Richelieu

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

Richelieu

In 1621, Armand Jean Du Plessis (1585-1642) purchased from family members Richelieu, a small village with the manor house that had been family property since 1350. When Du Plessis, former bishop of Luçon, became a cardinal, he assumed the name of this fief. To honor his principal minister, Louis XIII made the town the center of a duchy-peerage in 1631, attaching to it several outlying fiefs. The cardinal saw to the building for himself of a sumptuous chateau and park here to replace the traditional family home. His magnificent and prideful chateau was destroyed after the Revolution, but the park with its entrance gates and walls, and the foundations of the chateau remain. A large statue of the cardinal stands at the main entry.

The small town of around 2,500 people, built on a rectangular plan in Renaissance style, is still surrounded by interesting ramparts and moats. Two city gates remain, as do remarkable private and public buildings. On the Market Square, in front of the church, the Halles are noteworthy for their seventeenth century woodwork.

Richelieu's parish was officially erected in 1638, and the church was built during that year. Notre Dame l'Assomption is built in a classical style, as befits the classically designed town. The main altar dates from the eighteenth century, and the Blessed Sacrament chapel is dedicated to Saint Vincent --- the main items being the painting in the dome and the large painting over the altar depciting Vincent preaching. The sacristy houses some elegant woodwork, paintings from the chateau, as well as a chalice and paten, which the Duchess of Aiguillon, the cardinal's niece, presented to the saint. A copy of this chalice is in the Vincentian museum of the Paris motherhouse. The organ was begun in the seventeenth century. The baptismal font is original, dating from 1637. The cardinal's coat of arms figures prominently on the vaults over the altar. His cardinal's hat is depicted with six rows of tassels, one more row than any ordinary cardinal possessed, perhaps because Richelieu was also a duke and peer of the realm and the king's principal minister (the hat itself, drooping and dusty, hangs above Richelieu's tomb in the chapel of the Sorbonne).

The cardinal, seeking an active religious Congregation for his duchy, offered a residence to Vincent, the contract for which was signed in 1638. By it Vincent agreed to send ten priests. Four were to serve the parish, prepare the ordinands of the diocese and give priests' retreats. The other six were to give missions so that the whole duchy would be evangelized every five years. Although Vincent reluctantly acceded to the cardinal's demands, he insisted that Notre Dame become a model parish. The cardinal agreed t provide a steady source of funds for their support, including income from properties such as rental houses and farms. Vincent wrote several letters on the subject of this foundation and in later years even began a novitiate in the house. After the cardinal's death, his favorite niece and heir, the duchess of Aiguillon, continued to provide support.

Vincent visited here several times (1638, 1639, 1642, 1644 and 1649). He mentioned the good order and piety of the people and observed that the taverns were not much frequented, especially on Sundays and feast days. The Vincentian pastors erected a Confraternity of Charity. During the Fronde, he sent the novices from Paris to Richelieu for their safety.

Daughters of Charity also came to Richelieu to work for the sick and teach poor girls. Louise came here to visit her Sisters. Vincent address several letters to that community of Daughters, one of the earliest outside Paris, and the first outside the Ile de France. The location of the Sisters' house is unknown, but it appears that they lived in the section called "les religieuses." They remained here until the eighteenth century, possibly until the Revolution.

Because the cardinal was the king's principal minister, chief and general superintendent of navigation and commerce, the court came to call. When they did, the pastor of Richelieu would be called on to officiate at the solemn functions. Vincent wrote to Bernard Cooding (1610-c.1678) on how to behave in the presencee of twelve year old Louis XIV and his court: the king does not like long speeches, so do not make any. Tell him however, that you have come to offer His Majesty the services of the Company and to assure him of its prayers that God may be pleased to bless him and his armies, to preserve him for many years to come, to grant him the grace of subjugating the rebels and of extending his empire to the ends of the earth; in a word, that God may reign over his States (Letter 1234). Unfortunately for the king, the letter arrived too late.

A large community house, located behind the church, is only partly used. It dates from the time of the founder and for a while was one of the novitiates of the Congregation. Vincent recalled that his confreres here recited their office in common, not in the parish church, but in an oratory in this house (Conference 213). The Richelieu house is one of the oldest community houses still standing, but the Vincentians no longer occupy it. The commune seized it at the Revolution and has since sold part of it. In that section is to befound the room, which the saint is said to have used. Today, the entire pastoral area of Richelieu and several surrounding villages are called the parish of Saint Vincent de Paul.