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From 1518 to 1640 : The Abbey in Commendam

While the Renaissance calls to mind a fresh image of man and major changes in art, this period of history is also characterised, particularly in France by the Wars of Religion. Stemming from the Reformation (Martin Luther’s excommunication took place in 1517) the wars bathed France in bloody conflict from 1562 onwards (including the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572). In 1598 the promulgation by Henry IV of the Edict of Nantes ended the civil unrest. The Council of Trent in 1562 was the start of a corrective upheaval in the Catholic Church in response to criticism of the reforms. However, the French monarchy did not accept the Protestant minority and problems persisted until 1685 when Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes forcing the majority of Protestants to emigrate.

The Commendam

François I<sup>er</sup>A year after he was proclaimed King in 1515, Francis I (1491-1547) signed a treaty with Pope Leon X by means of which the King of France had the power to elect bishops and abbots. Before long, this privilege was freely abused by the Kings and the nomination of the King’s close relatives to office became commonplace particularly in La Chaise-Dieu.

The abbots appointed by the King were not always ordained and even though they may have visited La Chaise-Dieu once to assume office they showed hardly any interest in the Abbey and were usually represented by a vicar general. Thus, Henry of Angoulême, the natural offspring of Henry II was Abbot from 1562 to 1586. Henry was succeeded by Charles of Valois, the natural offspring of Charles IX. Charles resigned as Abbot in 1597 in order to get married. His son, Louis of Valois later became Abbot from 1609 until 1629 when he too relinquished the office. He was succeeded by Cardinal Armand-Jean du Plessis de Richelieu.

François de Tournon

In 1533 whilst on his way to Le Puy accompanied by Queen Eleanor of Austria, Francis I broke his journey at La Chaise-Dieu where he was welcomed by François de Tournon, the first commendatory Abbot.

Social upheaval

In 1562 La Chaise-Dieu abbey was overrun and sacked by Huguenots and the monks were forced to take refuge in the Clementine Tower.

Cardinal de Richelieu (1582-1642)

Cardinal de Richelieu par Ph. de ChampaigneArmand-Jean du Plessis de Richelieu was a Minister of Louis XIII from 1624 until 1642 and he was elected Abbot of La Chaise-Dieu and Abbot of Cluny in 1629. He spearheaded the Pope’s reorganisation of the Benedictine Order and oversaw the merging of all the Benedictine monasteries into the Kingdom of France with the mother house being in Paris [1].

A decline in La Chaise-Dieu Abbey was now apparent with the monks only numbering about fifty in total. In 1640 Richelieu signed an order of incorporation of La Chaise-Dieu into the Congregation of Saint-Maur.


[1] The name Maurist come from Saint Maur, a disciple of Saint Benedict, who introduced the Benedictine order in France; he is credited of having founded a Monastery along the banks of the Loire river, near Saumur, in 542 ( The Glanfeuil Abbey, to-day named the Saint-Maur Abbey) . His relics were transfered to Saint-Maur-des-Fossés near Paris in 921.