To reach St Laurent (which may not be marked on small-scale maps), from Montfort-sur-Meu or Pontchâteau, you make for Nantes, either by-passing it almost completely by the new Cheviré Bridge to the West of the city, or skirting the northern and eastern outskirts, following the Poitiers road. Leaving Nantes, you follow the Poitiers directions, and then have a choice of the route via Cholet or Clisson and Mortagne-sur-Sèvre. The Cholet route is a relatively new road, but is not necessarily faster than the other, which many may find more interesting. If you choose to take the Cholet road (the N249), when you get to the vicinity of Cholet, you continue to follow the directions for Poitiers (you pass quite close to La Séguinière, which you might wish to visit on the way if you have time - see below); as the new route is completed, you will probably by-pass Cholet altogether, or at most skirt its western side, and will be led in the direction of Mortagne-sur- Sèvre, where the Poitiers road leaves that for Les Herbiers and La Roche-sur- Yon. The other route (the N149) passes through Clisson; it leaves the Nantes-Cholet road several kilometres after clearing Nantes, and takes you eventually through Mortagne-sur-Sèvre; just keep following the directions for Poitiers. Four or five km after Mortagne-sur-Sèvre, you come to La Trique, where there are traffic lights at the junction with the road into Saint Laurent; turn right here, drive down the hill until you see the right-hand turn over the bridge into the town centre. On your right is St Gabriel Institute. In front of its main entrance, a little square, on the left, with the street leading to the Basilica. In front of the Basilica, turn right for the Saint-Esprit (SMM) and La Sagesse. Saint-Esprit is on the right-hand side, La Sagesse on the left.
St Louis Marie died here during the mission which he was preaching in April 1716. According to the tradition, he died in what is now the Chambre Mortuaire in La Sagesse (just inside the main door, not the archway leading to the Chêne Vert). It was here that he dictated his will on 27th April, and where he died at 8 o'clock in the evening on 28th April. The "châsse" (the glass case containing the wax effigy of St Louis Marie) is of interest, in that from the front and from the back, the face seems to take on a different expression: from the back, in agony; from the front, joyful. The crucifix in his hand is that which he had blessed by Pope Clement XI during his pilgrimage to Rome in 1706.
St Louis Marie was buried the day after his death in the parish church of St Laurent in front of the altar of Our Lady. His tomb in the present-day Basilica is on the same spot; when the old parish church was demolished to make way for the Basilica, the orientation of the church was changed by approximately 90 degrees. Next to the tomb of St Louis Marie, is that of Mother Marie-Louise of Jesus (Marie-Louise Trichet), co-founder with him of the Daughters of Wisdom, who died, also on 28th April and also towards 8 o'clock in the evening, in 1759. In front of these two is the tomb of the Marquis de Magnanne, whom St Louis Marie met in Rennes in 1714 and who became a great friend and benefactor of the Daughters of Wisdom and the nascent Company of Mary. On the wall behind St Louis Marie's tomb is an earlier tombstone bearing one of three epitaphs supplied for his tomb. Another, written by M. Barrin, Vicar-General of Nantes, may be seen in the Maison Longue (see below). A third, kept today in the crypt, may have been written by the Marquis de Magnanne.
On the wall to the right of St Louis Marie's tomb in the Basilica is the original mission cross which was erected the day of his burial, following his own custom, on the site of the present-day monument to the dead at the top end of the town.
In 1720, Mother Marie-Louise of Jesus came with a group of her sisters to take up residence in St Laurent, in the Maison Longue, now part of the SMM residence. Today it is an interesting museum devoted to the life and works of St Louis Marie and the way of life of the first Daughters of Wisdom. Brother Nicolas will be glad to show you over it.
In 1722, Mother Marie-Louise persuaded Father Mulot and his few companions, who had taken up residence in Saint-Pompain after the death of St Louis Marie, to come to St Laurent. They occupied the Chêne Vert, in the grounds of La Sagesse, until in 1723, because of the increasing numbers of Sisters, they exchanged residences with the Daughters of Wisdom, going to live in the Maison Longue, while the Sisters moved to the Chêne Vert.
