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Chantal, Jeanne de (1572–1641)

Chantal, Jeanne de (1572–1641)

French saint and co-founder, along with Francis de Sales, of the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, whose many letters survived, providing a detailed picture of the religious ideas and ideals of her age. Name variations: Saint Jane Chantal; Jeanne Chantal; Jane de Chantal or Jeanne de Chantal; Jane Frances de Chantal; Madame de Chantal; Jeanne-Françoise, baroness de Chantal; Jeanne de Rabutin-Chantal. Born Jeanne-Françoise Frémiot in Dijon, France, on January 23, 1572; died in Moulins, France, on December 13, 1641; daughter of Bénigne Frémiot and Marguerite de Berbisey Frémiot; grandmother of Marie de Sévigné (1626–1696); married Baron Christophe de Rabutin-Chantal; children: Celse-Bénigne de Rabutin-Chantal (1596–1627, father of Marie de Sévigné); and five others, of which three survived infancy. Canonized as a saint of the Roman Catholic church in 1767.

Born in 1572 into the highest strata of the French nobility, Jeanne-Françoise Frémiot lost her mother Marguerite de Berbisey Frémiot at the age of 18 months. Fortunately, her father Bénigne Frémiot, president of the Burgundian parliament, which met at Dijon, was a man of integrity who concerned himself with his daughter's education and moral development. Jeanne was educated at home by tutors who imparted the usual skills of a girl of the aristocracy—reading, writing, dancing and performance on musical instruments. By her mid-teens, Jeanne-Françoise had blossomed into a beautiful young woman with good sense and a happy, lively temperament.

At age 21, she married Baron Christophe de Rabutin-Chantal, thus becoming linked with one of the most ancient and illustrious families of Burgundy. Within the next few years, she lived on her husband's estate in Monthelon, giving birth to six children, two of whom died in infancy; a boy and three girls would survive. After seven years of marriage, her husband was killed in a hunting accident. After the initial shock of losing her spouse, Chantal returned to her father's home in Dijon. Here she sought solace for her loss and turned to a priest who encouraged a spiritual regimen that was austere and very likely excessive. Because she had left her children behind, her father-in-law threatened to disinherit his grandchildren unless she returned to his castle at Monthelon near Dijon. This she did in 1602, spending almost the entire decade that followed supervising the education of her children while attempting each day to exercise the Christian virtues of patience and humility. She would return every year to her own estates at Bourbilly near Semur-en-Auxois to supervise the wine harvest.

In 1604 while visiting her father, Jeanne de Chantal met Francis de Sales (1567–1622) who had recently been appointed the bishop of Geneva. Deeply impressed by the piety and broad learning of this fellow aristocrat, she asked that he serve as her spiritual director. After some hesitation, he consented and presented her with a spiritual agenda based on his principles. From this point on, they were in contact with one another through a mutual correspondence that lasted almost two decades, ending only with his death.

After her first meeting with Francis de Sales, Chantal made a double vow—to remain unmarried and to obey him. She wished at this stage to enter upon a religious life, but he counseled patience. In 1607, he informed her of his plan for founding a group of women who would practice those virtues of humility, piety and mutual charity that were exemplified in Mary the Virgin 's visit to Elizabeth . The plan also called for a community of women who would engage part of the time in the carrying out of works of mercy for the sick and poor.

After almost three years of preparation and consultation with Chantal, Bishop de Sales established the first convent in Annecy adhering to their rules in March 1610. Jeanne de Chantal was the co-founder and superior of what would henceforth be known as the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary. Changes agreed to during the next few years included the elimination of external works of charity and subordination of the cloister to the authority of the bishop of Lyons. In April 1618, Pope Paul V elevated what was still officially an institute of the church to an officially sanctioned religious Order.

By the time Francis de Sales died in December 1622, there were 12 other monasteries besides the original one. At the time of her death in 1641, there were 80 monastic houses in the Order. Jeanne de Chantal spent the last years of her life collecting her correspondence with de Sales. She was still alive in 1627 when the process of his canonization was opened; in 1662, de Sales was beatified, and he was canonized a saint by Pope Alexander VII in 1665.

After a long, richly rewarding life, Jeanne de Chantal died in Moulins on December 13, 1641. She was beatified in 1751, and Pope Clement XIII declared her a saint of the church on July 16, 1767. Besides her considerable achievements in the religious sphere, Jeanne de Chantal represents a significant link with a vibrant and complex period in European history. One scholar has written admiringly of "[t]his foundress in a great age [who] wrote good and vivid letters [that] are of considerable spiritual but also literary and historical value; they reflect moreover the religious and cultural climate of France in the reign of Louis XIII." Some scholars have argued that her letter-writing talent was a genetic quality that was passed on to her descendants. Jeanne's granddaughter Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, known to literary history as Marie de Sévigné (1626–1696), left behind an equally valuable treasure trove of correspondence. To be both a saintly human being and superb letter-writer, as was Jeanne de Chantal, makes her an unusually appealing personality to a contemporary era that has only rarely produced individuals who are able to combine such qualities.

sources:

Bougaud, Émile. St. Chantal and the Foundation of the Visitation. Translated from the 11th French edition by a Visitandine. 2 vols. NY: Benziger Brothers, 1895.

Ravier, Andre. Saint Jeanne de Chantal: Noble Lady, Holy Woman. Translated by Mary Emily Hamilton. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1989.

Sanders, Ella Katharine. Sainte Chantal, 1572–1641: A Study in Vocation. NY: Macmillan, 1928.

Stopp, Elisabeth. "François de Sales and Jeanne de Chantal: Two Unpublished Letters," in French Studies. Vol. 18, 1964, pp. 17–23.

——. Madame de Chantal: Portrait of a Saint. Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1963.

Wright, Wendy M., and Joseph E. Power, eds. Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction. Translated by Peronne Marie Thibert. NY: Paulist Press, 1988.

——. Bond of Perfection: Jeanne de Chantal and François de Sales. NY: Paulist Press, 1985.

——. A Retreat with Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal, and Aelred of Rievaulx: Befriending each other in God. Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1996.

John Haag , University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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