LA CROIX DE CHEVRIÈRES DE SAINT-VALLIER, JEAN-BAPTISTE DE, second bishop of Quebec; b. 14 Nov. 1653 at Grenoble, son of Jean de La Croix de Chevrières de Saint-Vallier and Marie de Sayve; d. 26 Dec. 1727 at Quebec.
Jean-Baptiste de La Croix’s family ranked among the best in Dauphiné: country noblemen, officers, magistrates, ambassadors. Jean de La Croix, his great-grandfather, was a talented lawyer and a poet when the fancy struck him; he was first a judge in the parlement of Grenoble, then, after he lost his wife, a priest and bishop of Grenoble. Jean-Baptiste’s father divided his career between the magistrature at Grenoble and the diplomatic service. He married Marie de Sayve, the daughter of a magistrate at Dijon; they had ten children, three of whom entered religion. The La Croixs were large land owners and in particular owned the château of Saint-Vallier on the banks of the Rhone, which had formerly belonged to Diane de Poitiers, King Henry II’s famous mistress.
It was in this château that Jean-Baptiste’s childhood was spent in part. Beyond this we know practically nothing of his youth, other than that he was charitable, that he studied at the Jesuit college in Grenoble, and that he early thought of the priesthood. He entered the seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Paris and at 19 years of age obtained a licentiate in theology, in 1672. Four years later, in 1676, even before he was ordained and thanks to his family’s connections, he was appointed almoner in ordinary to Louis XIV. He was not ordained a priest until 1681.
Licence was still the keynote of life at the Sun King’s court, and Madame de Montespan continued to reign over the heart and senses of Louis XIV. The young abbé did not, however, let himself be seduced by the apparent brilliance of this “delightful life.” No doubt influenced by the whole movement that had been born of the French counter-reformation – although we are badly informed about the stages in his intellectual development – and being a personal friend of the bishop of Grenoble, Le Camus, who was well known for his moral rigour, he immediately exhibited the utmost austerity. Instead of assuming court dress, he kept his cassock, and in his spare time he began to visit regularly hospitals, prisons, and country parishes. In 1683 he founded a hospital with his own money in the little town of Saint-Vallier. Later, in his funeral oration for Bishop Saint-Vallier, Abbé Fornel* was to exclaim dramatically: “What an astonishing sight meets my eyes! Our new Jean-Baptiste purifies himself at the court of kings, in the midst of delights, what a prodigy!”
In 1684 Abbé Saint-Vallier was 31 and already his appointment to a see in France was generally anticipated. At that time his spiritual director, the Jesuit Father Le Valois, rather an influential personage in the ecclesiastical circles of the capital, spoke to him of the see of Quebec. The incumbent of the see, Bishop Laval, was thinking of resigning. He proposed to come to France to ask Louis XIV to choose a successor for him. Would Abbé Saint-Vallier agree to be this successor?
An ambitious priest would certainly have refused. Created just ten years before, situated two or three months’ sailing time from France, burdened with a harsh climate, the diocese of Quebec in 1684 was perhaps the most wretched and difficult of all the dioceses in mission lands. It was immense, taking in the greater part of the territories that had already been explored in North America: Newfoundland, Acadia, the valley of the St Lawrence, the region of the Great Lakes, and even the whole of the valley of the Mississippi, which Cavelier* de La Salle had just traversed down to its mouth. This diocese on a continental scale was on the other hand scarcely populated. And what diocesans! Nine out of ten were Indians, who were almost completely refractory to Christianity and who were on the brink of resuming the offensive against the French. In the midst of these Indians there was a handful of French settlers, barely more than 10,000. Many of them led a Christian and truly family life, often a pious one; but half of the young men, attracted by the call of adventure and profit, were coureurs de bois, seeking the precious furs. They distributed spirits lavishly, and made the Indians drunk in order to filch their pelts or their women. When they came back from the woods, they led a gay life at Montreal, which had lost much of its original Christian fervour. “Good cheer, women, gambling, liquor, everything goes,” observed a contemporary, Baron de Lahontan [Lom d’Arce].