In 1835, Fr Deshayes, Superior of the missionaries of the Saint-Esprit, installed 33 brothers in the Maison Supiot. This group of Brothers was later to develop into the Congregation of the Brothers of St Gabriel. The Maison Supiot was the first part of what is today the very large Institut Saint Gabriel.
In the Saint-Esprit, the SMM residence: the "old St-Esprit", built just before the French Revolution. The revolutionaries tried to burn it down; burnt beams may be seen in the reception room to the left of the front door. Here also is kept the statue reputed to have been carved by St Louis Marie and found at Landemont. In the garden at the back is a monument to three Brothers murdered in the grounds at the time of the Revolution. The chapel at the Saint-Esprit is a beautiful Romanesque church on a small scale.
In La Sagesse: the Chapel of the Daughters of Wisdom, built in the 19th century; the exhibition of souvenirs of St Louis Marie and his first followers; the cemetery; the tomb of Fr Gabriel Deshayes in the fourteenth Station of the Way of the Cross.
At St-Gabriel: the exhibition relating the origins of the Brothers of St Gabriel.
La Séguinière is close to Cholet on the West side. To reach it from St Laurent, take the road towards Cholet. When you reach the outskirts of Cholet, follow the signs for Nantes: you will turn left onto the Cholet by- pass road, follow it round the SW corner of the town, then turn left on the road for Nantes. After a couple of kilometres, the main Nantes road crosses the road you are on; instead of turning right for Nantes, drive straight ahead. Soon you are in La Séguinière; take the road for the Centre-Ville on the right. After a short distance, you should turn left to get to the church, Post Office etc. There is a small parking space opposite the church, next to the Post Office.
Towards the end of May 1713, St Louis Marie arrived in La Séguinière to preach a mission. The parish priest here was an Irishman, called in the biographies Kentin (perhaps his name was Keating), whom Louis Marie called "the priest after my own heart", and whom he had met in 1712 when this good priest was chaplain at the hospital in La Rochelle. During the mission, St Louis Marie restored a small chapel in the village, which he dedicated to Notre-Dame de Toute Patience.
In the church today is a beautiful series of stained-glass windows, depicting alternately scenes from St Louis Marie's life and events of the Vendéen uprising during the Revolution.
On leaving the church, turn left and take the lane at the far right hand corner of the little square. A few yards along, on the left at the corner of a small street, is "Fr. de Montfort's fountain". A little further along on the right, just beyond the cemetery gates, is the Chapel of Notre-Dame de Toute Patience. Inside, in the sanctuary, is the small statue of Notre-Dame de Toute Patience, which is attributed to him.
Walk back to the square by the church, and take the road running between the church and the Post Office, keeping to the right. The first turn right brings you to the old bridge over the river where Fr Kentin is said to have come to meet St Louis Marie when he arrived for the mission (the scene is recorded in one of the windows in the church).
Cantique no. 145 (Cantique nouveau en l'honneur de N.D. de toute patience) was probably written by St Louis Marie during this mission.
Roussay, where St Louis Marie preached a mission in May 1714, while on his way to Rouen to see Jean-Baptiste Blain, is a little further back towards Nantes from La Séguinière. If you go back to the road from Cholet which passes through the outskirts of La Séguinière, and follow it West (away from Cholet), you come to La Romagne. Here you should turn right to reach Roussay, about 5 km distance.
It was here at Roussay that St Louis Marie drove the drinkers from the tavern because of the noise which was going on during his sermon. Here also he restored an old chapel of Our Lady, which became a centre of pilgrimage. And during the erection of the Mission Cross at the close of the mission, the cross fell on the crowd, but miraculously only one person was slightly injured. This cross was destroyed during the Revolution, but was later replaced by the chapel of the "petit Arceau" in the Rue Montfort (walk around the back of the present-day church and round the left-hand bend to the calvary; here turn right and up to the cross-roads, where you will find the "petit Arceau").
