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The franciscan networks of Madame Acarie

It is in the line of this work but enlarged that takes place Monsieur Pierre Moracchini’s paper.

Presenting the numerous Franciscan connections of the Blessed leads to discover without surprise that she had made hers the famous sentence of Saint Fançois : « We are nothing more than what we are in the eyes of God », thus making hers a main point of the Franciscan message.


By Mr. Pierre Moracchini

Madame Acarie, a Franciscan  : it was under this title, a surprising one at first glance, that Father Godefroy de Paris (1886-1950) published a study during the Second World War on the ties between the Blessed Carmelite – the principal actor in the introduction of the reformed Carmelite order in France – and the brothers and sisters of “thePoverello”Annales franciscaines, t. 76, 1940, p. 131-134, 168-172, 202-207, Écho des Annales franciscaines, 1945, p. 9-13, Annales franciscaines, t. 77, 1945, p. 25-28, 46-51, 100-102.. “In this remarkable Blessed (Bienheureuse), wrote the learned Capuchin, two séraphismes are united, without being confused one with the other : that of Saint Francis and that of Saint Theresa”. In these pages, I shall follow and continue this line of investigationThanks to Sister Anne-Thérèse of the Carmel of Pontoise and to Father Luc Mathieu, ofm, for their invaluable assistance.. Father Godefroy de Paris had emphasized Barbe Avrillot’s adolescent years at the monastery of the order of Saint Clare at Longchamp, and her ties to the minor Capuchin brothers. Here I shall broaden the analysis, demonstrating that Madame Acarie maintained relations with the various branches of the Franciscan family, but with a preference for the more reformed among them. To this end, a rereading of the most viable sources regarding Madame Acarie is in order (including her biography by André Duval, first published in 1621, and selected accounts of her process of beatification) to point out the traces of her multiple Franciscan connections.

Longchamp and the Franciscan heritage of Madame Acarie

“At or around the age of eleven, she was placed as a pensioner in the monastery of Longchamp, known as Our Lady of Humility, of the order of Saint Claire near Paris, as she had there an aunt on her mother’s side by the name of Sister Isabelle Lhuillier : It was there that she began (…) to taste the spirit of devotion, which always remained with her since (…) During this stay at Longchamp she had a fortuitous encounter which she always took to be a special favor of divine goodness, that she was instructed there by a learned father of the order of Saint Francis, the confessor of the sisters of Saint Clare who, due to her docility and fervor spoke more often with her than with her companions, and gave her very good instruction. But what served her even more was the mistress of the novices, who was named Sister Jeanne Mailli and who, for her eminent virtue and great fervor, was elected Abbess of the monastery, such that with the approval of both, she had her first communion at the age of twelve. (…) At the age of fourteen, after having stayed at Longchamp a little more than three years, her parents called her back home, and she went; nonetheless in her short time in the monastery she had deeply ingrained in her heart the way of religious life, the privilege of constantly serving God, and the great assurance of being far from the dangers to which one was exposed in the world La Vie Admirable de Sœur Marie de l’Incarnation, religieuse converse en l’Ordre de Nostre Dame du mont Carmel, & fondatrice d’iceluy en France, appelée au monde, La Damoiselle Acarie, par M. André Du Val, Docteur en théologie, l’un des supérieurs dudit Ordre en France , Paris, A. Taupinart, 1621, p. 3-9. ”.

Firstly, this account of the years at Longchamp (1577-1580) allows us to enter into the Franciscan entourage of the family of Madame Acarie. The genealogies preserved at the Carmel of Pontoise demonstrate that her Franciscan relations were not in fact limited to Sister Isabelle Lhuillier, her Clarissian aunt on her mother’s side. In the Lhuillier family there was not only another nun at Longchamp, her great-aunt Renée, but also a certain Philibert, the “Superior of the Cordeliers (Franciscans) of Bourgogne”. Indeed, this same Philibert Lhuillier was elected Delegate General to the General Chapter at Assisi of 1517 (during which the Order of Saint Francis was split between Conventuals and Observants), and was also present at the following General Chapter (Lyon, 1518), this time as Superior Minister of the province of Bourgogne (Saint-Bonaventure). While it is unlikely that Barbe Avrillot ever met her great-uncle, the fact that he had risen to positions of such great responsibility in the Order of Saint Francis could well have had a significant impact within the family environment. On her father’s side, Madame Acarie’s family includes a Capuchin, a first cousin (or an uncleThe question remains to be resolved : the name of this Raoul Avrillot, Capuchin, mentioned by Godefroy of Paris, does not appear in the genealogies of Pontoise. There is, however, a listing for an uncle of Madame Acarie by the name of Raoul Avrillot, but the date of death is given as 1585. It may be that one of his children was Raoul the future Capuchin.) to Barbe : Raoul Avrillot entered the Order in 1588, under the name of Nicolas de Paris, and died in Saint-Honoré in 1595, “after having lived seven years in saintly fashion”, according to the Capuchins’ best necrological recordsThe necrological record entitled “du Titre”, preserved on microfilm at the Franciscan Library of the Capuchins..