To evangelize the Indians and to keep the French within the bounds of Christianity, however, the clergy in Canada was not lacking in numbers, since there were already about a hundred priests-Jesuits, Sulpicians, Recollets, priests of the Missions Étrangères in Paris – and around a hundred nuns. These priests and nuns, the majority of whom had come from France, were for the most part devoted, of strict orthodoxy and pure morals, but also quarrelsome and fond of litigation. Moreover, financial resources were lacking, and the relations between the church and the colonial authorities were sometimes extremely strained. The root of the quarrel was the question of spirits. Bishop Laval would have liked to limit the importation of spirits and forbid their sale to the Indians. The governors objected. In their view the trade in alcohol was necessary for the development of commerce and for good relations with the Indian tribes. Versailles tended to uphold the governors against Bishop Laval, who was considered too rigorous.
In short, only a truly apostolic priest could accept so onerous a charge as the see of Quebec. Abbé Saint-Vallier had the soul of an apostle. He did not hesitate for one minute in giving his assent. His family protested in vain; he disregarded their objections. In January 1685 Bishop Laval, who had returned to France, offered his resignation to the king and proposed that Abbé Saint-Vallier succeed him. Louis XIV forthwith appointed his young almoner to the see of Quebec. The consecration, however, had to be postponed. Pope Innocent XI, who had been on bad terms with the king since the affair of the Regale and the declaration of the four Articles, was not granting any more bulls of investiture. Abbé Saint-Vallier left for Canada with the title simply of Bishop Laval’s vicar general. He hoped that upon his return the quarrel between the pope and the king would have ended and he could receive his bulls.
Abbé Saint-Vallier’s first sojourn in Canada lasted 18 months. Despite his lack of training the young priest astonished the clergy by his endurance and his zeal. First he visited Quebec, next all the parishes along the St Lawrence, and finally Montreal. Then, following the inland rivers and lakes, he went with two priests and a small escort to distant Acadia. He left in the spring of 1686 without even waiting for the break-up of the ice. They went from river to river, from lake to lake. Sometimes they had to break the ice to get the canoes through. At one time they thought they would die of starvation. Then came the summer, the unbearable mosquito bites, the humid heat. Everywhere they met Frenchmen or Indians, Abbé Saint-Vallier preached, catechized, rebuked, praised. He ate little, scarcely slept, and worked unceasingly. When he returned to Quebec in the autumn of 1686 he even thought of going inland as far as the Great Lakes.
The clergy in Canada was filled with admiration at such zeal, but it was also frightened. Indeed, it quickly perceived that Saint-Vallier had all the defects of his qualities. Dynamic and enterprising, he was also headstrong, domineering, taking no account of the advice of his associates. He was demanding for his subordinates, as he was for himself. “I do not seek to please people,” he had, moreover, stated openly. Finally, he spent his own money lavishly and did the same with that of others. When he left Quebec the seminary found itself 10,000 livres deeper in debt.
The superiors of the seminary wrote to give their impressions to Bishop Laval, who had remained in Paris during Saint-Vallier’s stay in Canada. They were categorical; despite his zeal and his talents, Abbé Saint-Vallier did not appear to them to be at all the man who was needed to govern the diocese of Quebec. Bishop Laval sided with them and asked Abbé Saint-Vallier to withdraw. Offended, Saint-Vallier refused and was backed up by Louis XIV, who even forbade Bishop Laval to return to Quebec. Bishop Laval was dismayed; his only dream was to die at Quebec, within the church that he had contributed to founding. In his bitterness he accused his successor of having suggested to the court that he be kept in France. Saint-Vallier protested vigorously against this accusation.
In 1688, however, the atmosphere became calmer. As the pope had sent the necessary bulls, Abbé Saint-Vallier could be consecrated bishop at Saint-Sulpice in Paris on 25 Jan. 1688. He immediately begged the king to allow Bishop Laval to return to Canada. Louis XIV let himself be moved. Bishop Laval did not wait an instant to leave. Despite his age and his infirmities, he went on horseback to La Rochelle, whence he sailed immediately for Canada. Some weeks later Saint-Vallier left the capital in his turn and arrived at Quebec on 31 July 1688.
