Marie De L'Incarnation (1599–1672)

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MARIE DE L'INCARNATION (15991672), French mystic and missionary. Marie Guyart of the Incarnation was a leading figure of the Catholic mission to the Amerindians of New France; she was also a theologian (she was called "the Saint Teresa of the New World"), a spiritual adviser, mystic, businesswoman, and founder of the Ursuline convent in Quebec (Canada). Her extensive correspondence reveals a profound spirituality combined with a remarkable sense of organization and outstanding linguistic skills. As the first female missionary outside Europe, she exemplified female religious patronage and activism, which led to the development of social welfare in early modern Catholic Europe and its colonies. In New France, she was a star; it was almost compulsory for every newcomer to the colony to visit her, for she could provide information not only on the natives' languages and customs, but also on the settlers' living conditions.

Marie Guyart was born in Tours (France) to parents who operated a bakery. Nothing is known of her education or how she developed such a talent as a writer. Married to the silk manufacturer Claude Martin in 1617, but widowed two years later, she raised her only son Claude by herself while running her brother-in-law's shipping business for more than six years until she decided to retire from society. In 1631 she entered Tours' Ursuline convent, leaving her son in her sister's care, and pronounced her vows after two years of probation as a novice. By then she had decided on the great project of converting souls. She succeeded in going to New France in 1639 with the help of a large network of supporters that extended from her close relatives to Anne of Austria, queen of France (16011666). Two Ursulines, Marie de Savonnières de La Troche (16161652) and Cécile Richer (16091687), accompanied her and helped her found, the same year, the first teaching convent in North America.

After a long life of ecstatic visions, letter writing (more than 10,000 in all), and down-to-earth missionary work, Marie Guyart died in Quebec in 1672. By merging contemplation and action, she typified the mystics of the early seventeenth century. On the one hand, she was an expert in speculative theology, which she taught to her fellow nuns. Considered a sensible spiritual adviser, she was frequently chosen as the mistress in charge of the probationers of her convent. Over the years she also became the thoughtful director of conscience of many of her correspondents. She was more reserved about her mystical ecstasies, which she confided only to select people such as her son. On the other hand, she was also a devoted missionary, teaching and assisting Amerindian girls and women and raising funds for her mission. All things considered, however, regard for her missionary work was poor. Her Amerindian pupils were always few in number and often died early. Their numbers fell drastically at the end of the century because of epidemics and wars.

Marie Guyart's task did not end with her mission to the Amerindians but extended to the rest of the colony. She not only converted Amerindian girls, she educated the French girls with the aim of raising them as good and pious housewives. Her other, numerous skills ranged from translation of dictionaries in various Amerindian languages to architecture and crafting such as embroidery and gilding, which she introduced into the colony.

See also French Colonies: North America .


Primary Sources

Marie de l'Incarnation. Correspondance. Edited by Guy-Marie Oury. Solesmes, France, 1971.

. Écrits spirituels et historiques. Edited by Albert Jamet. Quebec, 1985.

Secondary Sources

Bruneau, Marie-Florine. Women Mystics Confront the Modern World: Marie de l'Incarnation (15991672) and Madame Guyon (16481717). Albany, N.Y., 1998.

Comby, Jean, et al., L'itinéraire mystique d'une femme: Rencontre avec Marie de l'Incarnation, Ursuline. Paris and Québec, 1993.

Davis, Natalie Zemon. Women on the Margins: Three Seventeenth-Century Lives. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1997.

Deslandres, Dominique. "In the Shadow of the Cloister: Representations of Female Holiness in New France," in Colonial Saints: Discovering the Holy in the Americas, edited by Allan Greer and Jodi Bilinkof, pp. 129152. New York and London, 2003.

. "'Le Diable a beau faire . . .', Marie de l'Incarnation, Satan et l'autre," Théologiques, 5, (1997): 2341.

. "L'éducation des Amérindiennes d'après la correspondance de Marie Guyart de l'Incarnation." Studies in Religion/Sciences religieuses, 16 (1987): 91119.