Further, more distant relations include two eminent Capuchins, Father Joseph de Paris (François Leclerc du Tremblay) and Father Honoré de Champigny (Charles Bochard); it should also be noted that Marguerite Lottin, the mother of Pierre Acarie, was the niece of Marie Lottin, the Abbess of Longchamp between 1560 and 1566.

Turning again to André Duval’s text, we find that what it reveals about Barbe Avrillot’s time among the Clarisses may indeed surprise the Franciscan historian. Longchamp was precisely the opposite of the decadent monastery that is so often depicted. It was there that Barbe began to “taste the spirit of prayer”. For her, its was “a special favor of divine goodness” to have been directed by the confessor of the Clarissian nuns – a Cordelier of the province of France by they name of Pierre Villette; the mistress of the novices at Longchamp is described as a religious figure of eminent virtue. Further, during the exile of Pierre Acarie, Barbe entrusted her two daughters to LongchampA. Du Val, La Vie Admirable de Sœur Marie de l’Incarnation, op. cit., p. 107., and much later, before entering the Carmel of Amiens as a novice, “she only went to Longchamp, where she had been nourished as a child, to bid farewell to the sisters there, and thanking them for the honor and benefit she had received from them, she told them that she was going away in religion to be the servant of the servants of God, in keeping with the moving experiences she had had there in her tender youthIbid., p. 320 ”. André Du Val leaves us with an extremely positive image of the monastery of Longchamp.

Nonetheless, there was a certain amount of upheaval in the life of the monastery. During the process of beatification, Sister Marie de Jésus (de Tudert), a cousin of Madame Acarie, allowed that “the monastery at Longchamp where this servant of God had her first impressions of piety and devotion was distracted from the strict observance of rule by the revolutions of the time and the troubles of war” ; yet this witness would also add that “seeing an opportunity for reform and that the souls of the nuns were disposed to receive such reform, she [Acarie] dedicated all of her strength and diligence to such a saintly endeavor, which God then guided to a most happy end, such that henceforth the monastery lived in complete observance of its rule8-RITI 2235, f° 556 v° ”.

This invaluable testimony suggests that Madame Acarie contributed to a reform at Longchamp similar to those she had been able to bring about in other feminine communities. For the Franciscan historian, this suggestion of Madame Acarie’s influence at Longchamp is an invitation to reconsider the history of this Clarissian monastery in the modern era.

The Capuchins

Benoît de Canfield, Ange de Joyeuse, Raphaël d’Orléans, Pacifique de Souzy, Ange-Raphaël de Raconis : all of these Capuchin religious participated, in one capacity or another, in the famous “Cenacle” at the hôtel Acarie. This is a familiar point upon which there is no need to insistSee Godefroy de Paris, "L’Ecole de Saint-Honoré", Cahiers de spiritualité capucine, n° 2, Paris, 1995, 138 p. (a compilation of a series of articles appearing in the Revue Sacerdotale du Tiers-Ordre between 1947 et 1949). It is nonetheless worth calling attention to certain passages in André Du Val’s text which demonstrate this Capuchin influence. The role of Benoît de Canfield (1562-1610) in the life of Madame Acarie was a determining one, as he succeeded in delivering her from the spiritual anguish which resulted from the mystical phenomena in which she found herself submerged. The episode took place in the short period (the summer of 1592) during which the English Capuchin was her spiritual directorBenoît de Canfield resided at the convent at Meudon until September of 1592, and was then appointed to Orléans. It was at this moment that Madame Acarie took a Parisian Carthusian, Dom Beaucousin, as her spiritual advisor. A. Du Val, La Vie Admirable de Sœur Marie de l’Incarnation, op. cit., p. 117. :

“At last, through the aid of a Father of the order of Capuchins, with whom she communicated at the home of Lady Billard, a widow of great devotion, she felt a great relief, for among other teachings he imparted to her, he assured her that all of this came from God : for until this moment, although she had been so changed (as we have seen) nonetheless she dared not be assured, not knowing what to say faced with such ecstasies and raptures as had come upon her, and said to me (…) that it was as though this good Father had physically lifted a stone weighing upon her heart, as before this her heart had been tightly closed up from fear and apprehension Ibid., p. 34. ”.