With Bishop Saint-Vallier’s return there began for the church in Canada a long period of crisis which lasted no fewer than 16 years, from 1688 to 1704. It started with a violent, and inevitable quarrel between the bishop and his seminary. It was directed by three priests who had deeply wounded Saint-Vallier by asking for his resignation at the beginning of 1687: Bernières*, Ango Des Maizerets, and Glandelet. Secondly, Bishop Laval, the founder of the seminary, had granted it privileges which went beyond what was usual. It was not only a house for the preparation of future priests, but also a true religious community which was affiliated with the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères in Paris and included all the parish priests of the colony, in short, all the secular clergy. Three quarters of the clergy in Canada-Recollets, Sulpicians, Jesuits – already escaped the direct authority of the bishop, who found himself, in addition, obliged to share his jurisdiction over his own secular clergy with his seminary.
In the autumn of 1688 Bishop Saint-Vallier demanded an immediate and complete change in the organization of the seminary. The seminary refused, and the bishop spoke of revolt against his lawful authority. His adversaries denounced the prelate’s unbearable and tyrannical character and even insinuated that Saint-Vallier had Jansenists in his entourage, in particular the vicar general whom he had brought from France, Abbé Merlac*. Bishop Laval, whom his successor’s jealousy had forced to leave Quebec to take refuge at Cap Tourmente, sided with the seminary. Quickly all moderation was forgotten on both sides. It must be said that times were hard and nerves were generally on edge. The Iroquois had resumed their massacres of French settlers. The English were coming to besiege Quebec. The mother country sometimes hinted that it would give up Canada.
Finally, to resolve this deadlock, Saint-Vallier went in person in the spring of 1691 to demand arbitration in France. The king named as arbiters the archbishop of Paris and his own confessor, Father La Chaise. Both of them decided in favour of the bishop on the essential points. The seminary of Quebec lost its privileges and came under the usual rule. The bishop returned to Quebec in triumph. Had he not prophesied before his departure: “We shall see whether he was bishop or not”?
Thereupon developed the great quarrels of 1693–94, “terrible years for the church in Canada.” It is impossible to go into detail here about these quarrels, which were, besides, often petty but always extremely revealing of Saint-Vallier’s temperament, his preferences in doctrinal matters, and the religious atmosphere of the period. Let us say simply that during those two years Saint-Vallier achieved the extraordinary feat of falling out not only with the governor of New France, Frontenac [Buade*], who wanted to have Tartuffe played at Quebec but because of the bishop’s opposition had to give it up, with the governor of Montreal, Callière, and with certain officers of the troops stationed in the colony, but also with the cathedral chapter, the seminary, the Recollets [see Joseph Denys], the Jesuits [see Bouvart, Couvert], the nuns of the Hôtel-Dieu of Quebec [see Juchereau de Saint-Ignace, Marguerite Bourdon], and the nuns of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame [see Barbier]. At the end of the summer of 1694 almost the whole diocese of Quebec was in rebellion against the authority of the bishop.
Reports sent to Louis XIV denounced Saint-Vallier’s tyranny. The king ordered the prelate to come to France to justify himself. The bishop obeyed. In December 1694 he was in Paris. After hearing him, Louis XIV urged him to resign. Saint-Vallier refused. He could not be reproached with any serious offence against either morality or doctrine. Perhaps he had only sinned through excessive zeal! But after all, was it not up to subordinates to obey? Moreover, added Saint-Vallier, his adversaries forgot to mention the positive side of the first six years of his episcopate. Had he not founded the Hôpital Général (1692), begun the construction of a palace for the bishop (1688), installed the Jesuits and Recollets at Montreal (1692), contributed to the creation of a new community of brothers hospitallers [see François Charon de La Barre], visited Newfoundland, made a second trip to Acadia (1689), encouraged his diocesans’ resistance against the English (1690)? In truth, what bishop in France could say more?