. "Les femmes missionnaires de Nouvelle-France," In La religion de ma mère: Les femmes et la transmission de la foi, edited by Jean Delumeau, pp. 7484. Paris, 1992.

. "Qu'est-ce qui faisait courir Marie Guyart?: Essai d'ethnohistoire d'une mystique d'après sa correspondance." Laval théologique et philosophique 53 (June 1997): 285300.

Deroy-Pineau, Françoise. Marie de l'Incarnation: Marie Guyart, femme d'affaires, mystique, mère de la Nouvelle France, 15991672. Paris, 1989.

Mali, Anya. Mystic in the New World: Marie de l'Incarnation, 15991672. Leiden, New York, and Cologne, 1996.

Rosario Adriazola, María-Paul del. La connaissance spirituelle chez Marie de l'Incarnation: La Thérèse de France et du Nouveau monde. Paris, 1989.

Dominique Deslandres

Marie de l'Incarnation (1599–1672)

views updated May 14 2018

Marie de l'Incarnation (1599–1672)

French educator and founder of the Ursuline Order in New France (Canada) . Name variations: Marie de L'Incarnation; Mary of the Incarnation; Marie Guyard or Marie Guyart. Born Marie Guyard or Guyart on October 28, 1599, at Tours, France; died on April 30, 1672, in Quebec City, New France (Quebec, Canada); third child of Florent Guyart (a master baker) and Jeanne Michelet; educated at elementary religious school in Tours; married Claude Martin, in 1617; children: Claude (b. 1619).

Champlain founded Quebec City, the first French settlement in New France (1608); first members of the Jesuit Order arrived in New France (1625); war between French settlers and the Iroquois nation (1642–67); Roman Catholic Bishopric established in New France (1674).

Selected writings:

Relation Autobiographique (1633); Lettres de Conscience (1625–34); Exclamations et Élévations (1625–38); Exposition du Cantique des Cantiques (1631–37); École Sainte: Explication des Mystères de la Foi (1633–35); Relation Autobiographique (1654); Mémoire Complémentaire (1656).

On the 24th of March 1620, Marie Guyart underwent a remarkable mystical experience in the middle of a busy street in Tours, France. As she later described the event, an irresistible force seemed to descend upon her, and she saw herself immersed in the blood of Christ. The eye of her spirit was miraculously opened and all her faults and imperfections were suddenly revealed with "a clearness more certain than any certitude." This revelation, the culmination of a series of events, convinced Guyart to abandon her secular life and enter holy orders. In turn, that decision eventually came to have a profound effect on the development of religious life and civil society in the colony of New France (modern-day Quebec, Canada).

Marie was born on October 28, 1599, in Tours, then one of the most important commercial centers in west-central France. Her father Florent came from a humble background but, thanks to hard work and his own skill, had risen to a prominent position in the local guild of master bakers. By contrast, Marie's mother Jeanne was descended from one of the leading noble families in the area—the Babou De La Bourdaisières—who for many years had held influential positions in both the church and government service. Despite the marked contrast in social origin (then an important consideration), Florent and Jeanne were devoted to each other and enjoyed a happy marriage.

Both parents were deeply religious and were determined to provide all their seven children with a sound education based on Christian principles. From an early age, therefore, Marie and her siblings attended one of the small religious schools in Tours. Nothing of detail is known about the subjects studied, though it may be safely assumed that she received a fundamental grounding in reading, writing, mathematics, and the Bible.

What is definitely known, however, is that, even at this early stage in her life, Marie enjoyed her own deep and committed religious faith. Later, she would recall how, as a youngster, she would spend hours telling "personal matters" to God and how often she would repeat the sermons that she had memorized from church. One of Marie's earliest recollections concerned what she believed was her first mystical experience.

God, she said, had come to her in a dream and had asked her if she wanted to be His. Her immediate answer was "yes!"