The "Providence" where St Louis Marie lodged during the mission is still to be seen (a house covered in creeper, a little way from the church, in the street to the right as you face the church), and at the presbytery used to be a statue of the Blessed Virgin sculpted by him, and a soup-pot known as "Fr de Montfort's soup-pot"; but the presbytery appears now to be abandoned.
Here St Louis Marie began a mission on Good Friday, April 19th 1715, which lasted probably until the end of May. To reach St Amand-sur-Sèvre from Saint Laurent, take the road towards Mauléon and Poitiers, and watch for the signs indicating St Amand on the right. It is about 15 km.
Fr Vatel accompanied Louis Marie for the first time during this mission; but, along with two other missionaries, was required only to hear confessions; St Louis Marie did all the preaching. It is said many physical cures were obtained during this mission, and the superstition which had plagued the parish was banished completely.
In the church is a window on the right which shows the appearance of Our Lady to St Louis Marie which is supposed to have taken place here, and another, more modern one, at the back of the church. You can see here a statuette attributed to him (ring the presbytery before coming to make arrangements to see the statue). Also to be seen are the "Providence" (to the right as you face the church, no 2, rue Grignon de Montfort), the chapels of La Brangerie and of La Miséricorde, which are relics of two of the three mission crosses erected by St Louis Marie (La Miséricorde: take the road towards la Pommeraie, and, just after the stadium, turn left and drive 200 or 300 metres, the chapel being on the right; La Brangerie: drive 2 or 3 km towards la Petite-Boissière - the chapel is on the right - the key can be had from the house a few metres further up the road on the left); and, not far from the river, the stone on which he stood to preach outdoors because of the enormous crowds who came.
As you approach Poitiers, coming from Saint-Laurent, take the road towards the Centre Ville. You will find yourself descending a hill into a valley, where the railway will appear on your right. After a short distance running along the side of the railway, you come to a big junction, where you have to turn right, then continue straight on, following the signs for Lussac, Chauvigny, etc. This road bends right, with the river Clain on your left; just before the bend, on the right, is the Rue M. Gabillet, which continues after a short distance as the Rue Grignion de Montfort; it is here that you will find the Hôpital Général. However, you may wish to visit first Montbernage; in this case do not turn at the Rue M. Gabillet, but continue on the main road. A park is now between the road and the River Clain, and after a short distance, you pass under a fly-over. When the River again comes close to the road, watch for the next bridge over the river, where there are traffic lights. This is the Pont Joubert, and to reach Montbernage, you need to cross the Pont Joubert (turning left to do so - careful, it is quite narrow), then turn left again at the other side of the bridge. After driving a little way along this street, you will see the fly- over again ahead of you. The road bends fairly sharply right, and right on that bend, to your right, is the entrance to the chapel at Montbernage (opposite the Mission Cross on the left).
Poitiers is an old city, with narrow streets, so parking is often a problem. You should be able to park at Montbernage, but it is a bit of a walk back to the city and the other sites from there. The best thing, after you have visited Montbernage, or before if you want to leave that till later, is to continue along the main road you were on (if you have been to Montbernage, cross back over the Pont Joubert and turn left at the other side) until you come to the next major junction (traffic lights). Here turn right, then try to find somewhere to park close by. You are near the Cathedral and the Baptistery of St Jean and the church of Sainte Radegonde, etc., and it is relatively easy to walk from here into the centre and to the other Montfortian sites (though it is bit of a climb up into the city centre). Alternatively, you could try to find a parking place near the Hôpital Général, and walk from there. It would help you greatly to obtain a small plan of the centre of Poitiers; they are available at many paper-shops or tobacconists, or you may pick one up free at a tourist centre or Syndicat d'Initiative.
The various places of Montfortian interest are described below in roughly chronological order, but to visit them it may be best to plan an itinerary for yourself.