Louis XIV asked the advice of his entourage. Madame de Maintenon declined to give an opinion. Fénelon asked to be excused: he was ill informed of the problems of the church in Canada. Bossuet considered that Saint-Vallier was not capable of governing his diocese well, but that if he would not hand in his resignation, he could not be kept in France. That would be contrary to the decisions of the Council of Trent, which made it an obligation for bishops to live in their diocese. Father La Chaise, the king’s confessor and a Jesuit with great influence at court, also hesitated to express an opinion. He knew the prelate’s irritableness. If the king ever allowed him to return to Canada despite the Jesuits’ opposition, would he not seek vengeance by taking all their Indian missions away from them? That would spell the ruin of the Society in North America. Father La Chaise decided to remain neutral.
For two years Saint-Vallier maintained his desire to return to Canada. In 1697 Louis XIV summoned him to Versailles and tried once more to obtain his resignation. Saint-Vallier refused. The king then allowed the bishop to return to Quebec, and Saint-Vallier promised to be “prudent,” that is to say, to moderate his zeal.
In the summer of 1697, then, he returned to Quebec. There followed a few months of calm and peace in the diocese. The bishop took advantage of them to authorize a new Ursuline establishment at Trois-Rivières and to become reconciled with his seminary.
But in 1698 a new conflict broke out with the Jesuits over the missions in the Mississippi country. The quarrel originated on the upper Mississippi, where the Jesuits were preaching the gospel to the Illinois Indians in the triangle formed by the Mississippi, the Ohio, and the Great Lakes. They were alone in this immense region. In 1698 the seminary of Quebec, whose purpose was not only the preparation of future priests but also the conversion of the heathen, asked its bishop for the right to go to evangelize the little village of the Tamaroas not far from the junction of the Missouri and the Mississippi. Saint-Vallier, who wanted henceforth only to be on friendly terms with his seminary, gave his consent. Three priests from the seminary of Quebec, Buisson de Saint-Cosme (1667–1706), Davion, and Montigny*, went off to live among the Tamaroas. But then the Jesuits raised an outcry. Others were coming to set up missions in their territory! The Tamaroas were Illinois, of the same race and language as all the other Illinois. The evangelization of all the Illinois had been entrusted to the Jesuits by Bishop Saint-Vallier himself in letters patent dated 16 Dec. 1690. It was a flagrant injustice.
The Jesuits displayed all the more anxiety since at that date a great dispute in the Far East was setting them against the priests of the Missions Étrangères, on which depended the seminary of Quebec. The Jesuits in China had allowed their new converts to continue rendering certain obeisance to Confucius and celebrating certain ceremonies in honour of their ancestors. The priests of the Missions Étrangères, who were also evangelizing China, had protested against this attitude on the part of the Jesuits; in their view this was a lapse into idolatry and superstition. The dispute had become more acrimonious, with the Jesuits accusing their adversaries of wanting to take their missions in the Far East from them. From China the controversy had spread to Rome, then to Paris, and finally as far as Canada. The Jesuits’ violent reaction in the affair of the Tamaroas is therefore understandable. There were those who wanted to expel them not only from China, but also from America. Firm resistance was called for.
Bishop Saint-Vallier was called upon to settle the conflict. He decided absolutely against the Jesuits. They refused this arbitration. Again an avalanche of contradictory letters descended upon Paris. The king did not know in whose favour to decide, and besides, he could not make anything out of all this uproar over a tiny Indian village lost in the heart of North America. The Missions Étrangères in Paris themselves tended towards a compromise. But Bishop Saint-Vallier was not a man to capitulate, even before the redoubtable Society of Jesus. In 1700 he came to Paris, moved heaven and earth, and finally obtained satisfaction in June 1701. The Tamaroas stayed with the seminary of Quebec. But the Jesuits in Canada were deeply hurt. They denounced the bishop to their general in Rome. One of them even went so far as to describe him as “a terrible scourge which has caused more ravages in the spiritual domain than an enemy army can cause in the temporal. He is a relentless enemy of the Society, who speaks of all Jesuits as scoundrels.” For his part the superior wrote: “Under the sheep’s skin of the shepherd he hides a wolf who is most enraged against our Society.”
