Mâcon

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

Mâcon

It was probably on a visit to Châtillon in 1619-1620 that Vincent passed by Mâcon. By that date he was already chaplain general of the galleys and thus a person of some importance. He came across many poor people on the streets, probably because they had heard that the Aumône, the local charitable confraternity, was dispensing help. Since the confraternity no longer could manage to do so, and perhaps with the support of the Oratorians with whom he had been association previously in Paris, Vincent spent a week reorganizing it. He returned and helped it further by joining his Confraternity of Charity with the Aumône. Afterwards the new group was called the Association of Saint Charles of Christian Charity. During this latter visit, which lasted three weeks or a month, he stayed with the Oratorians in the new seminary, near the Cathedral. These details come from Father Guillaume Desmoulins, the Oratorian superior. The same Desmoulins wrote of how the poor were also to go to confession monthly and fulfill other religious obligations.

Vincent, too, described it to Saint Louise: When I set up the Charity in Mâcon, everyone made fun of me and would point at me in the streets, but when the deed was accomplished everyone wept for joy. The town magistrates paid me so much honor on my departure that not being able to stand it, I was compelled to leave in secret to avoid the applause (Letter 198c). The Charity at Mâcon was one of the oldest in France and became a model cited by the French clergy at their 1670 assembly in Pontoise. It is unknown whether Vincent ever returned to Mâcon after this time.

To honor him, a side chapel of the church of Saint Pierre recalls his activity with a large mural painting of him as well as two stained glass windows. The left window quotes from the rules: The purpose of this assembly is to be able to help the poor. The right window reads Saint Vincent de Paul began this charity on 16 September 1621 in the church of Saint Nizier. More historically important is the original painting by Jean François de Troy of Vincent preaching. This was one of the series painted for his beatification and canonization that hung in the original Saint Lazare. It is found in the left apse. This church, however, was built only in 1865 in neo-Romanesque style (Place Saint Pierre).

The cathedral is called Saint Vincent, referring not to Vincent de Paul but to the patron of winegrowers, since Mâcon is in an important wine-growing area. This Saint Vincent's Cathedral, opened in 1816, was built under Napoleon I and was originally called Saint Napoleon. It was later changed to Saint Louis when Louis XVIII came to power and then Saint Vicent, the name it keeps. The Old Saint Vincent has kept some of the parts of a medieval church but has largely been rebuilt.

The Church of Saint Nizier, mentioned in the foundation records of the confraternity, no longer exists, having been demolished shortly after the Revolution. It was probably located where the Musée Lamartine now stands. It was an annex of the church of Saint Pierre le Vieux, and a chapel of the Penitents in the seventeenth century. The Ladies of Charity too assembled there for their spiritual nourishment.

The old Hospital of the Charity also recalls Vincent's work in Mâcon. Its famous "turn" is visible from inside and outside the building. Originally a feature of cloistered convents, it came to be used for those who were abandoning children. They placed them in it, pivoted the "turn" toward the inside and then notified the hospital personnel by ringing the bell. Abandoning children here offered a better future than leaving them outside a church in the cold, where someone might steal them or the children might die of exposure (249, rue Carnot). At the time of the Revolution the hospital became a prison for the elderly priests who had refused to take the constitutional oath. The Revolutionary cult, Theophilanthropism, was moved to the hospital chapel here in 1796, but the chapel reverted quickly to the parish, which used it beginning in 1802. The Sisters of Charity of Nevers directed the hospital from 1804 to 1973. The building itself was built from 1752-1762 to replace an earlier one set up in 1680 in memory of the original Charity Vincent founded in 1620. Although the intriguing "turn" does not date from Vincent's period, it is nevertheless one of the rare speciments still in existence and illustrates a dark chapter of history. Modern Mâcon has around 40,000 inhabitants.