for some food or a lodging, but Mère André did not recognise him and refused. He continued on the road towards Saint Lazare (back the way you have come to Heurtebize), and was again refused at the next house. But, coming to La Massonaye, he was received hospitably by Pierre Belin in the house on the left as you return towards Saint Lazare which is marked with a sign indicating it as Pierre Belin's house, where he spent the night. The next day, Mère André was told who her visitor of the night before had been, and she was immediately repentant. Louis Marie consented to take something to eat with her then, but made his lesson clear on leaving. One cannot enter Pierre Belin's house now, but formerly there was a small cross carved into one of the external walls in the yard, which was said to commemorate Louis Marie's visit.


Saint-Lazare - hermitage

Saint-LazareContinuing back along the way you have come, on the left at the bend is the entrance to Saint-Lazare, between some farm buildings. Drive into the courtyard and park. This priory of Saint-Lazare, as its name implies, was founded in the Middle Ages to care for lepers. In the time of St Louis Marie, it had no prior, and served as lodging for the poor farmers of the area. Louis Marie's grandfather, Eustache Grignion, had been sénéchal of Saint-Lazare, and his father was responsible for the administration of the goods belonging to the priory. It was also used as a place of lodging for the poor pilgrims of "Monsieur St Méen". St Louis Marie therefore did not need, it seems, any special authorization to take up residence there between September 1707 and September 1708 with Brother Mathurin and Brother Jean.

The chapel at Saint-Lazare had been rebuilt in 1622, and probably needed only a good cleaning to make it fit for use. Two Masses per week were supposed to be said in the chapel, but there had been no chaplain for 18 years when Louis Marie arrived, the Masses probably having been said by the monks of the Abbaye St-Jacques in their chapel. In the chapel at Saint-Lazare today can be seen the crucifix carved by St Louis Marie himself. The altar is the same one on which he celebrated Mass in the year he spent there. Here in the chapel, St Louis Marie himself arranged things to recall his favourite devotions: he painted a dove above the altar to represent the Holy Spirit; below it was the name of Jesus in big letters; and below that was his statue of Our Lady of Wisdom which is to be found today in the oratory at the Maison Natale; there was also a prie-dieu with the big Rosary beads which could be used by several people at once (all this is recalled today by the arrangement of the open-air chapel in the garden of the Maison Natale).

St Louis Marie's room in the house to the left of the chapel may be seen on application to the Sisters who occupy the priory today. Outside, opposite the corner of the chapel is an old oak, known as "le chêne du Père de Montfort" -it is said that, beneath this oak, he often spoke to the people who came in increasing numbers to visit Saint-Lazare as it became known as a place of prayer. As well as these talks, he also went out from time to time to preach in the neighbouring parishes, for example at Bréal. The last ministry he performed was a retreat for the young ladies of the parish of St Jean in Montfort. Shortly afterwards, perhaps because he had been told in no uncertain terms that he was no longer welcome in the area, he left to go to Nantes.

Saint-Lazare, because of this year spent there in the company of his Brothers, is looked upon as one of the cradles of the Company of Mary.



The Parish Church of Iffendic

To get to Iffendic from the Maison Natale at Montfort, take the road out of the town centre which crosses the river Meu (as though going to Saint-Lazare or the Abbaye St-Jacques). At the roundabout, turn right (first exit from the roundabout, a new road), and follow this road round the town until you come to traffic lights at a crossroads. There you will see the sign pointing left to Iffendic.

When you arrive in Iffendic, you will see the Church on the right of the road. There is a small parking area at the side of the Church: turn right just before the church, and it is on your left.

Iffendic Parish ChurchIn the Parish Church is the chapel (on the right hand side) where the Grignion family had their pew; it is marked with a plaque and a statue of the saint. Beneath it is a vault in which some of Louis Marie's brothers, sisters and cousins were buried. At the back of the church, in the baptistery, is the font in which ten of Louis Marie's brothers and sisters were baptised. On 17th September 1681, Louis Marie himself assisted at the baptism of his sister Françoise-Thérèse, and signed the register. This register is kept today in the Mairie, which is the old presbytery of Iffendic. The large stained-glass window in the choir dates from 1542 and portrays many of the events of the life of Jesus; the young Louis Marie would no doubt have learnt much from looking at it and asking questions. This church would also have been the place where he first received the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, and where he learnt the Good News of the Gospel, and where he prayed fervently.


Le Bois Marquer

To get to the Bois Marquer, take the road which turns off the main road at the East end of the church (if you have parked as suggested, you have already done this). In front of you is a Y-fork; take the right-hand fork (signposted for Bédée). Continue along this road for about one mile, until you come to a little lane on the left with a large direction panel, on which Le Bois Marquer is marked. Follow this lane for about half a mile (passing two or three farms on the way), until you come to the Bois Marquer, on the right hand side, set back a little from the road, with a Cross at the corner of the entrance lane and a plaque commemorating Louis Marie's stay here.

Le Bois Marquer The existing farmhouse is thought to be the same as that known by Louis Marie, though today it is not as grand; and tradition holds that the room on the first floor at the right was the boys' room, hence Louis Marie's; a small sign indicates this.

In the days of St Louis Marie, Le Bois Marquer was an ancient noble manor, which included two other farms, Le Plessix and La Chesnaye. It would have been much bigger than the present farmhouse, and had a tower and a dovecote, and was surrounded by gardens, an orchard and vineyards. Louis Marie's father bought it on 16th July 1675 for 7,900 livres; but, since he did not belong to the nobility, he also had to pay a special tax for twenty years, known as the "franc-fief". Jean-Baptiste Grignion did not become a farmer, but continued to act as a notary in Montfort. Louis Marie lived at the Bois Marquer from 1675 until 1684, when he was sent to the College in Rennes. In 1686, the whole family moved to Rennes, but continued to spend some part of the summer at the Bois Marquer; Louis's last holiday, in September 1692, before he left for Paris, was spent here with his family and his friends Jean-Baptiste Blain and Joseph de Saint-Méen. Many of the incidents of his childhood and adolescence related by Blain and Grandet, would have taken place here.

The Bois Marquer belonged to the Grignion family for over 100 years, being finally sold in 1782. Louis Marie's nephew, Louis-Constant Grignion, who had done some studies at the seminary of the Holy Spirit in Paris and was called, because of this, "l'abbé du Bois Marquer", did not want to leave after the sale, and had to be expelled by the courts.



Return to the junction of the lane with the Bédée road and turn left. Perhaps half a mile further on, on the right, is a lane signposted Boucquidy. A hundred yards or so along, on the left, is the fine noble manor of Boucquidy, which gives some idea of how the Bois Marquer would have looked in the time of St Louis Marie. This manor belonged to the Hindré family, who were related to the Grignions. One of this family, Pierre Hindré, was the rector of the church of St Jean in Montfort when Louis Marie was born, and it was he who baptised Louis Marie. His nephew, Pierre-Henry Hindré, rector of Bréal and dean of Montfort, was the one who came to Louis Marie's defence before the Bishop of Saint-Malo in Montfort in 1707, and invited him to give a mission at Bréal. There, it was the rector himself who was the first "converted" by the mission: he was reconciled with his brothers and sisters from whom he had been estranged.


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