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Diocese of Soissons

Includes the entire Department of Aisne, France

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Soissons, Diocese of (SUESSIONENSIS), includes, with the exception of two hamlets, the entire Department of Aisne. It was reestablished by the Concordat of 1802 as suffragan of Paris, but in 1821 it became suffragan of Reims. It consists of (I) all the ancient Diocese of Soissons, except the civil district of Compiegne, which went to the Diocese of Beauvais; (2) all the Diocese of Laon, except two parishes, which went to Reims; (3) that portion of Vermandois which formerly belonged to the Diocese of Noyon (see Diocese of Beauvais); (4) a few parishes which formerly belonged to Cambrai, Meaux, Troyes, Reims. After a vain attempt made by the unexecuted Concordat of 1817 to reestablish the See of Laon, the bishops of Soissons were authorized by Leo XII (June 13, 1828) to join the title of Laon to that of their own see; by Leo XIII (June 11, 1901) they were further authorized to use the title of St-Quentin, which was formerly the residence of the bishops of Noyon. The territory of Soissons and Laon played an important political part under the Merovingians. After the death of Clovis (511), Soissons was the capital of one of the four kingdoms into which his states were divided. The kingdom of Soissons, which ceased to exist in 558, when Clotaire I reunited all the Frankish states, came into being again in 561 when the death of Clotaire led to the redivision of the territory. It finally disappeared in 613 when the Frankish lands were once more reunited under Clotaire II.

THE SEE OF SOISSIONS. Concerning the traditions that make St. Sixtus and St. Sinicius the earliest apostles of Soissons as envoys of St. Peter, see Archdiocese of Reims. Sts. Crepinus and Crepinianus martyrs (c. 288) are patrons of the diocese. According to Msgr. Duchesne, the establishment of a see at Soissons dates from about 300. Among its bishops are: St. Divitianus (c. 310-20); St. Onesimus (c. 350-61); St. Edibius (e. 431-62); St. Principius (462-505), brother of St. Remi of Reims; St. Lupus (505-35); St. Baudarinus (Baudry) (535-45), whom Clotaire I exiled for seven years to England, where he served as gardener in a monastery; St. Ansericus or Anscher (623-52); St. Drausinus (657-76), founder of the monastery of Notre Dame de Soissons and of the Abbey of Rethondes; St. Adolbertus (677-85); St. Gaudinus (685-707), assassinated by usurers; Rothadius (832-869), famous for his quarrel with Hincmar (q.v.); Riculfus (884-902), whose pastoral issued in 889 is one of the greatest extant treasures of the ecclesiastical literature of the period; St. Arnoul de Pamele (1081-1082), elected through the efforts of Hugues de Die, legate from Gregory VII, and who was disturbed in the possession of his see by two bishops nominated successively by Philip I; Jocelyn de Vierzy (1126-52), who aided in the victory of Innocent II over the anti-pope Anacletus, and wrote an explanation of the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer; Hugues de Champfleury (1159-75), chancellor of Louis VII; Gui de Chateau Porcien (1245-50), who accompanied St. Louis on the Crusade and was killed in Palestine; Languet de Gergy (1715-30), who wrote the life of Mary Alacoque. In 1685 Louis XIV nominated the famous litterateur Huet Bishop of Soissons, but the strained relations existing then between France and Rome prevented him from receiving his Briefs, and he exchanged that see for Avranches in 1689.

THE SEE OF LAON. The Diocese of Laon was evangelized at an uncertain date by St. Beatus; the see was founded in 497 by St. Remi who cut it off from Reims and made his nephew St. Genebaldus bishop. Among the bishops of Laon are: St. Chagnoaldus (c. 620-3), brother of St. Faro, Bishop of Meaux, and of St. Fara; Hincmar (857-76); Adalbero Ascelin (977-1030), driven from his see (981) by the Carlovingian Louis V who accused him of undue intimacy with Emma, widow of Lothaire, and who was afterwards very loyal to the interests of Hugh Capet, to whom he handed over the Carlovingian Charles of Lorraine and Arnoul, Archbishop of Reims. He was the author of a satirical poem addressed to King Robert; Gaudri (1106-12) who held out against the commune movement, and who was slain in a brawl at Laon; Barthelemy de Jura, de Vir, or de Viry (1113-51), who attracted St. Norbert to the diocese; Gautier de Mortagne (1155-74), author of six small theological treatises; Robert Le Coqq (1352-8), who in October, 1356, and March, 1357, after the imprisonment of John II by the English held an important position in the States General, took the side of Stephen Marcel, conspired with him and Charles the Bad, King of Navarre, against the dauphin, the future Charles V and then fled to Aragon, where he became Bishop of Calahorra; Pierre de Montaigut (1371-86), cardinal in 1383; the historian Jean Juvenel des Ursins (1444-9), afterwards Archbishop of Reims; Louis de Bourbon Vendome (1510-52), cardinal in 1517; Cesar d’Estrees (1653-81), cardinal in 1672, was elected to the French Academy, and in Rome was involved in the difficulties between Louis XIV and Innocent XI, Alexander VIII, and Innocent XII; Jean de Rochechouart de Faudoas (1741-77), cardinal in 1761. Louis Seguier, nominated by Henry IV, Bishop of Laon in 1598, refused the nomination to make room for his young nephew Peter de Berulle, afterwards cardinal, and founder of the Oratorians; de Berulle refused the see.