St Louis Marie first came to the Hôpital Général (much more like the English "workhouse" than a hospital in the modern sense) during his brief visit to Poitiers in May 1701 to see the Bishop at the suggestion of Mme. de Montespan. He took up residence there at the end of November that year, after nearly two months waiting at the seminary, and stayed until Easter 1703 (apart from a brief visit to Paris to help his sister, Louise-Guyonne). He returned about Easter 1704, and stayed this time for about a year, before finally breaking his ties with the Hôpital.
The Hôpital has now been converted into offices and flats, but the main building still preserves more or less the external form it had in St Louis Marie's day. It lies between the Rue Grignion de Montfort and the Rue Jean Macé. Today its facade is best seen from the Rue Grignion de Montfort; you can then pass into the courtyard, under the central archway. From the courtyard, as you face the old building, on the left was the men's courtyard, and the women's on the right. Louis Marie's room is thought to have been just over the archway. At the extreme right-hand corner of the courtyard, on the ground floor was "La Sagesse", where Marie-Louise Trichet and Catherine Brunet spent 10 years before being called by St Louis Marie to go to La Rochelle, and where he placed the famous Poitiers Cross.
Near by is the Eglise Montierneuf. It was in the Montierneuf neighbourhood that Marie-Louise Trichet's mother's family lived.
During his time of waiting to go to the Hôpital Général, and perhaps afterwards also, St Louis Marie heard confessions in the church of Saint Porchaire, as well as in others. His confessional was much in demand. It was perhaps here that he first came into contact with Marie-Louise Trichet in 1701: "Who sent you to me?" "It was my sister." "No, my child, it was the Blessed Virgin."
Saint Porchaire is to be found in the centre of the old city, in the Rue St Porchaire, at its junction with the Rue Gambetta.
At the other end of the Rue Gambetta, on the right in the square, is the Palais de Justice, where Marie-Louise Trichet's father and brother worked. It was also here that Joan of Arc's voices were recognised as authentic.
Not far away from here is the beautiful Romanesque church of Notre-Dame la Grande, where no doubt St Louis Marie came often to pray. Inside is a famous statue of the Virgin, N.D. des Clefs. At the East end of this church is a square where the Trichet family lived for seven years. The church of St Etienne, where Marie-Louise was baptised, was nearby, but little remains of it today.
About June 1705, St Louis Marie finally left the Hôpital Général and offered his services to the Bishop to preach and restore churches. The Bishop initially placed him in the Maison des Pénitentes, a house of refuge for "repentant girls", as director. One can still see the doorway, on which there are hearts surrounded with nail-heads, dating from the 18th century. In the chapel here, St Louis Marie met for the first time Mathurin Rangeard; "Follow me!", said Louis Marie; and Mathurin did so for the rest of the saint's life.
About July 1705, Louis Marie set about "restoring" this building, which at the time was known as "Le Temple Saint-Jean" and was thought to have been an ancient Roman temple. Louis Marie restored it as a chapel, not knowing that it was indeed the remains of the oldest existing Christian building in France, the ancient Baptistery, with a font for baptism by immersion.
Nearby is the Cathedral, where no doubt Louis Marie came to pray, but which has no particular Montfortian souvenirs.
Behind the Cathedral, reached by the little streets running down towards the River Clain, is the church of Sainte Radegonde. Shortly after leaving the Hôpital Général, St Louis Marie undertook a mission in one of the more distant parts of this parish, Montbernage. In the church today, at the far East end, behind the choir, is the statue of N.D. Reine des Anges which used to be in the little chapel on the Pont Joubert (see below).
One crosses the Pont Joubert to reach Montbernage from Ste Radegonde. On one of the piers of this bridge, there used to be a small chapel dedicated to Our Lady Queen of Angels; it was first built in the 13th century and restored in the 16th, but in St Louis Marie's day it was in ruins. He restored it, and had carved on its facade: "If the love of Mary is in your heart, do not forget to say an Ave as you pass by." The chapel no longer exists, but the statue of Our Lady, as noted above, is to be found in the church of Sainte Radegonde.
