In the Footsteps of St Louis Marie de Montfort


Notre-Dame des Ardilliers

The shrine of Notre-Dame des Ardilliers at Saumur is just to the East of the city, on the South bank of the Loire, about 50 miles from St Laurent-sur- Sèvre. It was a favourite shrine of St Louis Marie, who visited it at least four times:

  • 1700: Going from Paris to Nantes with M. René Lévêque, he stopped at Fontevrault to see his sister Sylvie, and then at Notre-Dame des Ardilliers.
  • 1701: At the beginning of October, he went from Nantes to Fontevrault, then to Notre-Dame des Ardilliers. There, he made a novena of prayers, and gave away the money which M. Lévêque had given him to the many poor people who gathered at the shrine. Perhaps he also met Jeanne Delanoue then, the foundress of the Daughters of Providence.
  • 1706: In September, on his return from his pilgrimage to Rome, and on his way to Mont Saint-Michel, he stopped at Fontevrault, but was not recognised by the Abbess and was refused admission. He went on to Notre-Dame des Ardilliers, where he had an important meeting with Jeanne Delanoue. This good lady had formed a group of charitable women who, on the 26th July 1704, were organised as a "Congregation" under the title of "The Sisters of St Anne of Providence of Saumur". The foundress practised certain extraordinary penances, and her sisters were a little unsure of such an example; so Jeanne Delanoue asked St Louis Marie for his advice. He told her he would reflect on the matter. Several times he gave exhortations to the community and, at one moment, he told Jeanne Delanoue that she could well be suffering from illusions. But he said he would offer Mass for her intentions and would give her his final advice after the Mass. Afterwards, he said to her, "Sister, you can continue to live as you have begun. Yes, it is the Spirit of God which inspires you in this penitential life. Don't be afraid, therefore, in the future, but follow your inspirations." St Louis Marie also, at this time, examined the draft of the constitutions which were to be presented, three years later, for the approval of the Bishop.
  • 1716: At the end of March, after the return of the White Penitents to Saint-Pompain, Louis Marie came himself to Notre-Dame des Ardilliers with a few Brothers, and afterwards went to St Laurent to begin the mission during which he was to die.

The church housing the shrine of Notre-Dame des Ardilliers is a 17th century construction, but the shrine goes back much further than this. The miraculous image of Mary is quite small, representing Our Lady of Sorrows, with the dead Jesus in her lap. It was said to have been found in a field nearby, and immediately to have had miraculous effects.

The house which is closest to the church was the first house in France of the Oratory.

Jeanne Delanoue lived with her Sisters at 33 Rue Rabelais, the street which faces the facade of the church.



The Abbey

Fontevrault Abbey Church The ancient "royal" Abbey of Fontevrault was founded in the 11th century. It was the headquarters of an order which united both men and women under the authority of the Abbess, something quite unique in the Church. It is interesting that the Abbey of Romsey (an abbey of nuns only) was a branch of this same order. From the architectural point of view, Fontevrault is said to be quite rare: only two other Abbeys were built in this style, Alcobaça in Portugal and Glastonbury in England. Fontevrault has a place in English history, since it is the burial place of the Kings Henry II and Richard I, "Lion Heart", and of Henry's wife Eleanor of Acquitaine; as Dukes of Acquitaine, the English kings of that era were the lords of this part of France.

Fontevrault is reached from Saumur, by driving further up the River Loire, on the same side as Notre-Dame des Ardilliers, for 10 or 11 km, then turning right on the road signed to Fontevrault.

Louis Marie's sister Sylvie was a postulant in the Abbey of Fontevrault when Louis Marie first visited there in 1700, on his way from Paris to Nantes with René Lévêque. Another of his sisters, Françoise-Marguerite had also gone to Fontevrault, both of them having been taken under the care of Mme. de Montespan, whom Louis Marie first met in Paris between 1695 and 1697. Mme. de la Rochechouart, Mme. de Montespan's sister, was abbess at Fontevrault, and she received both girls with open arms. Françoise-Marguerite, however, had to return to her parents in Rennes because of an eye-disease (she was buried in the Abbaye St Jacques at Montfort when she died in 1721). Sylvie received the habit at Fontevrault on 26th April 1701, for which, on the advice of Mme. de Montespan, she wrote asking Louis Marie to come. He went, though he arrived a day late, and there had the conversation with Mme. de Montespan which set him on the road for Poitiers. Sylvie was professed later as a nun of the Abbey, and died there in 1743.