Two years after the settlement of the affair of the Tamaroas, while Bishop Saint-Vallier was still in France, a new conflict broke out with the Society of Jesus over this same subject of the missions. This time the theatre was the lower Mississippi. A new colony, Louisiana, had just been founded; who was going to receive the responsibility for evangelizing it? Again the Jesuits and the priests of the Missions Étrangères entered into competition. To avoid all possibility of future discord, the Jesuits demanded a district where their superior would also be the bishop of Quebec’s vicar general. Bishop Saint-Vallier flared up: “Never would he make a Jesuit his vicar general.” The Society then recalled the three Jesuits who had already been sent to Louisiana. The priests of the Missions Étrangères remained there by themselves.
Having been ill treated by Bishop Saint-Vallier, the Jesuits in Canada took their revenge in rather a cruel way. In 1702 and 1703 the bishop had published a Catechism and a Ritual: these works were sombre, harsh, austere in inspiration, representative of the tendency most often called “moral Jansenism.” To cite only one example, the Catechism resolved the formidable problem of the number of the damned and the blessed in the most severe way: “Question: Will the number of the damned be much greater than the number of the blessed? Answer: Yes, the road to perdition is broad, whereas the road which leads to the everlasting life is narrow.” Despite this pessimistic note, Ritual and Catechism were nevertheless perfectly orthodox. Bishop Saint-Vallier, who was still settling his affairs in France, sent some copies of them to Quebec. Father Bouvart, the superior of the Jesuits, read them, leaped to his pen, and wrote a long indictment to prove that the bishop’s works lapsed into Arianism, Pelagianism, Jansenism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism. These accusations were based upon certain sentences into which errors had slipped at the time of printing or which had been awkwardly phrased by Bishop Saint-Vallier. For example, the Ritual stated: “God usually gives his actual graces to those persons who are prepared to receive a sacrament.” In the adverb “usually” Father Bouvart saw a Jansenist affirmation. “Always” was required, or “usually” had to be taken out.
Naturally, the bishop was informed of the Jesuit’s criticism and he complained to the Sorbonne, which condemned Bouvart’s work as “rash, tending to create schism and revolt in the flock against the shepherd, and most injurious to His Excellency the Bishop of Quebec, who is shamefully treated in it.” Despite his indignation, Saint-Vallier was sufficiently shrewd to recognize that if Father Bouvart’s criticism often fell into insolence, certain reproaches were perfectly justified. He hastened to publish a second edition of his Ritual, which had been much more badly treated than the Catechism.
The theological dispute stopped there. It marked the end of this long period of incessant quarrelling which had begun in 1688. Now the bishop was above all to know suffering.
In the month of July 1704 Bishop Saint-Vallier left La Rochelle once more for Canada. He had spent nearly four years in Europe and had even been able to take a trip as far as Rome, where Clement XI had received cordially the first bishop from North America to come to make a visit to the pope. Now the prelate was in a hurry to get back to Quebec and take up again the administration of his diocese.
Alas! At that time the War of the Spanish Succession was raging. France was no longer mistress of the seas. Off the Azores an English fleet attacked the convoy to which Bishop Saint-Vallier’s ship belonged. The convoy was scattered and the ship carrying the bishop surrendered. Saint-Vallier was taken prisoner and was even insulted by a sailor who seized him by the throat to take his pectoral cross. Then, with the 16 ecclesiastics in his company, he was taken to England.
Queen Anne was on the throne. She agreed to release the prelate only if Louis XIV on his side set free another ecclesiastic, the dean of the cathedral of Liège, the Baron de Méan, who had been carried off from his cathedral because of his intrigues with France’s adversaries. Versailles refused to set the Baron de Méan free, first because he was a dangerous man for France’s interests, and then because people were not unhappy to be rid for a time of a bishop who, despite his zeal, had a genius for getting into quarrels. Certain of the prelate’s adversaries even hoped that if his captivity were prolonged, he would tender his resignation.
Saint-Vallier did not resign, but for five years he remained a prisoner in little towns on the outskirts of London. Five years of boredom, of inaction, of vexations on the part of the English, of hopes of liberation that were always dashed, of petty quarrels with his ecclesiastical suite, of physical suffering too. Bishop Saint-Vallier was still young; at the beginning of his captivity he was only 51. But the tumultuous existence he had led had worn him out prematurely. In the winter of 1704–5 he even thought that he would die.
