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Diocese of Le Puy

Comprises the whole Department of Haute Loire, and is a suffragan of Bourges, France

Le Puy, DIOCESE of (ANICIENSIS), comprises the whole Department of Haute Loire, and is a suffragan of Bourges. The territory of the ancient Diocese of Le Puy, suppressed by the Concordat of 1801, was united with the Diocese of Saint-Flour, and became a diocese again in 1823. The district of Brioude, which had belonged to the Diocese of Saint-Flour under the old regime, was thenceforward included in the new Diocese of Puy.

The Martyrology of Ado and the first legend of St. Front of Perigueux (written perhaps in the middle of the tenth century, by Gauzbert, chorepiscopus of Limoges) speak of a certain priest named George who was brought to life by the touch of St. Peter’s staff, and who accompanied St. Front, St. Peter’s missionary and first Bishop of Perigueux. A legend of St. George, the origin of which, according to Duchesne, is not earlier than the eleventh century, makes that saint one of the seventy-two disciples, and tells how he founded the Church of Civitas Vetula in the County of Le Velay, and how, at the request of St. Martial, he caused an altar to the Blessed Virgin to be erected on Mont Anis (Mons Anicius). After St. George, certain local traditions of very late origin point to Sts. Macarius, Marcellinus, Roricius, Eusebius, Paulianus, and Vosy (Evodius) as bishops of Le Puy. It must have been from St. Paulianus that the town of Ruessium, now St. Paulien, received its name; and it was probably St. Vosy who completed the church of Our Lady of Le Puy at Anicium and transferred the episcopal see from Ruessium to Anicium. St. Vosy was apprised in a vision that the angels themselves had dedicated the cathedral to the Blessed Virgin, whence the epithet Angelic given to the cathedral of Le Puy. It is impossible to say whether this St. Evodius is the same who signed the decrees of the Council of Valence in 374. Neither can it be affirmed that St. Benignus, who in the seventh century founded a hospital at the gates of the basilica, and St. Agrevius, the seventh-century martyr from whom the town of Saint-Agreve Chimiacum took its name, were really bishops. Duchesne thinks that the chronology of these early bishops rests on very little evidence and that very ill supported by documents; before the tenth century only six individuals appear of whom it can be said with certainty that they were bishops of Le Puy. The first of these, Scutarius, the legendary architect of the first cathedral, dates, if we may trust the inscription which bears his name, from the end of the fourth century.

Among the bishops of Le Puy are mentioned: Adhemar of Monteil (1087-1100), author of the ancient antiphon, “Salve Regina”, whom Urban II, coming to Le Puy in 1095 to preach the Crusade, appointed his legate, and who died under the walls of Antioch; Bertrand of Chalencon (1200-13), who himself led the soldiers of his province against the Albigenses under the walls of Beziers; Guy III Foulques (1257-59), who became pope as Clement IV; the theologian Durandus of Saint-Pourgain (1318-26); Le-‘franc de Pompignan (1733-74), the great antagonist of the philosophes; De Bonald (1823-39), afterwards Archbishop of Lyons.

Legend traces the origin of the pilgrimage of Le Puy to an apparition of the Blessed Virgin to a sick widow whom St. Martial had converted. No French pilgrimage was more frequented in the Middle Ages. Charlemagne came twice, in 772 and 800; there is a legend that in 772 he established a foundation at the cathedral for ten poor canons (chanoines de pauperie), and he chose Le Puy, with Aachen and Saint-Gilles, as a center for the collection of Peter’s Pence. Charles the Bald visited Le Puy in 877, Eudes in 892, Robert in 1029, Philip Augustus in 1183. Louis IX met the King of Aragon there in 1245; and in 1254 passing through Le Puy on his return from the Holy Land, he gave to the cathedral an ebony image of the Blessed Virgin clothed in gold brocade. After him, Le Puy was visited by Philip the Bold in 1282, by Philip the ‘Fair in 1285, by Charles VI in 1394, by Charles VII in 1420, and by the mother of Blessed Joan of Arc in 1429. Louis XI made the pilgrimage in 1436 and 1475, and in 1476 halted three leagues from the city: and went to the cathedral barefooted. Charles VIII visited it in 1495, Francis I in 1533. Theodulph, ‘Bishop of Orleans, brought to Our Lady of Le Puy, as an ex-voto for his deliverance, a magnificent Bible, the letters of which were made of plates of gold and silver, which he had himself put together, about 820, while in prison at Angers. St. Mayeul, St. Odilon, St. Robert, St. Hugh of Grenoble, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Dominic, St. Vincent Ferrer, St. John Francis Regis were pilgrims to Le Puy.

