Friday, 9 March 2012

St. Patrice de Rouen

The current generation of scholars are still debating the claims of his hagiographers that Saint Patrick spent some time in Gaul, coming into contact with such luminaries of the Church as Martin of Tours, Hilary of Arles and Germanus of Auxerre. The French connection was a thesis advanced with much enthusiasm by earlier writers, you can find a good example of it in F.R. Montgomery Hitchcock's 1915 work, Saint Patrick and his Gallic Friends. Below is an 1889 paper on a church dedicated to Saint Patrick in Rouen which describes some of the scenes from Patrician hagiography that are featured in the church's rare painted-glass windows. I only regret that the paper was not illustrated and that the author was unable to say when the church was built or who was responsible for its dedication to Ireland's patron:



[Read November 11, 1889.]

The Parish Church of St. Patrice is situated in an elevated and northern part of the city of Rouen, in the centre of a quiet and pleasant quarter, and near the Square de Solferino, an open space in front of the new Picture Gallery. When it was built and by whom there is no record, nor is there any tradition that the Irish Apostle visited Rouen. We know that on his return from captivity he travelled from Brotgalum to Trajectus, which is found on an ancient map of Gaul on the River Dordogne, about 60 miles to the east of Burdigala, the modern Bordeaux.

In 1228, on the feast of St. Lawrence, the Church of St. Patrice was burned. In 1374 the Archbishop Phillipe d'Alenqon founded in St. Patrice the Confraternity of the Passion. On every Holy Thursday the Confraternity, recruited from the ranks of the most respectable citizens, assembled in the church and formed a solemn procession, which was preceded by a band of children carrying the implements of the Passion, and followed by twelve poor men clothed at the expense of the Confraternity. After service and sermon, three of the principal members of the Confraternity washed the feet of the poor men, and subsequently entertained them — whilst each child that took part in the procession received five sous, a small loaf, and a herring.

In 1442 the Confraternity performed a Passion Play in the Cimitière des Jacobins and in 1498 a Passion Play was acted in the church.

In 1535 the church was rebuilt on the original site, but on a larger scale. A Literary Society was founded in St. Patrice in 1543, with the object of encouraging the composition of verses and sonnets in  commemoration of the death of Christ. Again, in 1592, the church was in the hands of the reconstructor, and in 1683 it was greatly damaged by a terrific storm.

The church is a very interesting edifice to visit, although it offers but a poor idea of late decorated Gothic architecture; considering it in its entirety, it is a very regular building, but of mediocre proportions.

It has neither choir nor transepts. The tower is romanesqne, surmounted by a carillon. There are but two entrances to it— one in Rue St. Patrice now blocked up, and the other in Rue Neuve St. Patrice. Over this entrance are two spirited groups, carved in Caen stone; the upper group represents Logaire mac Noill's druid attempting to poison the Apostle, and the lower, the baptism of Oengus mac Natfraich. The Apostle is represented in cope and jewelled mitre, the soldiers in Norman armour, and the laity in the costume of that period. The vaulted roof is supported by two rows of pillars, which divide the church into nave and aisles. The high altar, which is covered by a valdacchino, stands in a shallow apex at the eastern end of the nave, on either side of which are two altars — one dedicated to the B.V.M. and the other to St. Joseph. The beautiful sculptured woodwork which embellishes these altars came from the suppressed Church of St. Eloi. A peculiarity in St. Patrice is, that it has no Communion-rail, and that a portion of the nave has been railed off and fitted with sedilia. The pulpit, which is erected on the Gospel side of the altar, is not devoid of artistic merit; it was brought from the ruined Church of St. Lo; and the organ, which passed in the sixteenth century as one of the first in France, is encased in richly-carved oak.

Upon entering St. Patrice the visitor's attention is at once drawn to the rare painted-glass windows, dating from the sixteenth century, the period at which painting on glass was in full perfection.

The window dedicated to St. Patrick is immediately behind the pulpit. The upper panels illustrate three of his miracles, thus described in the Tripartite Life, edited by Whitley Stokes:

“Now, when the holy Patrick was born, he was taken to the blind, flat-faced son to be baptised. Gornias was the priest's name, and there was no water by him wherewith he could perform the baptism: so with the infant's hand he made the sign of the Cross over the earth, and a well of water broke thereout. Gornias washed his face (with that water) and his eyes were opened, and he read the (order of) Baptism: he who had never learned letters." — Page 9.