Louis Marie visited Fontevrault on one other occasion: on his return from his pilgrimage to Rome, while on the way to Mont Saint-Michel. But, on this occasion, he was not recognised by the portress (he asked only for "charity, for the love of God," without giving his name), and the Abbess refused him entry. Only afterwards, in conversation about the stranger who had called, did Sylvie realise it was her brother; the Abbess then sent after St Louis Marie to ask him to return, but he refused, saying, "The Abbess would not give me charity for the love of God; now she offers it for love of me. I thank her, but no!"

The next time that he was close to Fontevrault was when he made his pilgrimage to Saumur after that of the White Penitents; but this time, he only sent two of the Brothers to greet his sister, without going himself.

The Parish Church

Apart from the Abbey itself, the parish church of Fontevrault is worth a visit. Here is the altar which was in the Abbey church, and a remarkable figure of Christ.




The rue Férou

The Rue Férou, where M. de la Barmondière had his community which Louis Marie entered when he first went to Paris, still exists: as you face the facade of the church of St Sulpice, it is on the right.

The rue du Pot de Fer

The Rue du Pot de Fer, where St Louis Marie stayed "under the staircase" during his painful stay in Paris in 1703-4, is now part of the Rue Bonaparte, which runs across the other side of the Place Saint-Sulpice from the church. If you turn left up the Rue Bonaparte on going away from the church, on the other side, at the corner of the Rue Hon. Chevalier, you will see the old street sign indicating this as the Rue du Pot de Fer.

The rue Cassette

Running more or lass parallel to the Rue Bonaparte, two streets further away from St Sulpice, is the Rue Cassette, where was located the Convent of the Benedictines of the Blessed Sacrament. During his brief visit to Paris in 1702 to try to help his sister Guyonne-Louise, he was offered a meal here each day ("la part du pauvre") and was eventually able to have his sister accepted as a postulant in this order. He seems to have accepted the same "poor man's share" at the convent during his stay in the Rue du Pot de Fer. He kept up a correspondence with certain Sisters of this community for a number of years.

The rue Mézières

Running between the Rue Bonaparte and the Rue Cassette, is the Rue Mézières, where, on the left-hand side as you come from the direction of the church, is (or was) the Jesuit novitiate where, during 1703-4, St Louis Marie was able to find a place for recollection, and to use the library.

The Seminary of Saint-Sulpice

St-Sulpice Lady Altar The Grand Séminaire Saint-Sulpice was almost opposite the present church as you stand in the square. On the right, as you face the church, was the Petit Séminaire: the present building dates from later (1820-40), though it was still a seminary until 1906, and is now part of the Tax Administration.

The Church of Saint-Sulpice

The Church of Saint-Sulpice was being rebuilt (in fact replaced) in St Louis Marie's day, only the East end having been completed. It was there that he said his first Mass, about a week after his ordination, which took place on June 5th 1700. This first Mass was said at the Lady Altar, which thus is for Montfortians a precious souvenir. A statue of St Louis Marie close by the altar commemorates this event. If you can find the sacristan, he may be willing to show you, in the basement, the place where St Louis Marie taught catechism with great success to some of the most difficult and most deprived children of the area.


Notre-Dame de Paris

Statue in Notre Dame

The Hôtel-Dieu

To the right of Notre-Dame were the buildings of the old Hôtel-Dieu, which were replaced around 1800 by the little square dominated by the statue of Charlemagne. In 1694, St Louis Marie was admitted to the Hôtel-Dieu when he fell seriously ill in the community of M. Boucher. The Augustinian Sisters who ran the hospital put him in the room reserved for priests. He visited the Hôtel-Dieu again, it seems, when he arrived in Paris in 1702 to try to help his sister.