Pacifique de Souzy (1555-1625), one of the most esteemed Capuchin spiritual directors of his time, “had often communicated in particular”Ibid., p. 85. with Madame Acarie. Being a mystic himself, Father Pacifique knew Madame Acarie’s soul intimately, as demonstrated by his testimony for the process of beatification, dated June 2, 1618 :  

“It seemed to me that she was quite careful to hear God speak within her in order to obey Him and to occupy herself or be occupied by a true spirit of holy prayer and solid devotion . And that she led a truly active life of purgation for herself and toward others, and that she led a truly illuminative life, contemplative for herself and for the salvation of others, and that she led a truly unitive life adhering to GOD to be made a spirit or a volition and non-volition with God; she even led all three of these lives together in harmony for herself and for others; it seemed to me that in respiration and aspiration, and in her every movement, intention and action, interior and exterior and in all circumstances she sought only to conform to our dear Lord Jesus Christ, and that she envisaged and looked in herself and in others to love God and all her fellow men with a truly pure loveRiti 2233, f° 75 r°-v°. ”.

The “entourage” of Madame Acarie included the members of her family and their domestics, all of whom came into contact with the Capuchins. André Du Val recounts the tragic story of Étienne, a young servant in the Acarie household : “he went one day to the prayers of forty hoursA devotional prayer particularly developed by the Capuchins. with the Capuchin fathers, where the venerable Father Ange of the illustrious house of Joyeuse preached, and the entire time he had the farthingale of a young damsel pressed against him, until one of its ribs pierced his side : this injury gave him a fever, from which he died a few days later in one of the Ecclesiastics’ rooms near the monasteryA. Du Val, La Vie Admirable de Sœur Marie de l’Incarnation, op. cit., p. 75 ”.

Florent Boulenger, the Recollects and the Clarisses of Verdun

Where there is one Franciscan reform, another may not be far behind : although they were established in Paris a quarter century after the Capuchins and counted fewer charismatic figures among their ranks, the Recollects were no strangers to the world of Madame Acarie. One of these reformed Franciscans is particularly worthy of our attention : Florent Boulenger, who “had a high opinion of and esteem for the saintliness of this lady from having conversed many times with her on subjects that tended toward the advancement of the glory of GodRiti 2236, f° 419 r°-v°.” (testimony of Nicolas Le Febvre de Lezeau). Florent Boulenger had entered the order of the Cordeliers of Beauvais in 1575, at the age of 16. Wishing to “reform himself” (“se réformer”, the watchword of the time), he had gone to Rome, stayed for a time in the first convents of the Recollects in Aquitaine, and finally arrived at Verdun, the gathering point for the Cordeliers of the province of France who wished to adopt reforms. On the 13 th of January 1602, he renewed his vows. But the reform movement also took hold among women, and from this time on, Florent Boulenger played a central role in the reform of the urbanist Clarisses of Verdun, who would often be referred to as “récollettes” (female Recollects), directed as they were by the “récollets” (male Recollects).

It was during this time that our Recollect and Madame Acarie would cross paths for the first time. Florent Boulenger was engaged actively in recruitment for the monastery. With the help of the Jesuits of Verdun, he sought to have Alix Le Clerc (the founder, along with Pierre Fourier, of the Congregation of Notre-Dame) enter the community, but his efforts failed. Florent Boulenger tirelessly pursued his search for recruits on all fronts. While it is uncertain how the contact was established (most likely via the Jesuits), it was in response to these efforts that Judith-Florence d’Abra de Raconis took the habit at Verdun under the name of Sister Florence de Saint-JosephInterestingly, at the site of the former Clarissian monastery is now the Carmel of Verdun..