When Marie was 14, she asked her parents' permission to enter holy orders in order to become a nun. The Guyarts recognized the depth of their daughter's religious convictions but, probably for economic reasons, preferred that she marry. Shortly after, a marriage contract was formalized between Marie and a young silk worker, Claude Martin, who was also a native of Tours. Their marriage took place early in 1617, but it became clear almost immediately that the union was not a happy one. Marie had to cope with a mother-in-law who appears to have been extremely jealous of the intrusion in her son's life. This, coupled with a number of financial difficulties which eventually resulted in Claude's bankruptcy, set the final seal on their relationship. The only bright event of this period was the birth of a son, also named Claude, in April 1619.

Six months after Claude's birth, Marie's husband suddenly died. In these circumstances, the young 19-year-old widow had no option but to return to her father's house with her infant son. There she was strongly urged to remarry in order to secure her own personal and financial well-being. Although aware of this need, Marie was still strongly drawn to the religious life. As a result, she entered a period of seclusion in which she spent most of her time engrossed in the Bible or communing and conversing with God. It was in this frame of mind that Marie received her most powerful mystical revelation in the street in Tours in March 1620.

[S]he was eminently endowed with all the virtues, especially with the gift of such lofty prayer and with so perfect a union with God.

—Bishop Laval

Although Marie was now more determined than ever to follow a religious life, this was not immediately possible. Despite her late husband's lack of financial acumen, Marie herself had such a good head for commerce that one of her sisters, who was married to a moderately successful carrier, asked her to come and live with them and assist in running their business. Not long after, Marie assumed sole responsibility for an increasingly successful and profitable operation.

These earthly concerns did not distract Marie from her deep commitment to God, as witnessed by her adoption of a personal vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. Finally, in late 1625, Marie entered into holy orders. Her son Claude, then eight, was entrusted to the care of her sister and Marie formally joined the novitiate of the Ursuline order of nuns in Tours. In 1633, she took her final vows and adopted a new name—Marie de l'Incarnation—a name also taken by the Carmelite Barbe Acarie a few years earlier.

Although Marie was soon appointed assistant mistress of novices and instructor of Christian doctrine in the convent, she was still not fully satisfied in her vocation. Convinced that God had another, more important task for her, she dreamed that she had been commanded to travel to a new land across the seas. At first, Marie was confused at what this command meant, but God soon made His purpose clear. As she later recounted, God told her: "It was Canada that I showed you; you must go there to build a house for Jesus and Mary."

This was indeed a daunting task. The original colony of New France (centered around modern-day Quebec City) was a small, remote community where, with the exception of a few hardy Jesuit missionaries, there was no organized religious presence. Fortunately, Marie was introduced to Mme De Chauvigny de la Peltrie , a noblewoman of Tours eager to support evangelization missions among the native children of New France. She provided sufficient financial support to permit Marie and two other Ursuline nuns (Marie de Saint-Joseph and Cécile de Sainte-Croix ) to set sail on the May 4, 1639, for the colony. After a hazardous and dangerous journey (during which their ship was almost crushed by an iceberg), they reached Quebec a few months later.

The problems of running a new religious foundation in a young colony made many demands on Marie. In this situation, her previous business experience proved invaluable in dealing with the local French settlers. By 1642, she had raised enough funds to allow her and her sisters to build an impressive convent (although it was destroyed by fire three years later). Local merchants recognized her business sense and often came to her for advice in their own dealings. Similarly, local representatives of the French state (including the governor of the colony) came to consult her on political matters. In 1646, with the help of Jesuit brothers, Marie helped draw up the first constitution for the colony of New France. She also found time to become fluent in several native languages and eventually wrote the first French-Algonquin and French-Iroquois dictionaries as well as a catechism in Iroquois that was extensively used by Jesuit missionaries.

The principal purpose of Marie de l'Incarnation's mission, however, had always been educational. To this end, she began by establishing a small boarding school to instruct the daughters of the local French settlers in godliness and morality. Although this school gradually expanded in size over the years, Marie was also deeply interested in providing similar opportunities to native children. This latter task was complicated by the official French government policy of assimilation, whereby native customs and ways of life were to be subordinated to those of the French. Quickly recognizing how disruptive and disastrous such a policy was for the native population, Marie unsuccessfully attempted to resist its implementation.