In 1709, however, Louis XIV consented to set free the dean of Liège. The English released Bishop Saint-Vallier, who rushed to Paris and immediately asked to leave again for Canada. The news that he had received from his diocese was bad. Bishop Laval had died in 1708: no one could ordain new priests at Quebec. Yet successive epidemics had reduced the numbers of the clergy in Canada. In addition, reports indicated a marked decline in morality, great licentiousness, much greed among the rich, and hostility towards the church on the part of the colonial authorities.
Abbé Glandelet even wrote to his bishop: “Disorders of unchastity are so frequent and so usual, that no one tries to keep them secret any more. Nothing is so common as to see young girls pregnant, and a distinguished person who knows very well everything that is going on in Quebec told me a few days ago that half of Quebec was an outright b . . . This poor colony greatly needs to have people who would sustain it by their example and their piety. . . . The priests are not backed up . . . and on the contrary the desire seems to be to make them contemptible.”
Without doubt Abbé Glandelet’s pessimistic descriptions were exaggerated, but they strongly impressed the bishop, who was much inclined himself to believe that almost all his diocesans were living in a state of perdition. Only the bishop’s immediate return would make it possible to put a stop to such a flood of vice.
The king did not, however, allow this return, for a renewal of the religious disputes was feared at Versailles. For four years, from 1709 to 1713, Saint-Vallier was forced to remain in France, in what could be called his second exile. He took advantage of it to visit the abbeys which his diocese owned in France, sent some regulations to his clergy, took an interest in the recruiting of new settlers, squabbled with his seminary; above all, he was bored.
In 1711 a long report addressed to the king once more summed up the benefits of Bishop Saint-Vallier’s administration. Louis XIV was not moved. In the spring of 1713, after being on the point of death for a short time during the winter of 1711–12, the bishop sent a new letter, formally reminding Louis XIV of his responsibilities as sovereign; in keeping the bishop in France simply at his own desire, the king was taking upon himself “before God” all the grievous consequences that might result from it. “His Majesty will perhaps be very much surprised one day to see that God will not impute as a fault the fact of having done too much, but that of not having done enough.” This time Louis XIV gave in. Without waiting any longer, Saint-Vallier sailed from La Rochelle and landed at Quebec on 17 Aug. 1713. The whole town was there, eager to see its bishop again after an absence of 13 years. They found him aged, tired, changed in appearance. He was no longer the slender, brisk, haughty young bishop of the early years of his episcopate, but a melancholy old man with heavy, drooping shoulders and thick, flabby jowls. During the winter of 1713–14 he again believed that he was going to die. His entourage urged him to take some rest. His reply was: “Would I not be only too happy to die in the midst of works undertaken for the glory of God?” As soon as he was well again he resumed his usual tasks, but he had lost his vigour of former years and on several occasions he had to take to his bed.
To these physical sufferings were added moral ones. Doubtless, in the last years of his life, the prelate succeeded in reaching a reconciliation with the Jesuits – one of them. Father La Chasse*, even became his personal confessor and pronounced his funeral oration – and in living on good terms with the Sulpicians, the Recollets, and the various communities of nuns. But grudges subsisted between Bishop Saint-Vallier and his seminary. The parish priests, and particularly those born in Canada, did not like their bishop. The canons likewise found fault with the prelate who, for his part, did not have any particular scruples about reproaching them for their fondness for bourgeois comforts and their laziness. Furthermore, relations between the colonial authorities and the bishop’s palace were lacking in cordiality. The governor, Rigaud de Vaudreuil, was accused of infringing the rights of the church. The bishop called him sharply to order, and when the governor died in 1725 he refused to have the passing-bell tolled at the cathedral.
Such intransigence was undoubtedly maladroit. It helped create a sort of moral isolation about the bishop’s old age. In 1713 the king had given him a coadjutor, a Capuchin, Bishop Mornay. He never came to New France, but in October 1727, some months before his death, Bishop Saint-Vallier admitted sadly to Charles de Beauharnois* de La Boische, the new governor-general, that if the coadjutor arrived “everyone would desert him.” A poignant admission of New France’s disaffection for its old bishop!