The Archbishopric

The old Archbishopric was closer to Notre-Dame. On June 5th 1700, there were a large number of ordinations in the large chapel of the Archbishopric; among them, St Louis Marie himself, ordained by Messire Jean Hervieu de Flamenville, bishop of Perpignan, delegated by Cardinal Noailles, Archbishop of Paris. Louis Marie had been his helper in the catechism classes at Saint-Sulpice.

The Cathedral of Notre-Dame

Every Saturday, in company with many of his fellow-students, Louis Marie used to come to receive Communion at Notre-Dame. It was there that, some time before his ordination, with the permission of his spiritual director, he made the vow of chastity.


La Salpétrière

The Hospital

Originally the site of the saltpetre works, the Salpêtrière was established by St Vincent de Paul, at the request of the Government, as the first "Hôpital Général". In Louis Marie's day it housed four to five thousand poor people (cf Letter 15). He came here after leaving Poitiers around Easter 1703, and worked among the poor for five months, until, in October, he found a note under his plate asking him to leave. He was offered some money as compensation, which he refused; but he accepted some clothes and a hat; the hat he promptly gave away because it was "too shiny". From here he went and found himself his hovel in the Rue du Pot de Fer.

Today the Salpêtrière is a vast hospital.


Mont Valérien

The Hermitage

Calvary at Mont Valerien Mont Valérien lies to the West of Paris, the other side of the Bois de Boulogne, near La Défense. The monks of the Hermitage of Mont Valérien lived an austere life of perpetual silence; each had his own cell, but they came together for the Mass and the Divine Office. Canonically they were dependent on the Archbishop of Paris who appointed an ecclesiastical superior; within the community, they obeyed the oldest. After several years of peace, some kind of trouble broke out among them. The ecclesiastical superior of the time, M. Madot, later Bishop of Chalons-sur-Saône, was unable to restore order, so he asked Louis Marie to come. Simply by his example, he was able to restore peace and tranquillity to the community.

When he left, Louis Marie took with him the memory of three crosses erected there by Hubert Charpentier... One day, he would do the same, on his calvary at Pontchâteau. The three crosses which used to stand on Mont Valérien are now to be found in the churchyard at the back of St Pierre, Montmartre, just to the left hand side of the Basilica of the Sacré Coeur.




The Parish Church

During his journey to Rouen in 1714, St Louis Marie arrived at Avranches on the eve of the feast of the Assumption, only to find, the following morning, that the mind of the Bishop had been poisoned against him: he was told that the greatest service he could do the Diocese was to leave immediately. As it was such a great feast of Mary, St Louis Marie was anxious to say Mass, so, apparently for the first time in his life, he hired a horse and rode to the first parish outside the diocese, at Villedieu-les-Poëles, where, after initial reluctance, the Curé allowed him to celebrate Mass. The Curé was impressed by the piety of St Louis Marie, and asked him to preach in his parish. Montfort agreed to preach one sermon.

The very beautiful Church still stands, but there seems to be no souvenir of Montfort's passing.


Le Mesnil-Herman

La Croix a la Main

The Inn "La Croix à la main"

Leaving Villedieu-les-Poëles on 16 August 1714, Montfort and Brother Nicolas made their way towards Saint-Lô. As night fell, they were passing through Le Mesnil-Herman, where they asked for lodgings at the inn called "La Croix à la main" (The Cross in Hand). There was no room for them, so they tried to sleep on the steps which supported the inn-sign. According to Fr. Fradet, as sleep eluded him, St Louis Marie passed the time in writing a Canticle which begins "Everywhere I have the Cross in hand". This Canticle, however, is not included in those collected in the "Oeuvres Complètes".

The former Inn can still be seen, on the left on a bend on the road towards Saint-Lô. It is no longer an inn, but a hand holding a cross is attached to the wall.


The memorial chapel

A hundred yards or so back towards Villedieu-les-Poëles, on the right-hand side as you travel towards Saint-Lô, there is a small church or chapel set back on a side road. This contains some very beautiful stained-glass windows commemorating St Louis Marie's life, and in particular the incident of the "Croix à la main". The chapel is usually locked, but the mayor keeps the key, if you can find him/her - recently she lived in the old Inn.



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