The Church of Le Puy received, on account of its great dignity and fame, innumerable temporal and spiritual favors. Concessions made in 919 by William the Young, Count of Auvergne and Le Velay, and in 923 by King Raoul, gave it sovereignty over the whole population of the town (bourg) of Anis, a population which soon amounted to 30,000 souls. In 999, Sylvester II consecrated his friend Theodard, a monk of Aurillac, Bishop of Le Puy, to replace Stephen of Gevaudan, whom his uncle Guy, Bishop of Le Puy, had in his lifetime, designated to be his successor, and whom a Roman council had excommunicated. Sylvester II exempted Theodard from all metropolitan jurisdiction, a privilege which Leo IX confirmed to the Bishops of Le Puy, also granting them the right, until then reserved to archbishops exclusively, of wearing the pallium. “Nowhere”, he said in his Bull, “does the Blessed Virgin receive a more special and more filial worship.” It was from Le Puy that Urban II dated (August 15, 1095) the Letters Apostolic convoking the Council of Clermont, and it was a canon of Le Puy, Raymond d’Aiguilles, chaplain to the Count of Toulouse, who wrote the history of the crusade. Gelasius II, Callistus II, Innocent II, and Alexander III visited Le Puy to pray, and with the visit of one of these popes must be connected the origin of the great jubilee which is granted to Our Lady of Le Puy whenever Good Friday falls on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation. It is supposed that this jubilee was instituted by Callistus II, who passed through Le Puy, in April, 1119, or by Alexander III, who was there in August, 1162, and June, 1165, or by Clement IV, who had been Bishop of Le Puy. The first jubilee historically known took place in 1407, and in 1418 the chroniclers mention a Bull of Martin V prolonging the duration of the jubilee. It took place three times in the nineteenth century—in 1842, 1853, and 1864—and will take place again in 1910. Lastly, during the Middle Ages, everyone who had made the pilgrimage to Le Puy had the privilege of making a will in extremis with only two witnesses instead of seven.

Honored with such prerogatives as these, the Church of Le Puy assumed a sort of primacy in respect to most of the Churches of France, and even of Christendom. This primacy manifested itself practically in a right to beg, established with the authorization of the Holy See, in virtue of which the chapter of Le Puy levied a veritable tax upon almost all the Christian countries to support its hospital of Notre-Dame. In Catalonia this droit de quete, recognized by the Spanish Crown, was so thoroughly established that the chapter had its collectors permanently installed in that country. A famous “fraternity” existed between the chapter of Le Puy and that of Gerona in Catalonia. The efforts of M. Rochet to establish his contention, that this “fraternity” dated from the time of Charlemagne, have been fruitless; M. Coulet has proved that the earliest document in which it is mentioned dates only from 1470, and he supposes that at this date the chapter of Gerona, in order to escape the financial thraldom which bound it, like so many other Catalonian Churches, to the chapter of Le Puy, alleged its “fraternity” involving its. equality—with the Church of Le Puy. In 1479 and in 1481 Pierre Bouvier, a canon of Le Puy, came to Gerona, when the canons invoked against him certain legends according to which Charlemagne had taken Gerona, rebuilt its cathedral, given it a canon of Le Puy for a bishop, and established a fraternity between the chapters of Gerona and Le Puy. In support of these legends they appealed to the Office which they chanted for the feast of Charlemagne—an Office, dating from 1345, but in which they had recently inserted these tales of the Church of Le Puy. In 1484 Sixtus IV prohibited the use of this Office, whereupon there appeared at Gerona the “Tractatus de captione Gerunde”, which reaffirmed the Gerona legends about the fraternity with Le Puy. Down to the last days of the old regime the two chapters frequently exchanged courtesies; canons of Le Puy passing through Gerona and canons of Gerona passing through Le Puy enjoyed special privileges. In 1883 the removal by the Bishop of Gerona of the statue of Charlemagne, which stood in that cathedral, marked the definitive collapse of the whole fabric of legends out of which the hermandad between Le Puy and Gerona had grown.

The statue of Our Lady of Le Puy and the other treasures escaped the pillage of the Middle Ages. The roving banditti were victoriously dispersed, in 1180, by the Confraternity of the Chaperons (Hooded Cloaks) founded at the suggestion of a canon of le Puy. In 1562 and 1563 Le Puy was successfully defended against the Huguenots by priests and religious armed with cuirasses and arquebusses. But in 1793 the statue was torn from its shrine and burned in the public square. Pere de Ravignan, in 1846, and the Abbe Combalot, in 1850, were inspired with the idea of a great monument to the Blessed Virgin on the Rocher Corneille. Napoleon III placed at the disposal of Bishop Morlhon 213 pieces of artillery taken by Pelissier at Sebastopol, and the colossal statue of “Notre-Dame de France” cast from the iron of these guns, amounting in weight to 150,000 kilograms, or more than 330,000 lbs. avoirdupois, was dedicated September 12, 1860.