Not all natives were willing to accept the situation. In particular, the Iroquois (with the active assistance and encouragement of the British) vigorously resisted French incursions on their territory and way of life. Throughout this period, they launched a series of punishing raids on the settlements in New France, burning farms and killing settlers. In 1660, the Iroquois besieged Marie's convent.

Her problems were not confined to native raids. In 1659, Bishop François De Laval, who had recently been appointed to take charge of religious affairs in the colony, paid his first episcopal visit to the Ursulines. During his stay, he announced that he intended to bring about a significant number of changes to the constitution that Marie and the Jesuit brothers had drawn up a few years previously. Marie, whose knowledge and insight into the political and economic reality of life in New France was second to none, strongly protested the bishop's proposed changes. Shortly after, she wrote to Laval on behalf of all local settlers stating that "the matter has been thoroughly considered and our mind is fully made up: we will not accept it, unless we are pushed to the limits of obedience." Marie's determination so impressed Laval that he relented and agreed to make only a smaller number of largely cosmetic changes to the constitution.

Throughout these years, Marie de l'Incarnation maintained an extensive correspondence with other members of the Ursuline order, Jesuits, entrepreneurs, government officials, and friends. It has been estimated that she wrote over 13,000 letters, a number that is prestigious by any gauge but especially when given the conditions and remoteness of her place of residence. Few of the original letters still exist but it is known from other sources that they covered a wide range of topics. Although primarily religious in orientation, they also frequently contained Marie's insights into the economic and political conditions as well as her observations on the natural environment of New France.

Perhaps Marie's most enduring legacy, however, was the series of religious tracts she wrote both before and after her arrival in the New World. These leaflets represent the most fundamental expression of the nature of her relationship with, and understanding of, God. Among the most significant of these can be counted her Exclamations et Élévations written between 1625 and 1638. Now largely lost, this work apparently consisted of a series of epithalamia or "lover's complaints" which Marie wrote, as she explained, to "dissipate the fervour of the spirit." They were intended to express her profound emotional attachment to God, that "infinitely adorable, ineffable, incomprehensible unity."

Similarly, the École Sainte: Explication des Mystères de la Foi (1633–35) subsequently came to be considered, by the distinguished Jesuit theologian Father Pierre Charlevoix, as one of the best and most important catechisms ever written in the French language. Finally, in 1654, Marie composed her Relation Autobiographique, an open and honest account of her life and the principal spiritual influences upon it. This work (not to be confused with a similarly titled book previously produced by Marie while in Tours in 1633) is profoundly mystical and its full religious significance has not, perhaps, been fully understood or appreciated even today.

The combination of hard work, harsh conditions, and the prolonged penances which she imposed on herself eventually took a toll on Marie's health. Her sight gradually failed, her appetite faded, and she could no longer kneel to pray. Not surprisingly, for so deeply religious a person, her faith became ever stronger as her predicaments grew with the passing years. Marie rejoiced in the thought that she would soon be with the Savior whom she had adored for so long.

Shortly before her death on April 30, 1672, Marie de l'Incarnation sent a last message to her son Claude. The latter had followed his mother into the church as a member of the Benedictine order of monks. In 1652, Claude was appointed superior of the abbey of Saint-Maur and in 1668 received further recognition by his elevation to the post of assistant to the superior-general of the order. Marie had never forgotten the boy she had left behind so many years before and wrote a friend to inform her son "that I am carrying him with me in my heart."

Immediately following her death, Marie became venerated and a number of personal objects that she had used throughout her life came to be considered as relics by many French settlers and members of the local native community. In the middle of the 18th century, this practice was brought to the attention of the pope, but further action to formally recognize Marie's status was delayed by the Treaty of Paris (which ceded the French territories in Canada to the British crown). It was not until 1867 that the then bishop of Quebec, Charles-François Baillargeon, initiated proceedings to officially recognize Marie as one of the venerated of the Church. Eventually, in 1911, the Papal See issued a decree which evidenced the "heroic virtues" of Marie de l'Incarnation.


Beaumier, Jean-Louis. Marie Guyart de L'Incarnation, Fondatrice des Ursulines au Canada, 1599–1672. Trois-Rivières, 1959.