Madame Acarie, writes André Du Val, “took it upon herself to bring to Lorraine Mademoiselle Florence d’Abra of the Raconis family to be a Recollect in the city of Verdun, where the daughters of Saint Claire had previously been reformed under the direction of the Recollect fathers. Her husband Monsieur Acarie and Father Bérulle accompanied her on this journey, and after having placed this good young lady in religion, they went on to Saint Nicolas de LorraineA. Du Val, La Vie Admirable de Sœur Marie de l’Incarnation, op. cit., p. 174-175.”.

It was during this journey to Lorraine (July 1602), an essential stage in the spiritual itinerary of Madame Acarie, that she would have her first encounter with the Recollect reformer. Other encounters would follow, according to the testimony of Nicolas Le Febvre de Lezeau. In 1603, Florent Boulenger was elected primary “custodian” (custode) of the “custodie”A subgroup of convents within a province. of Recollects of the province of the Cordeliers of France, and often resided in Paris. During the years 1603-1605, he participated in the foundation of the great convent of Faubourg Saint-Laurent (whose buildings, situated near the modern Gare de l’Est, have recently been restored), but after a series of internal conflicts, the Recollects of the custodie of the province of France were not permitted to occupy the new establishment. Florent Boulenger set out in search of a new site for his Recollect brothers, and opted for Saint-Denis – the same location at which, during the time of Saint Francis, the first minor brothers had established themselves before their foundation in Paris. The difficult installation at Saint-Denis is evoked in a chapter that André Du Val dedicates to Madame Acarie’s “gift for prophecy” :
“Father Florent of the order of Recollect fathers having worked at length for the establishment of a house of his Order in the city of Saint-Denis in France, seeing that he was making no progress, as the religious of the great Abbey, who had control of the site, were unwilling to give their consent in spite of the incessant requests made by several persons of quality, considered abandoning it all and returning to his province. Sister Marie de l’Incarnation, having learned of his resolution, advised him that under no circumstances should he leave, and that the religious of the Abbey would soon give their consent, which they did, just when the situation appeared quite desperateA. Du Val, La Vie Admirable de Sœur Marie de l’Incarnation, op. cit., p. 462.”.

In fact, the Recollects would succeed in establishing themselves in Saint-Denis, and the first stone of their church was laid on the 11 th of February 1607.

The Clarisses of Ave Maria de Paris

While Madame Acarie accompanied the young d’Abra de Raconis to the monastery at Verdun, she also guided a number of young women to the Ave Maria de Paris. “She gave them some good girls”, writes André Du Val, who “settled in there quite courageously”. Indeed, Madame Acarie felt a very real predilection for the Parisian monastery. This connection was likely facilitated by the geographical proximity between the Acarie home and Ave Maria (in the Marais district), but it was above all the result of the great spiritual vitality of the monastery – a vitality unanimously attested to by all observers. Madame Acarie’s biographer contributes exceptional supporting testimony that dates from the years 1598-1601 :
“She loved and esteemed greatly the monastery of the Order of Saint Clare, and often praised them for having remained since their foundation in their initial simplicity, austerity, enclosure and poverty, all very exact : and she once told me (God, I believe, had as yet revealed nothing to her regarding the Order of the Carmelites) that, if she were free to do so, she would not hesitate in entering the Order herselfIbid., p. 142.”.

At the beginning of the 1600s, then, Madame Acarie could have seen herself as a nun at Ave Maria… And it is clear that when she began to contemplate the introduction of the Carmelites in France, she continued to be influenced by the model offered by the Clarisses of Paris. In a chapter entitled “How much she valued poverty”, André Du Val explains “that from the beginning, when speaking of the foundation of the Order of the Carmelites in France, she insisted that the monastery of the Incarnation must not be provided a regular revenue : but that there should be persons who went through the city gathering alms in the name of the sisters, as did the Capuchins, and the daughters of Ave Maria. And had it not been for the fact that the Parliament, after verifying the lettres“lettres patentes”, ordered that, by its decision, the monastery would be provided a regular subsidy, she would have insisted strongly that this monastery follow the rule of mendicancy, which (as she often repeated) was a great treasure for a ReligionA. Du Val, La Vie Admirable de Sœur Marie de l’Incarnation, op. cit., p. 603”. (It should be pointed out that the Capuchin Clarisses mentioned here were founded in 1606, and that they were supported by alms-gathering Capuchin brothers, in imitation of Ave Maria de Paris.)

Madame Acarie was thus a regular visitor to Ave Maria, and often brought her entire household with her. For the Jubilee of 1601, she had Jacques Gallemant (a future Superior of the Carmelites) brought to Paris, lodged him at her own home, and sent him to confess at Ave Maria. Placide Gallemant, a Recollect and relative of Jacques, explains : “there, all of the children, domestics, relatives and friends of this saintly Lady, taking advantage of their unexpected good fortune, made general confessions to him. A multitude of other persons of all conditions and situations came to him to be reconciled to God by the efforts of his zeal, and by the energy of the Sacrament of which he had been the holy minister. In Paris it was generally said that all those who made their general confession to Mr Gallemant appeared to take with them an extraordinary warrant of salvation. This task kept him for six weeks attached to a confessionalLa Vie du vénérable Prestre de J.C. M. Jacques Gallemant, docteur en théologie de la Faculté de Paris, Premier supérieur des Carmélites en France, &c. par le R.P. Placide Gallemant Récollect, Paris, Edme Couterot, 1653, p. 51-52.”.

And Saint Francis ?

Having demonstrated a number of Madame Acarie’s links to the Franciscan world, it would be possible to provide still greater detail concerning many of them, and even to discover new ones. Indeed, a certain Vincent Mussart, while in search of his calling, discovered a commentary on the rule of the Third Order in the library “of M. Acarie, husband of Sister Marie de l’Incarnation, before her entry into the Order of the Carmelites” Histoire générale et particulière du tiers ordre de S. François d’Assise , A Paris, G. Josse, 1667, p. 121-122.. Thus, the reformer of the Franciscan Regular Tertiaries (the famous penitents of Picpus, or tiercelins) was himself in contact with Madame Acarie.

Apart from these Franciscan networks, however, one may wonder about the extent to which Madame Acarie had any real knowledge of Saint Francis. Here again, we shall rely upon the precious documentation of André du Val, in particular a chapter dedicated to “her fervor and devotion” :

“I have in my hands a little memoir, in which it is written that one day she recounted to someone two things that had greatly aided her in guiding her toward the service of God. The first of these was that in reading the life of Saint Francis she noted that in reality we are nothing more than what we are in the eyes of God, and that this remained so strongly in her soul, that for several days she could think of nothing else. The second thing was that reading another book (it was that of Monsieur Roussel) she noticed the following truth : he for whom God is not enough is too avariciousDu Val, La Vie Admirable de Sœur Marie de l’Incarnation, op. cit., p. 626.”.

A closer examination of these “two things” is in order. That which so profoundly affected Madame Acarie is said to be an excerpt from the life of Saint Francis. This must be verified. Indeed, in chapter six of Saint Bonaventure’s Legenda Major (the only biography of Saint Francis known and published in Madame Acarie’s time), one finds passages which contain material quite similar to that found in Du Val’s account : Francis “took pleasure in repeating this maxim : man’s value is exactly his value in the eyes of God, and nothing more”Legenda Major, 6.1., Saint François, Documents, Paris, 1981, p. 611. (Sed et verbum hoc dicere solitus erat  : Quantum homo est in oculis Dei, tantum est et non plus).

Thus, Madame Acarie remembered well what she had likely read in the Legenda Major. While this is quite significant in itself, we can go further still. From Luc Wadding’s 1623 edition of the Opuscules of Saint Francis (an edition necessarily unknown to Madame Acarie), we know that Saint Bonaventure was merely making a word for word reprisal of an admonition, one of the Poverello’s brief teachings : “Blessed is the servant, who does not consider himself better, when he is magnified and exalted by men, as when for example he is considered to be vile, simple, and despised, because as much as a man is before God, that much he is and nothing moreAdmonition 19, François d’Assise, Ecrits, 1981 (“Sources Chrétiennes” 285), p. 108-109. (Quia quantum est homo coram Deo, tantum est et non plus).

With this maxim that “remained so strongly in the soul” of Madame Acarie “that for several days she could think of nothing else”, we find ourselves in the presence of the very thoughts of Saint Francis of Assisi and nearly, through a translation from Latin, reading his own words. This conclusion is an essential one : from her contact with the vast Franciscan family of her time, Madame Acarie particularly retained and assimilated a capital point of the Franciscan message, one that “greatly aided her in guiding her toward the service of God”.

“Madame Acarie, a Franciscan ”… Ultimately, the title of Father Godefroy de Paris’ study suits our Bienheureuse perfectly.