The saints specially venerated in the diocese are: St. Domninus, martyr, whose body is preserved in the cathedral; St. Julian of Brioude, martyr in 304, and his companion, St. Ferreol; St. Calminius (Carmery), Duke of Auvergne, who prompted the foundation of the Abbey of Le Monastier, and St. Eudes, first abbot (end of the sixth century); St. Theofredus (Chaffre), Abbot of Le Monastier and martyr under the Saracens (c. 735); St. Mayeul, Abbot of Cluny, who, in the second half of the tenth century, cured a blind man at the gates of Le Puy, and whose name was given, in the fourteenth century, to the university in which the clergy made their studies; St. Odilon, Abbot of Cluny (962-1049), who embraced the life of a regular canon in the monastery of St. Julien de Brioude; St. Robert d’Aurillac (d. 1067), who founded the monastery of Chaise Dieu in the Brioude district; St. Peter Chavanon (d. 1080), a canon regular, founder and first provost of the Abbey of Pebrac. At the age of eighteen M. Olier, afterwards the founder of Saint-Sulpice, was Abbot in commendam of Pebrac and, in 1626, was an “honorary count-canon of the chapter of St. Julien de Brioude”. We may mention as natives of this diocese: the Benedictine, Hugues Lanthenas (1634-1701), who edited the works of St. Bernard and St. Anselm, and was the historian of the Abbey of Vendome; the Benedictine, Jacques Boyer, joint author of “Gallia Christiana” (q.v.); Cardinal de Polignac (d. 1741), author of the “Antilucretius”.

The cathedral of Le Puy, which forms the highest point of the city, rising from the foot of the Rocher Corneille, exhibits architecture of every period from the fifth century to the fifteenth. Formerly, the visitor passed through a porch standing well out from the building and, after descending beneath the pavement, emerged by a stairway in front of the high altar; the principal stairway is now covered by a bold vaulting which serves as base for one half of the church. The architectural effect is incredibly audacious and picturesque. The four galleries of the cloister were constructed during a period extending from the Carlovingian epoch to the twelfth century. The Benedictine monastery of the Chaise Dieu united in 1640 to the Congregation of St-Maur, still stands, with the fortifications which Abbot de Chanac caused to be built between 1378 and 1420, and the church, rebuilt in the fourteenth century by Clement VI, who had made his studies here, and by Gregory XI, his nephew. This church contains the tomb of Clement VI. The fine church of S. Julien de Brioude, in florid Byzantine style, dates from the eleventh or twelfth century. Besides the great pilgrimage of be Puy, we may mention those of Notre-Dame de Pradelles, at Pradelles, a pilgrimage dating from 1512; of Notre-Dame d’Auteyrac, at Sorlhac, which was very popular before the Revolution; of Notre-Dame Trouvee, at Lavoute-Chilhac.

Before the passage of the Law of Associations (1901) there were at Le Puy, Jesuits, Franciscans, Religious of St. Mary of the Assumption, and Little Brothers of Mary. Two important congregations of men originated and had their motherhouse, in the diocese. Of these the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, founded in 1821 with the object of giving commercial instruction, have their motherhouse at Paradis and important boarding-schools at Lyons, as well as in the United States (chiefly Baie Saint-Louis) and in Canada (chiefly at Athabaskaville). The Laborer Brothers, or Farmer Brothers, of St. John Francis Regis were founded in 1850, by Pere de Bussy, a Jesuit, and possess seven model farms for the education of poor children. A certain number of congregations of women originated in the diocese. The Dominicans of Mere Agnes, who taught and served as sick nurses and housekeepers, were founded in 1221; the teaching Sisters of Notre-Dame, in 1618; the religious of St. Charles, teachers and nurses, in 1624, by Just de Serres, Bishop of be Puy; the hospital and teaching Sisters of St. Joseph, in 1650, by Pere Medaille, who were the first congregation placed under the patronage of St. Joseph; the contemplative religious of the Visitation of St. Mary-were founded in 1659; those of the Instruction of the Infant Jesus, for teaching, in 1667,. by the celebrated Sulpician Tronson, parish priest of St. Georges, and his penitent, Mlle Martel; the Sisters of the Cross, for hospital service and teaching, in 1673.

At the end of the nineteenth century the religious congregations possessed in the Diocese of be Puy: 69 infant schools (ecoles maternelles), 2 schools for deaf mutes, 2 orphanages for boys, 6 orphanages for girls, 1 refuge for penitent women, 20 hospitals or hospices, 1 lunatic asylum, 3 old men’s homes, 57 houses of religious women consecrated to the care of the sick at home. In 1905 (end of the Concordat period) the diocese had 314,058 inhabitants, 33 parishes, 243 auxiliary parishes (succursales), and 195 state-paid vicariates.


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