In the absence of popularity, Saint-Vallier was respected for his austerity, and he was never so austere as during the last 14 years of his life. In 1713 he had given up his palace to go to live at the Hôpital Général, of which he was the founder. His habits were worn; his apartment was but a single room, with whitewashed walls and furnishings amounting only to a bed, some pieces of furniture, a few shelves of books, and some pious engravings. Gradually he even reached the point of selling the personal belongings he had brought from France, his linen, his shoes, his bed-covers, and his bed itself. Twice a week he observed the most rigorous fast, as he did on the eve of all feast-days of the Blessed Virgin and during all of Lent. During the 40 days of Lent he always invited some poor person to share his only meal. Through humility he had also wanted to be the chaplain of the Hôpital Général. Every day he said mass for the community, then, if the duties of his office left him some leisure time, he visited the sick, administered the last sacraments to the dying, celebrated funeral masses himself, and accompanied the dead to the little cemetery of the Hôpital Général.
This austerity was accompanied by untiring activity to assure the success of orthodoxy and morality in his immense American diocese. He was to be seen creating parishes, building churches, condemning Jansenism on several occasions, pursuing in his pastoral letters libertines, drunkards, traffickers in spirits, and tavern-keepers. Despite his advanced age he was interested even in the most distant regions of his diocese, the islands of the Gulf of St Lawrence, Acadia, the post at Detroit, Louisiana. And, no more than in his youth, was he inclined towards indulgence and optimism. In 1722 he deplored the mediocrity of his flock and added that the spirit of faith was weakening and was dying away “almost entirely” in the hearts of his diocesans. Probably a greatly exaggerated severity, but it is encountered again for example in Mother Regnard* Duplessis de Sainte-Hélène, the superior of the Hôtel-Dieu of Quebec. In 1733 she was to pass this curious judgement on her contemporaries: “We are in an age where I fear everything, for corruption is at its peak; we see pitiful things, similar ones are reported to us, I believe that we are close to the last judgement . . . charity has grown cold, and there remains little faith in the world.”
The bishop grew weaker every day. He died on 26 Dec. 1727. He was 74 and had governed the diocese of Quebec for 42 years. One of his last utterances deserves to be quoted, for it epitomizes wonderfully his generosity: “Forget me,” he said to the nuns of the Hôpital Général who were gathered about him, “but do not forget my poor.”
After his death began one of the most famous and picturesque episodes, and one of the least edifying, in the history of the church in Canada [see Boullard, Louis-Eustache Chartier* de Lotbinière, Claude-Thomas Dupuy]. For a year, because of questions of precedence on the day of Bishop Saint-Vallier’s funeral and then because of a problem of jurisdiction over the diocese, the clergy of Quebec was to engage in the fiercest of fights, as were most of the colonial authorities, in particular Dupuy and the Conseil Souverain. It seems as if Bishop Saint-Vallier’s episcopate, which was born in the midst of disputes, could not end otherwise than in a storm.
Such was Bishop Saint-Vallier’s life, a tragic one certainly, stormy and full of suffering. Domineering to the point of despotism, not having received as his share the gift of joy and radiance but, on the contrary, deeply pessimistic and without any indulgence for his contemporaries’ weaknesses, more inclined to teach a God of wrath than a God of charity, being in this too faithful a disciple of the French counter-reformation movement, Bishop Saint-Vallier must himself bear the main responsibility for the commotions of his episcopate. But it would be unfair to judge him solely on his real deficiencies of character and doctrine. One must not forget either the difficulty of the times or the complete lack of flexibility on the part of the bishop’s adversaries. It must above all be stressed that, despite his faults, through his unremitting activity, his piety and austerity, his untiring charity towards the poor, and the breadth of his legislation Bishop Saint-Vallier undoubtedly contributed to the consolidation of the Catholic church in North America.
The manuscript sources are, first, essentially in the ASQ, and numerous series have been consulted: Lettres, Polygraphie, Seminaire, Chapitre, Missions, Évêques, Paroisses. It should be noted particularly that the series Lettres contains a copious correspondence exchanged each year between the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères in Paris and the seminary in Quebec. These letters, which sometimes become quite voluminous – 50, 100, and even 150 pages – contain an accurate and lively picture, sometimes comic, sometimes dramatic, of most of the episodes which marked Bishop Saint-Vallier’s greatly agitated episcopate.