Chabot, Marie-Emmanuel. Marie de L'Incarnation d'apres ses Lettres. Ottawa, 1946.

Jetté, Fernand. La Voie de la Sainteté d'apres Marie de L'Incarnation, Foundatrice des Ursulines de Quebec. Ottawa, 1954.

Repplier, Agnes. Mère Marie of the Ursulines: A Study in Adventure. New York, 1931.

suggested reading:

Cuzin, Henry. Glimpses of the Monastery: Scenes from the History of the Ursulines of Quebec during Two Hundred Years, 1639–1839, by a Member of the Community. Quebec, 1897.

Dave Baxter , Department of Philosophy, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Marie de l'Incarnation

views updated May 23 2018


MARIE DE L'INCARNATION , originally called Marie Guyart, was born in Tours, France, on October 28, 1599. The fourth of eight children of Florent Guyart and Jeanne Michelet, she was a contemporary of René Descartes, who was born in Tours three years earlier. As a young girl she wanted to become a nun, but her mother considered her too lighthearted for this, guiding her instead toward a marriage with Claude Martin, which took place in 1617. Martin died in October 1619, leaving Marie with a six-month-old child, named Claude after his father, and a business that was so unsound she dissolved it. During the twelve years that followed, while taking care of her son, she ran the transport business of her brother-in-law, Paul Buisson, with whom she and Claude were living. Despite family pressures, she decided not to remarry. Her free time was dedicated to a solitary life of prayer and meditation and she began having regular mystic experiences, which she recorded. When her son was twelve, she made the difficult decision to entrust him to her sister"s care and on January 25, 1631, entered the Ursuline convent at Tours. Eight years later, following various spiritual, social, and political developments, she went to New France with Marie-Madeleine de Chauvigny de la Peltrie, a wealthy lay benefactor, thus becoming the first missionary nun to work abroad. In 1639 she founded the first Ursuline monastery in Quebec. She threw herself body and soul into prayer, the temporal and spiritual administration of the monastery, and the education of young immigrant and native girls in the colony. A woman of exceptional spirituality, she also was eminently practical, and gave advice to both religious and political authorities. Marie died at the monastery on April 30, 1672.

Marie de l'Incarnation left an enormous volume of writing, more than 13,000 letters according to some estimates, of which several hundred, the most important, have been preserved and published. There are two reasons for there being such a large number. On the one hand, letter writing was the only way of keeping in touch with her family and of passing on her wishes. On the other hand, her son had become a Benedictine monk at the convent at Saint-Maur shortly after his mother had left for New France, and a sustained, very intimate exchange of letters between them took place. In addition to these letters, Marie produced two autobiographical Relations: the first at the convent in Tours in 1633 at the request of the Jesuit Georges de la Haye, and the second in Quebec in 1654 for her son. Finally, in note form there are fragments of talks or discussions with young novices.

Marie never wrote with a view to being published. It was her son who, realizing the quality and profound nature of her writings, collected, selected, and edited them for publication. It is uncertain to what extent he touched up his mother's work so that it would meet his own stylistic and theological standards. In any event, the style and content of her writing are captivating. Her innermost soul is bared, without any attempt at argument or persuasion. In sharing her experience of God and of those whom she encounters, she narrates rather than debates. Her writing is not so much a matter of understanding but rather of listening. For her, the important thing is "that words have resonance." They have resonance in expressing her intimate experience of the infinite nature of God in relation to her own existential nothingness. Furthermore, throughout her letters words echo her own cultural transformation as she meets and learns about the Huron tribes, their languages, customs, and spirituality. In 1640 Marie wrote, "Canada was portrayed as a horrible place, we were told that it was a district of Hell, that there was no more wretched country in the entire world. Our experience is precisely the opposite, here we have found a heavenly place, which for my part I am unworthy to inhabit. There are savage young girls who have not a trace of barbarism" (Correspondance, Lettre XLVII). This attitude contrasted sharply with that of many of Marie's contemporaries, who regarded the Iroquois as agents of the devil who were beyond salvation. Studies on the challenges Marie de l'Incarnation faced in meeting "the enemies of God and the faith" shed light on the emerging tension between the mental images of the European Christian culture to which she belonged and her divine experience.

