Port-Royal was a Cistercian abbey of nuns situated in the Chevreuse Valley about nine miles from Versailles, and within the Diocese of Paris until 1802, famous for its role in the history of jansenism. It was established in 1204 by Mathilde de Garlande, wife of Matthieu de Marly. By the end of the 16th century the spirit of the abbey had deteriorated; 12 nuns lived there in mediocrity, without any well-defined rule or enclosure. In keeping with a practice current at that time, on July 5, 1602, the community received a 10-year-old girl as their abbess, Jacqueline Marie Angélique Arnauld, who later became Mère Angélique (1591–1661). She was the daughter of a Parisian lawyer, but owed this elevation to her maternal grandfather, a friend of Henry IV. At first the abbey was managed by the arnauld family, which partly restored its material prosperity.
The Reform of Mère Angélique. About March 25, 1608, the young abbess was converted. She resolved to reform her monastery and to reestablish the Cistercian rule in its full vigor. She overcame resistance from her nuns and, on Sept. 25, 1609, in the course of the famous Journée du Guichet, she broke the opposition of her own family by refusing to let them enter the cloister. Her renown as a reformer spread, and, with the help of Capuchin, Jesuit, and Feuillant confessors, Port-Royal became a center of spiritual life. In 1618 Mère Angélique received the mission to reform the abbey of Maubuisson, near Pontoise. She made the acquaintance of St. francis de sales, who was then at Paris and who became her director.
He made a visit to Port-Royal in July 1619. After his death in 1622, she accepted Sebastian Zamet, Bishop of Langres, as her director. The unhealthy climate of the valley of Port-Royal decimated the nuns. On the advice of Zamet and the Jesuit Étienne binet, she transferred her abbey to Paris and, in 1626, closed Port-Royal-des-Champs and installed her community in a house in the Faubourg Saint-Jacques, soon put under the immediate jurisdiction of the archbishop of Paris. In 1633, she left Port-Royal-de-Paris to establish, under Zamet's authority, a new order, called Institut du Saint-Sacrement. The new foundation was strongly attacked and its orthodoxy questioned with regard to a writing of Mère Agnès (1593–1671), a sister of Mère Angélique; the work, which was entitled Chapelet secret du Saint-Sacrement, was deferred to the Sorbonne.
Direction by Abbé Saint-Cyran. Upon Zamet's entreaties, the Chapelet was defended by a theologian then enjoying a well-established reputation among the devout, Jean duvergier de hauranne, Abbé de Saint-Cyran (1581–1643). This was the occasion for Mère Angélique,
who had known him superficially since 1621, to discover him as a spiritual director. She invited him to Port-Royal, where the nuns enthusiastically accepted his teaching and spread his rigoristic ideas about penance and the Eucharist, which occasioned public controversies. In August 1637, a nephew of Mère Angélique, the young and brilliant lawyer Antoine Lemaître, was converted and decided to live in seclusion and penance, without becoming a priest or religious. Saint-Cyran agreed to take him under his direction, but he was highly criticized for doing so.
The Solitaries of Port-Royal. Lemaître became the first of the Solitaries or gentlemen (Les Messieurs ) of Port-Royal. Others joined him, including two of his brothers, the grammarian Claude Lancelot, and the priest Antoine Singlin, who was to play an important role as confessor at Port-Royal. Forty other men joined them later. However, Saint-Cyran openly criticized Cardinal richelieu's policies regarding the welfare of Catholicism. To get rid of him, Richelieu had him arrested and imprisoned at Vincennes, May 14, 1638. In prison, Saint-Cyran continued his role as director by way of letters. The Solitaries and other witnesses were interrogated, but Richelieu could not discover any charge against Saint-Cyran, who was freed on Feb. 6, 1643, shortly after the cardinal's death. He died the following October 11, exhausted by his detention. In August 1643, one of the theologians of the group, Antoine Arnauld (1612–94) published a treatise De la fréquente Communion, a vigorous defense of Saint-Cyran's ideas. The augustinus, a posthumous work of Saint-Cyran's friend Jansenius, had been previously published in 1640. Although Saint-Cyran had some reservations about this work, he had commanded his disciples to defend it. Furthermore, from 1646 onward, the Solitaries organized Les Petites-lÉcoles where many of them taught. Despite difficulties with the royal power, Les Petites-Écoles continued until 1660 and reared about 100 children, Jean Racine being among them. At that time Port-Royal enjoyed a great reputation and the number of nuns quickly mounted. The foundation of the Institut du Saint-Sacrement, which had not succeeded, was united with Port-Royal, and on Dec. 24, 1647, the nuns received the white habit with a scarlet cross on the scapular, and dedicated themselves to perpetual adoration. Their constitutions were redacted by Mère Agnés. In 1648, as the nuns became too numerous for the Parisian monastery, a group of them returned to occupy Port-Royal-des–Champs.