"At another time, as Patrick was playing among his foster-brothers in the season of winter and cold especially, he gathered his lapful of icicles, and carried them home to his foster-mother. Then said his foster-mother to him: ‘To bring a faggot of firewood, that we might warm ourselves thereat, were better for us than what thou hast brought.' Then he said to his foster-mother: 'Believe that it is competent to God that even icicles should flame like firewood;' and, quicker than speech, when the icicles were set on fire, and when he breathed under it, they flamed forthwith like firewood, and God's name and Patrick's were magnified by that miracle." — Page 11.

Underneath is an incomplete inscription in black letter : —

"... baptesme sort une fontaine veux des glaçons ur…"

At the top of the window the saint is represented as a young lad carried off into slavery, and underneath the panel is an inscription:

"Ceulx d'Ibernie font un effort contre la Bretagne ou S Patrix est pris prison."

To the right and beneath the above is a panel illustrating:

“When Patrick was biding in the wilderness, he heard the voice of the angel saying to him: 'Ready is the ship whereon thou mayest fare to Italy to learn the Scriptures.' Said Patrick: 'I have not the price (of my ransom) in gold for my lord, and without that he will not allow me (to leave him).' The angel said to him: 'Mind thou the herd to-day, and thou wilt see a boar uprooting the earth, and he will bring a mass of gold thereout, and give thou (that gold) to thy lord for thy head, and fare forth from this land to loam wisdom and, godliness.' Patrick watched the boar, and found the mass of gold, and gave it for his head to his lord, who consented to let him go, for he was glad of the gold." — The Lebar Brecc, Homily on St. Patrick, W.S., p. 443.

And underneath is an inscription, of which the following words alone remain: —

“…garder les pourceaulx fange.

…trésor fouillé par iceulx."

Beneath this panel is a representation of St. Patrick's visit to Sescnen, the father of Benignus:

“(He sailed) along the sea to Magh Breg (and stopped at Inver Colptha), and he found there great welcome in that place from a certain Franklin who both believed in him with all his household and was baptized, wherefore with him he (Patrick) left his boat. A little boy that was biding in the house gave love to Patrick, and took hold of his leg as he was going into the chariot, and his family surrendered him to Patrick, and Patrick takes him with him, and this is Benen, Patrick's gillie." — The Lebar Brecc, Homily on St. Patrick, W.S., 455.

Underneath is the inscription: —

“Retournant de … son hoste le fils duquel convertit."

The pedigree of Benignus is thus given among the saints' pedigrees in the Book of Lecan:

“Benen, son of Sescnen, psalmist to St. Patrick, of the Cianachta of Glenn Gemhin, of the race of Tadhg, son of Cian, son of Oilill Ollum."

Lower down in the centre is a representation of the attempt of the Druid Lucat-Moel to poison the saint:  

“Patrick is then called to the king's couch that he might eat food. Howbeit Patrick refused not that. The wizard Lucat-Moel put a drop of poison into Patrick's cruse, and gave it into Patrick's hand. But Patrick blessed the cruse and inverted the vessel and the poison fell thereout, and not even a little of the ale fell, and Patrick afterwards drank the ale." — The Lehar Brecc, Homily on St. Patrick, W.S., p. 450.

Then follows an illustration of another miracle : —

“Then three of the Ui Meith Mendait Tire stole (and ate) one of the two goats that used to carry water for Patrick, and came to swear a lie. It bleated from the bellies of the three. ‘My God's doom,' said Patrick, ‘the goat himself hides not the stead wherein he is.'" — The Lehar Brecc Homily on St. Patrick, W.S., p. 467.

The inscription beneath is : —

" Le venim ne luy peult nuire et fait qu'un laron
Beele ainsi que la brevis qu'el avoit dérobée."

To the left of the preceding is depicted Locgair’s druid, Lucat-mael, challenging the saint to work miracles:

“Thereafter the hosts fared forth out of Tara. Then said the wizard: 'Let us work miracles together that we may know which of us is the stronger.' 'So be it done’ said Patrick. Then the wizard brought snow over the plain till it reached men's shoulders. Dixit Patricius to him: 'Put it away if thou canst.' Dixit
magnus: ' I cannot till the same time to-morrow.' 'By my debroth (that is, by my God of judgment),' saith Patrick, ‘it is in evil thy power lieth, and nowise in good.' Patrick blessed the plain, and the snow melted at once.

“The wizard invoked demons, and over the plain he brought darkness that could be felt, and trembling and terror seized everyone. Dixit Patricius: ‘Take away the darkness if thou canst.' The wizard replied: 'I cannot till the same time to-morrow.' Patrick blessed the plain, and the darkness at once departed, and the sun shone forth. . . . All who were there gave thanks to God and to Patrick." — Lebar Brecc, Homily on St. Patrick, W.S., p. 461.