The Ursuline order of which she was a member and the Benedictine order to which her son Claude belonged knew of her literary output from 1677. However it took more than two and a half centuries and the prescient vision of the literary critic and religious historian Henri Bremond (18651933) for scholars such as François Jamet and Guy-Marie Oury to undertake critical editions of the writings of Marie de l'Incarnation. In addition to provoking new thinking in the field of spiritual theology, her works have been picked up by academics in other disciplines, mostly women, who have subjected them to secular analysis. This has contributed to their recognition as powerful writings that express and provide evidence of the experience of a seventeenth-century woman well aware of the sociopolitical realities of her age, realities apprehended in the context of a lively and inspired intimacy with God. Since the 1990s an increasing number of scholars, novelists, theologians, psychologists, historians, and sociologists have discovered in Marie de l'Incarnation's writings a fruitful source for their theses, essays, and novels. For them, she has much to say concerning the relationship between a woman and her body, a mother and her son, a "bride of Christ" and her divine husband, a nun and her ecclesiastical institution, and a missionary and Native Americans. Two international conferences, held in 1999 in Tours and Quebec on the occasion of the four-hundredth anniversary of her birth, have resulted in two collections, presenting a range of excellent analyses of current scholarship concerning the life and work of a woman who lived, in every condition of life, in close intimacy with God.


New editions of the writings of Marie de l'Incarnation have been published in the twentieth century and are therefore for the most part readily available in large libraries. There are also many studies concerning her. As of 2004, a search in the catalogue of Univérsité Laval (Quebec) using her name as the subject returned around two hundred works.

Brodeur, Raymond, ed. Femme, mystique, et missionnaire: Marie Guyart de l'Incarnation." Sainte-Foy, Quebec, 2001.

Bruneau, Marie-Florine. Women Mystics Confront the Modern World: Marie de l'Incarnation (15991672) and Madame Guyon (16481717)." Albany, N.Y., 1998.

Davis, Natalie Zemon. Women on the Margins: Three Seventeenth-Century Lives. Cambridge, Mass., 1995.

Deroy-Pineau, Françoise, ed. Marie Guyard de l'Incarnation: Un destin transocéanique (Tours 1599Québec 1672)." Paris, 2000.

Maître, Jacques. Anorexies religieuses, anorexie mentale: Essai de psychanalyse sociohistorique: De Marie de l'Incarnation à Simone Weil." Paris, 2000.

Mali, Anya. Mystic in the New World: Marie de l'Incarnation (15991672)." Leiden, and New York, 1996.

Marie de l'Incarnation. Correspondance. Edited by Guy Oury. Solesmes, 1971.

Rosario Adriazola, Maria-Paul del. La Connaissance spirituelle chez Marie de l'Incarnation, la Thérèse du Nouveau Monde." Paris, 1989.

Raymond Brodeur (2005)

Translated from French by Paul Ellis

l’Incarnation, Marie de (1599-1672)

views updated May 18 2018

Marie de lIncarnation (1599-1672)

Businesswoman, mystic, founder of the ursuline convent in quebec


Life in France. Marie de lIncarnation exemplifies the mark an energetic woman could make as a missionary nun in New France. She was born Marie Guyart, daughter of a baker who sold his loaves in the French textile center of Tours. Marie enjoyed mystical experiences even in her youth and dreamed of entering a nunnery. Her father, however, disapproved and arranged a marriage for her to a silkmaker named Claude Martin when she was seventeen. She bore a son the next year, and before the child was a year old her husband died. Marie refused to marry again, devoting herself to religious exercises whenever she could free herself from other tasks in her sisters household, where she and her son Claude had taken up residence. She spent the next decade helping with her brother-in-laws carting business, grooming horses, keeping books, and writing correspondence. Sometimes during his absence Marie supervised all the work. All the while, however, she was seeking to dedicate her life to Gods service as a nun, even though that would mean leaving her son Claude behind.

