The Congrégation de Notre-Dame, Superiors, and the Paradox of Power, 1693-1796

The Congrégation de Notre-Dame, Superiors, and the Paradox of Power, 1693-1796

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Congrégation de Notre-Dame, Superiors, and the Paradox of Power, 1693-1796
    Book Description:

    Gray focuses on the social, administrative, political, and spiritual dimensions of the lives of three Congrégation superiors - Marie Barbier, Marie-Josèphe Maugue-Garreau, and Marie Raizenne. By exploring the implications of the hierarchies of power within the convent and providing a thorough analysis of the convent's relationship with the social, religious, and governmental structures that surrounded it - taking into account both medieval and Catholic Reformation Europe and seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Canada - Gray reveals the paradoxes inherent in the position of a female superior within the male-dominated sphere of both the church and the larger secular community.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7472-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. Tables and Maps
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xvii-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-14)

    R.D. Wilson’s 1963 sketch of the southwest corner of the intersection of boulevard Saint-Laurent and rue Notre-Dame in Montreal starkly and skilfully captures a fragment of the brutally altered site where once stood various convents of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame over the course of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries (see figs. 1–6).¹ In his drawing a dilapidated, narrow building, said to have once been used by the sisters of the congregation as a school attached to the old convent, is almost unrecognizable. Its walls are scarred by signs – arrows point to the car park; bold lettering stipulates hourly...

    • CHAPTER ONE The Private World
      (pp. 17-28)

      Architectural plans¹ of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame depict the institute as a private entity, secluded from the outside world (see fig. 8). Enclosed behind walls surrounding its entire property, the convent itself lay deeply recessed within this terrain, protected from the busy streets of Notre-Dame and Saint-Paul by a recreational area for its boarders to the north and the convent’s private gardens to the south. Sheltered by the property of the Hôtel-Dieu to its west, only the convent’s lavatories, the storeroom for its laundry, the bedchambers for some elderly nuns unable to access the chapel from the sleeping quarters on...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Spiritual Mission in the Public World
      (pp. 29-45)

      Isolated behind the walls surrounding it, the congregation convent, in the late seventeenth and throughout the eighteenth centuries, was also squarely situated within the world delineated by the fortifications of Old Montreal. In its immediate vicinity, two main thoroughfares – rue Saint-Paul and rue Notre-Dame – marked its southern and northern edges. Its western border met the secluded gardens and buildings of the convent of the sisters of the Hôtel-Dieu, while its eastern perimeter, on rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste, faced the mansion of the late eighteenth-century fur trader–merchant Simon McTavish, where it is said that, to the dismay of the sisters, “quantities of...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Economic Mission in the Public World
      (pp. 46-66)

      One wonders if, from the vantage point of Mount Royal, Jacques Cartier could have spotted Nuns’ Island after he had scaled the mountain with the assistance of his Native guides – given the deeply wooded slopes, as they must have been, descending into a forested plain and then into the mighty blue of the river. Certainly, today, from the Mount Royal lookout, it is difficult, if almost impossible, to catch sight of Nuns’ Island floating in the St Lawrence River. High-rises have sprung up beyond the preciously demarcated and protected wooded slopes of Mount Royal, in many places all but obscuring...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Becoming a Superior
      (pp. 69-84)

      One day in June in the year 1790,¹ the sisters of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame proceeded down the long corridor of the main floor of their convent, situated between rue Notre-Dame and rue Saint-Paul in the town of Montreal, towards their chapel, Sacré-Coeur de Jésus,² for the triennial election of their superior. The procession must have been an impressive sight. At its head were three figures, the bishop and his two assistants, robed in black.³ These dignitaries, in turn, were followed by the sisters themselves – a row of black gowns, black covering hair upon heads, from neck to the floor,...

    • CHAPTER FIVE “La pesante charge”
      (pp. 85-126)

      Nothing illustrates the heart and soul of a superior’s power more than the daily ritual of the locking of the convent doors. Every evening the assistant and theportièrewould approach the superior in order to obtain the keys to lock the doors in the lower courtyard and those of the convent itself. Immediately thereafter, they would return to the superior and place those same keys back in her hands, and she would guard them until the following morning. At that time these same two individuals would go to her bedchamber to retrieve the keys and to reopen the doors....

    • CHAPTER SIX As a Bird Flies
      (pp. 127-139)

      It is known that, at least throughout her early life and particularly during her term as superior of the Congrégation of Notre-Dame from 1693 to 1796, Marie Barbier, on a regular basis, engaged in extreme forms of bodily mortification. At certain periods every day, she would whip herself with a belt fortified with iron hooks for half an hour until she was covered with blood. Thereafter she would feel fortified, as if her good angel had assisted her. On one occasion, completely naked, she disciplined herself for one hour with so much force that her entire body was so badly...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 140-142)

    A long corridor called “L’Ange gardien” led to a miniscule room on the second floor of the 1768 convent of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame. It was known as thechambre mortuaire, and it was the resting place for congregation sisters who had recently died (see fig. 24). Here, in the glow of lighted candles and the whispered prayers of their fellow sisters, the dead would be exposed in preparation for the final ceremonies that would lay them to rest.¹

    It is, I believe, appropriate to terminate this study with this description of the convent mortuary, for it ends this history,...

    • APPENDIX A Congrégation de Notre-Dame Professed Nuns, 1693–1796
      (pp. 145-172)
    • APPENDIX B Congrégation de Notre-Dame Superiors, 1693–1796
      (pp. 173-176)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 177-222)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 223-240)
  13. Index
    (pp. 241-250)