In 1715, Marie-Louise Trichet was having a great deal of trouble obtaining her mother's permission to leave Poitiers and go to La Rochelle. A poor blind girl, very pious and patient, used to stay all day at the chapel of Our Lady Queen of Angels on the Pont Joubert. Marie-Louise asked her to offer many prayers to the Virgin for her, and ever afterwards attributed the happy outcome to these prayers: one day Mme. Trichet came and said simply, "I can no longer keep you here; the Holy Spirit is urging me to tell you to go."
This was one of the poorer areas of the parish of Sainte Radegonde, and, because of its distance from the parish church, was also very poor in a spiritual sense. It was here that St Louis Marie chose to give his first mission. First of all, he wanted to supply a chapel for the people. There was an old barn, known as the "Grange de la Bergerie", which was the venue of dances for the young people. He begged enough money to buy the barn and converted it into a chapel. Here he placed a crucifix and 15 banners representing the 15 mysteries of the Rosary: the Cross and the Rosary were to be the symbol of all his teaching. At the close of the mission, he erected a mission cross opposite the new little shrine, on the spot where the Cross stands today. It was decorated with hearts, and so was known as "la croix des bons coeurs". He got the people to make a solemn renewal of their baptismal vows, and at the end of the mission entrusted his children to the Blessed Virgin, calling the new chapel "Notre Dame des Coeurs" (Our Lady, Queen of Hearts). He told the people: "If someone will agree to pray here and say the Rosary, every Sunday and feast-day, and to sing the Little Crown at midday, I will leave the statue of my good Mother here." A workman, Jacques Goudeau, offered to take on this duty, and St Louis Marie gave to the chapel the statue of Our Lady, Queen of Hearts, which has been venerated here ever since. Jacques Goudeau was faithful to his task for forty years. According to the Letter to the people of Montbernage, St Louis Marie also left "his heart", which probably refers to a little gilded heart which hung on the statue - according to one tradition, each person who renewed his or her baptismal vows during the mission, was given a small heart which was then hung either on the mission cross or around the statue of Our Lady; perhaps this was the one belonging to St Louis Marie.
The statue of Our Lady, Queen of Hearts at Montbernage has recently been restored to its original form, with a crown, a sceptre and a heart. The child which rested in her lap was not part of the original statue.
About August 1733, a community of the Daughters of Wisdom was founded at Montbernage. They came to be known as the "Dames des Coeurs". Their first residence was a kind of cave, very damp and unhealthy, at the back of the chapel, which you can see today; it has recently been refurbished as a little oratory.
On 2nd March 1734, the chapel of Our Lady, Queen of Hearts was solemnly blessed; on the record of the blessing, we find the signature also of Jacques Goudeau. This same man, in 1719, was perhaps instrumental in persuading Mother Marie-Louise Trichet to move to Saint Laurent-sur-Sèvre: he met her and, according to Besnard, said, "Madame, you are troubled by the fact that you have left La Rochelle and that M. de Montfort's foundation there has not lasted... Well, I know there is a lady, Mme. de Bouillé, who lives near St Laurent where M. de Montfort was buried... She is in a position to help you in the accomplishment of your work..." Mother Marie-Louise made contact with Mme. de Bouillé, and in June 1720 arrived in Saint Laurent.
This place, in the parish of St Saturnin, so called because of the four statues which stood in it, was known locally as the "Goretterie", and had a very bad name. During the mission of St Saturnin, St Louis Marie prayed and took the discipline there to cleanse it, and preached in the open air, prophesying that one day it would be a place of prayer served by religious. Visiting the place a few days later, he found a sick beggar there and left him in a rocky cleft to be cared for by a pious person. Others later joined this beggar there, and in 1748, the Hospital for Incurables (later run by the Daughters of Wisdom) was founded there. In 1794, during the Revolution, three of the Daughters of Wisdom of the Hospital for Incurables were pilloried for six hours under the inscription, "Fanatics, Receivers of Priests". Today, there is here a monument to Fr de Montfort, the chapel, and the inscription "Pavillon Grignion de Montfort".