Sisterhood. Marie never gave up her longing to become a nun although family members worked diligently to dissuade her. Finally her brother-in-law agreed to act as legal guardian for her son, setting aside a fund for his upbringing in recognition that the familys recent prosperity owed much to Maries talent for business. In January 1631 she appeared at the door of a nearby convent kept by the Company of Saint Ursula, where she threw herself at the feet of the reverend mother. There she took the religious name Marie de lIncarnation, and for the next few years she carried on a life of physical deprivation, constant devotion, and intensive spiritual training. She soon became an instructor of Christian doctrine in the convent, even writing explanations of the faith and a commentary on the Old Testament Song of Solomon. She also listened to the preaching of Jesuit fathers, some of whom had gone as missionaries to Canada and returned with stories of people who had no knowledge of Jesus Christ. Eventually she had a vision in which God told her to go to Canada and make a house for Jesus and Mary.

Missionary. On 4 May 1639 Marie de lIncarnation embarked for Canada in partnership with the noble-born Madeline de La Peltrie, who had pledged to devote her wealth and life to missionary work in the service of savage girls. When they arrived at Quebec in August, Marie kissed the soil on which she would spend the remainder of her life. She threw herself into the work of establishing a convent, painting altars, cooking, lugging logs for building, studying Native American languages, and teaching young Huron and Iroquois girls whenever possible. She served as the convents superior for three six-year terms and held other offices. Marie also became a tireless promoter of the new convent through her writings. She carried on an extensive correspondence with her son, relatives, friends, religious officials, and potential donors in France. She composed accounts of her mission work for the Jesuit Relations, a popular collection of missionary narratives that were published annually in France to promote the Jesuits work in Canada. In 1661 she began writing catechisms, prayers, and instructional materials in Algonquian and Iroquoian. The largest of these was a big book of sacred history and holy things, written in Algonquian and titled Sacred History. Seven years earlier she had composed a spiritual autobiography at the request of her son, Claude Martin, charging him to keep it private. In 1677, five years after her death, he published it as La Vie de la venerable Mere Marie de IIncarnation. The books spiritual reflections and detailed accounts of mission life among the Canadian Indians made it a popular seller, spreading throughout France the fame of this enterprising woman. The autobiography remains an important source of information on how contact between two races changed the lives of Native American and European women in seventeenth-century Canada.


Natalie Zemon Davis, Women on the Margins: Three Seventeenth-Century Lives (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995).

Marie de L'incarnation (1599–1672)

views updated May 11 2018

Marie de L'incarnation (1599–1672)

French educator and founder. Name variations: Marie de L'Incarnation; Mary of the Incarnation; Marie Guyard or Marie Guyart. Born Marie Guyard or Guyart on Oct 28, 1599, at Tours, France; died April 30, 1672, in Quebec City, New France (Quebec, Canada); 3rd child of Florent Guyart (master baker) and Jeanne Michelet; educated at elementary religious school in Tours; m. Claude Martin, in 1617; children: Claude (b. 1619).

Founder of the Ursuline Order in New France, had a mystical experience (Mar 24, 1620), which convinced her to enter holy orders; joined the novitiate of the Ursuline order of nuns in Tours (1625); took final vows (1633); claimed that God told her to go to New France (modern-day Quebec, Canada) to build a house for Jesus and Mary; set sail with 2 other Ursuline nuns (May 4, 1639); by 1642, had raised enough funds to allow her and her sisters to build an impressive convent (though it was destroyed by fire 3 years later); abetted by Jesuit brothers, helped draw up the 1st constitution for the colony of New France (1646); became fluent in several native languages and eventually wrote the 1st French-Algonquin and French-Iroquois dictionaries as well as a catechism in Iroquois that was extensively used by Jesuit missionaries; wrote a series of religious tracts of which the École Sainte: Explication des Mystères de la Foi (1633–35) came to be considered one of the best and most important catechisms ever written in the French language; composed Relation Autobiographique, an open and honest account of her life and the principal spiritual influences upon it (1654).

See also Agnes Repplier, Mère Marie of the Ursulines: A Study in Adventure (1931); and Women in World History.

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Marie de lIncarnation