Also valuable are the AAQ, which contain especially copies of documents kept in Paris and Rome, and the AN, particularly Col., C11A, 6 to 52. In addition, the letters to his Canadian correspondents are particularly useful documents; copies of them are in the Municipal Library of Montreal. The Fonds Rochemonteix, kept in the ASJCF, contains copies of the letters in Latin sent by the Jesuits in Canada to their general in Rome and written with a very free pen. In them are to be found curious details concerning the offensive conducted by Bishop Saint-Vallier against the Society of Jesus from 1698 to 1704.
It is impossible to mention all the printed sources. Above all, Bishop Saint-Vallier’s works must be kept in mind: Catéchisme du diocèse de Québec (Paris, 1702); Estat présent de l’Église et de la colonie française dans la Nouvelle-France . . . (Paris, 1688; Québec, 1856 ou 1857); Rituel du diocèse de Québec (Paris, 1703), the first edition has 604 pages and the second, of the same year, 671; Statuts, ordonnances et lettres pastorales (Paris, 1703). There are also the funeral orations delivered at the time of his death: Joachim Fornel, “Éloge funèbre de Mgr de Saint-Vallier,” BRH, XIV (1908), 80–87, 110–21; R. P. de La Chasse, Éloge funèbre de Mgr de Saint-Vallier (Québec, 1927). Finally, certain reports and correspondence of the period: Duplessis de Sainte-Hélène, “Lettres,” NF, II (1926–27), 67–78; III (1927–28), 39–56, 171–74; Juchereau, Annales (Jamet); Étienne Marchand, “Les troubles de l’Église du Canada en 1728,” BRH, III (1897), 117–21, 132–38; Georges Poulet, “Récit simple de ce qu’un religieux bénédictin a souffert au Canada au sujet de la bulle Unigenitus,” APQ Rapport, 1922-23, 276–89; “L’affaire du prie-dieu à Montréal, en 1694,” APQ Rapport, 1923-24, 71–110.
The only studies of Bishop Saint-Vallier’s episcopate are the two books by Gosselin, which are by now out-of-date: Mgr de Saint-Vallier et son temps (Evreux, 1899) and L’Église du Canada, I. The author has written an article: “La vie orageuse et douloureuse de Mgr de Saint-Vallier, deuzième évêque de Québec (1653–1727),” RUL, IX (1954), 90–108, and at present is completing a thesis on Bishop Saint-Vallier’s episcopate. In the absence of a recent synthesis of the life of the bishop of Quebec, there are numerous monographs which permit study of certain episodes in the prelate’s life. In particular may be mentioned: Hector Bibeau, “La pensée mariale de Mgr de Saint-Vallier,” Diplôme des Études Supérieures Mémoire, Université Laval, 1966. Albert Bois, Un grand dauphinois: Mgr Jean-Baptiste de la Croix de Chevrières de Saint-Vallier, évéque de Québec (Domergue, 1942). Amédée Gosselin, “Un épisode de l’histoire du théâtre au Canada,” RSCT, 1st ser., VI (1888), sect.i, 53–72. Monseigneur de Saint-Vallier et l’Hôpital-Général de Québec. Alfred Rambaud, “La querelle du Tartuffe à Paris et à Québec,” RUL, VIII (1954), 421–34. A Canadian priest, Father Plante, is at present completing a study of Bishop Saint-Vallier’s theological thought, which seems to him to have been considerably influenced by the whole movement of moral rigorism born of the Counter-Reformation. [a.r.]
© 1969–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Alfred Rambaud, “LA CROIX DE CHEVRIÈRES DE SAINT-VALLIER, JEAN-BAPTISTE DE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 6, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/la_croix_de_chevrieres_de_saint_vallier_jean_baptiste_de_2E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Alfred Rambaud|
|Title of Article:||LA CROIX DE CHEVRIÈRES DE SAINT-VALLIER, JEAN-BAPTISTE DE|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1969|
|Year of revision:||1982|
|Access Date:||June 6, 2023|