The inscription beneath is:

“Le temps nebuleux et la terre couverte de Nèges et en un instant descouverte et la terre fertille."

To the right of the above is given the baptism of King Oengus mac Natfraich:

“Patrick passed afterwards by Belach Gabrain into the province of Munster, and preached to the territories and to the churches, so that they believed and were baptised and he blessed them, and with them he left priests instructing (them) and practising godliness. When he reached Maghfemin, he was received by Oengus, son of Natfraich, King of Munster. Oengus made him great welcome, and brought him to his house to Cashel. Patrick preached to him. The hinder end of his crozier went through his foot and wounded it greatly. Patrick said: 'Why didst thou not protect thyself?' 'Methought,' saith Oengus, 'that it was a rite of religion.' Said Patrick: ' Blood shall not be shed in this place from to-day to doom; and of all those that shall succeed thee but one king shall be slain.' " — Lebar Brecc, Homily on St. Patrick, W.S., p. 470.

The inscription beneath is: —

" Mict son baston pastoral pour pra . . . er
. . . et le pied d'un capitaine et le . . . rist."

In the centre of the window St. Patrick's figure is of larger proportions than in any other panel. He is depicted in cope and mitre, and wearing on his shoulders the pallium, received, according to the Bollandists, from Leo the Great in 444, and carrying in his right hand an Archbishop's crozier. In front of the prelate are a number of venomous reptiles which he is driving before him, and from above the Almighty is represented blessing his mission. Below is an incomplete inscription:

" II chassa (d'Ib)ernie les
. . . bestes."

I failed to find any confirmation of St. Patrick having been invested with the pallium. The Annals of Ulster under the year 441 merely record: “Leo being ordained the 41st bishop of the Roman Church, the faith of Patrick the bishop was approved." Lastly, to the left is portrayed the saint's fast, and his descent from Croagh Patrick:

“Thereafter Patrick gat him into the wilderness, that is, to Cruachan Aigli, after the mayner of Moses, and Ellas, and Christ. And for forty days and forty nights he fasted in that place, having four stones about him and a stone under him, even as Moses fasted on Mount Sinai when the Law was delivered unto him.
For they, Moses and Patrick, were alike in many ways. One hundred and twenty years was the age of them both. Each was a leader of people. Forty nights on mountains they fasted, and the burial places of them both are uncertain." — Lebar Brecc, Homily on St. Patrick, W.S., p. 475.

And his descent from Croagh Patrick, when he is met by a crowd, and in order to emphasise his preachings by a miracle, he struck the ground with his pastoral staff, and thereupon a deep chasm was formed, which is represented on the window as filled with flames. The inscription is:

“Luy priant la terre s'ouvre que l’on
Appelle le purgatoire Sainct Patrice.

There are other fine windows in this church, depicting — The Torments of Job; Three Episodes in the Life of Abraham; The Salutation; The Visitation; The Annunciation; The Adoration; The Virgin and Child; The Infant Saviour bearing in His hand the Terrestrial Globe; St. John; St. James; The Woman Accused of Adultery. Three windows contain the insignia of the Passion; another portrays Mater Dolorosa; and the three windows over the high altar represent the Passion, Death, and Resurrection. The Golden Legend of St. Eustach, and the Life of St. Louis are also depicted; and a window presented in the year 1540 by the Confraternity of St. Fiacre is still intact. These windows suffered more or less from the storm which burst over Rouen in 1683. They were repaired in 1683, 1726, 1727, and 1765 by the Le Viel family, one of whom wrote l’Art ds la Peinture sur verre.

In 1839 the Government, Louis Philippe being then on the throne, at the request of the Prefect Baron Dupont-Delporte, erected a handsome stained-glass window in this church, illustrating the four principal events in the life of St. John the Baptist.

St Patrice is also adorned by several fine pictures. — The Apostles Leaving the Temple; a St. Justine, respectively attributed to Poussin and Mignard; a Crucifixion, by Bassano; and a St. Michael, by Hyacinth Langlois.

I am indebted to Canon Cayez, the venerable Curé of St. Patrice for his deciphering the black-letter inscriptions on the window dedicated to our National Saint, and for photographs of the interior and exterior of his church.

Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 3rd series, Vol. I (1891), 326-332.

Content Copyright © Trias Thaumaturga 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment