October 19: Dedication of the Holy Cross & Our Lady Abbey, Royaumont, France (1235), founded by St. Louis
The Abbot Orsini wrote: “Dedication of the Abbey of Royaumont, under the title of the Holy Cross and Our Lady, by John, Archbishop of Mytilene, in the year 1235. This monastery had been founded by Saint Louis, in the year 1227.”
It was actually in the year 1228 when King Saint Louis IX of France planned for the construction of a new church for the honor or God and His Blessed Mother in the Valley of the Oise. He and his mother Blanche left their palace to reside at nearby Chateau d’Asnieres to be able to direct their efforts to the building of the new church. After purchasing the land himself, the king changed the name from Cuimont to Royaumont.
It was certainly nothing unusual to see the monks assisting in the construction of their own church, but Saint Louis himself labored enthusiastically alongside the workmen and stone masons. Many of the king’s family members followed his good example, so that soon there were many French noblemen working throughout the site. But that is not all, for when the monks sat down to eat at their Refectory, the king waited on over one hundred monks as they ate at two long tables. First, he would sample their food before setting it before anyone, and then he would taste their wine to be certain it was up to his own personal standard. If he were not satisfied, the king would demand a better vintage for the religious. One Maundy Thursday he would wash the feet of the beloved monks of Royaumont.
When the church was completed, it was so wondrous a work that “it was said at the time that none but a king could have constructed such an edifice.” A purely Gothic style church, having “a nave which both astounded and alarmed by its colossal height and boldness” that reached nearly the height of Notre-Dame in Paris, it was a labor of love made by Saint Louis to God and His Blessed Mother. When it was finished, King Louis was wedded there to Marguerite, the beautiful daughter of Beranger IV. The king allocated five hundred livres to be given yearly to the support of the Abbey.
There was also an infirmary attached to the monastery, and among those who were cared for was a leper by the name of Frere Legier. At that time lepers were isolated and treated as social outcasts. The leper’s disease would slowly kill them, but even while they were alive most were usually treated as if they were already among the dead.
King Louis, instead, took a personal interest in the leper. He would visit him frequently with the Abbot, saying: “Let us go and visit our patient.” Then together they would enter Legier’s isolated cell and kindly greet the horrifically disfigured patient. The king would then speak with Legier familiarly and inquire as to his condition before preparing a sumptuous meal for him with his own hands. The King would then feed the leper with loving attention, waiting on him to finish his repast as he continued to converse with him as if he were the equal of the King of France.
If one were to visit Royaumont today, they would find the ruined church with little more than the outer walls, and a few of the surrounding buildings that are still in good condition. Royaumont, like so much that spoke of the love of God in Catholic France, was a victim of the French Revolution.
It was the Marquis de Travannet who had purchased Royaumont from the state when he was ordered to destroy the venerable old church. The Abbey Church easily withstood the discharge of mines that were meant to destroy it, but later the central pillars were sawn through. Massive chains were cast through the stained glass windows that had lighted the interior of the church for centuries, and then attached to those pillars. Pulled by teams of oxen, the roof of the church fell in with “a salvo of flying fragments amid shouts of diabolical triumph,” so that nothing now remained but the outer walls.
In 1812 the Maruqis allowed his brother, the Vicomte de Travannet, to establish his cotton manufacturing business there, employing English prisoners to do the needed labor. He paid dearly for his sacrilege, even in this life, as he was soon denounced with his brother and both arrested. Narrowly escaping the guillotine, he was eventually freed, although the privations he had suffered while incarcerated soon led to his death. The cotton business thus failed, and the equipment was sold in the year 1815 to a cotton magnate from Belgium named Joseph Vander Mersch. Although Mersch seemed to have a certain respect for the ruins, replacing them where they once stood whenever possible, he also met with an early death and a failed business. It was during the time that he owned Royaumont, though, that the pilgrimages began.
It was on the feast of King Saint Louis IX in the year 1865 when the Abbey was acquired by the Oblate Fathers. Though Royaumont was once again in Catholic hands, they had no ability to rebuild the church from the ruins. In fact, only five years later, they were obliged to sell the Abbey to the Sisters of the Holy Family, of Bordeaux. They in turn sold the property in 1905, by order of the Government, and thus ended the dream of Saint Louis IX of France, whose good works are safely held by God in the treasury of heaven.
James Fitzhenry, Marian Calendar, roman-catholic-saints.com
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