Jansenist Controversies. In France, the Jansenist controversies began in 1649 with the question of the five propositions. Seconded by the Solitaries, and especially by the theologian and moralist Pierre nicole, Arnauld defended Jansenius energetically. Since the court had taken a clear stand against Jansenism, the position of Port-Royal became perilous, especially from 1655, when Arnauld brought the debate to the public at large by his Lettre à une personne de condition. At one time the nuns feared they would be dispersed. But the Lettres provinciales of Blaise Pascal and, on March 24, 1656, the miracle of the Holy-Thorn, the instantaneous cure of a niece of Pascal who was boarding at the monastery, restored opinion in favor of Port-Royal and led to a period of calm. Persecution began again in 1661, when Louis XIV sought to force the nuns and Les Messieurs to sign a formulary condemning the five propositions and attesting that they were in the Augustinus. Though none of the nuns had read the book, they agreed to sign if certain restrictive clauses were added. After three years of waiting and negotiating, Hardouin de Péréfixe, archbishop of Paris, took rigorous steps in August 1664 and transferred 12 of the nuns to other convents. In July 1665, the 12 nuns who had signed were left at Port-Royal-de–Paris, now raised to the status of an independent abbey, and the nuns who refused to do so were interned at Port-Royaldes-Champs under police supervision and were deprived of the sacraments, while Les Messieurs hid through fear of imprisonment. Upon the initiative of Pope Clement IX, a compromise was reached in 1669 and the monastery at Port-Royal-des-Champs regained its freedom and remained separate from the abbey in Paris. This period of tranquillity, called "Peace of the Church," was an exceptionally brilliant one for Port-Royal. The Duchess de Longueville, cousin of the king, protected it, and famous friendships surrounded it, including that of Madame de Sévigné. The group became distinguished by some outstanding publications, such as Pascal's Pensées and Saint-Cyran's Considérations (1670), as well as Lemaître de Sacy's translation of the Bible (1672).
Decline and Suppression. Upon the order of Louis XIV, who was irritated at finding resistance to his absolutism at Port-Royal, the new archbishop of Paris, Harlay de Champvallon, renewed persecution in 1679 by forbidding the monastery to receive novices and thereby condemned it to progressive extinction. Arnauld and other Jansenists went to foreign countries. However, the last years of the declining monastery were peaceful until 1706, when the nuns refused to sign the bull Vineam Domini against Jansenism. After troublesome chicanery, Louis XIV, urged by Madame de Maintenon, personally intervened and, on Oct. 29, 1709, the 22 old nuns still living in the house were deported to separate monasteries by the police. Two years later Louis XIV had the buildings destroyed, and the corpses in the cemetery exhumed and amassed in a common grave at nearby Saint-Lambert. The place became a center of Jansenist pilgrimages. Repurchased after the French Revolution by a lawyer named Louis Silvy, the ruins of Port-Royal are now the property of a private association that has had a small museum erected there. Another museum belonging to the estate is at the Granges de Port-Royal, in the house where Les Messieurs lived.
Bibliography: c. a. sainte-beuve, Port-Royal, ed. m. leroy, 3 v. (Paris 1952–55). c. gazier, Histoire du monastère de Port-Royal (Paris 1929). a. gazier, Histoire générale du mouvement janséniste …, 2 v. (Paris 1922). a. malvault, Répertoire alpha-bétique des personnes et des choses de Port-Royal (Paris 1902). m. schmidt, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart 3 5:465. l. cognet, La Réforme de Port-Royal (Paris 1950); Le Jansénisme (Paris 1961). m. escholier, Port-Royal. The Drama of the Jansenists (New York 1968). f. e. weaver, The Evolution of the Reform of Port-Royal: From the Rule of Cîteaux to Jansenism (Paris 1978). f. delfoge, Les petites Écoles de Port-Royal (Paris 1985). w. r. newton, Sociologie de la communauté de Port-Royal (Paris 1999).
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