The Bishop of Soissons as senior suffragan of Reims had the privilege during a vacancy of the metropolitan see to replace the archbishop at the ceremony of anointing a King of France. The Bishop of Laon ranked as duke and peer from the twelfth century. As second ecclesiastical peer he had the privilege of holding the ampulla during the anointing of the king. The chapter of Laon was one of the most illustrious of the kingdom. From the twelfth century its members numbered eighty-four; it had to engage in bitter struggles with the communal regime; three popes, Urban IV, Nicholas III, and Clement VI, sixteen cardinals, and more than fifty archbishops and bishops belonged to it. Jacques Pantaloon who became pope as Urban IV was a choir boy, then canon of the cathedral of Laon. He arranged the cartularium of the church of Laon, and was commissioned by Gregory IX to settle the dispute between the chapter and Enguerrand de Coucy. As archdeacon of Laon he assisted, in 1245, at the Council of Lyons. Under the direction of Saint Anselm of Laon (q.v.), appointed by Eugene III to restore theological studies in France, the school in connection with the Laon cathedral drew young men from all parts of Europe.

The Abbey of St-Medard at Soissons, founded in 557 by Clotaire I to receive the body of St. Medard, was looked upon as the chief Benedictine Abbey in France; it held more than two hundred and twenty fiefs. Hilduin, abbot (822-30), in 826 obtained from Eugene II relics of St. Sebastian and St. Gregory the Great; he caused the relics of St. Godard and St. Remi to be transferred to the abbey; he rebuilt the church which was consecrated August 27, 841, in the presence of Charles the Bald and seventy-two prelates. The king bore the body of St. Medard into the new basilica. The church was pulled down but rebuilt and reconsecrated in 1131 by Innocent II, who granted those visiting the church indulgences known as “St. Medard’s pardons”. In this abbey Louis the Pious was imprisoned in 833, and there he under went a public penance. Among the abbots of St. Medard are: St. Arnoul, who in 1081 became Bishop of Soissons; St. Gerard (close of the eleventh century); Cardinal de Bernis, made commendatory abbot of St. Medard in 1756. The Benedictine Abbey of Notre Dame de Soissons was founded in 660 by Ebroin and his wife Leutrude. The Cistercian Abbey of Longpont, founded in 1131, counted among its monks the theologian Pierre Cantor (q.v.), who died in 1197, and Blessed John de Montmirail (1165-1217), who abandoned the court of Philippe-Auguste in order to become a monk. The abbey of St. Vincent at Laon was founded in 580 by Queen Brunehaut. Among its earlier monks were: St. Gobain, who, through love of solitude, retired to a desert place near the Oise and was slain there; St. Chagnoaldus, afterwards Bishop of Laon, who wished to die in his monastery; St. Humbert, first abbot of Maroilles in Hainaut. The abbey adopted the Rule of St. Benedict. It was reformed in 961 by Blessed Malcaleine, a Scotchman, abbot of St. Michael at Thierache, and in 1643 by the Benedictines of St. Maur. Among the abbots of St. Vincent were: St. Gerard (close of the eleventh century), who wrote the history of St. Adelard, abbot of Corbie; Jean de Nouelles (d. 1396), who wrote a history of the world, and began the cartulary of his monastery. The Abbey of St. John at Laon was founded about 650 by St. Salaberga, who built seven churches there; she was its first abbess; St. Austruda (d. 688) succeeded her. In 1128 the abbey became a Benedictine monastery. The Abbey of Nogent sous Coucy was founded in 1076 by Alberic, lord of Coucy. Among its abbots were St. Geoffroy (end of eleventh century) and the historian Guibert de Nogent, who died in 1124 and whose autobiography “De Vita Sua” is one of the most interesting documents of the century. Under the title “Gesta Dei per Francos” he wrote an account of the First Crusade. The Abbey of Cuissy in the Diocese of Laon was founded in 1116 by Blessed Lucas de Roucy, dean of Laon, and followed the rule of Premonstratensians. In the Diocese of Soissons the Premonstratensians had the abbeys: Chartreuve, Valsery, St. Yved de Braine, Villers Cotterets, Val Secret, Vauchretien, Lieurestaure. (See Abbey of Premontre.)

The portion of the ancient Diocese of Noyon within the jurisdiction of the present Diocese of Soissons includes the town, St-Quentin (Augusta Vermanduorum), where St-Quentin was martyred under Diocletian. It was the chief town of a diocese until 532, when St. Medard, the titular, removed the see to Noyon. Abbot Fulrade built the Church of St-Quentin in the eighth century, and Pope Stephen II blessed it (816). From the time of Charles Martel until 771, and again from 844 the abbots of St-Quentin were laymen and counts of Vermandois. During the Middle Ages a distinct type of religious architecture sprang up in the region of Soissons; Eugene Lefevre Pontalis has recently brought out a work dealing with its artistic affiliations. After investigation Canon Bouxin concludes that the cathedral of Laon, as it exists, is not the one consecrated in 1114 and visited by Innocent II in 1132; that was the restored ancient Romanesque building; the present one was built 1150-1225. Louis d’Outremer (936), Robert the Pious (996), Philip I (1059) were anointed in Notre Dame de Laon; in the twelfth century Hermann, Abbot of St. Martin‘s of Tournai, wrote a volume on the miracles of Notre Dame of Laon. The Hotel-Dieu of Laon, once known as Hotellerie Notre Dame, was founded in 1019 by the Laon chapter. The Hotel-Dieu of Chateau Thierry was founded in 1304 by Jeanne, wife of Philip the Fair.

Besides the saints already mentioned, the following are specially honored as connected with the religious history of the diocese: St. Montanus, hermit, who foretold the birth of St. Remi (fifth century); St. Marculfus, Abbot of Nanteuil (sixth century) in the Diocese of Coutances, whose relics, transferred to Corbeny in the Diocese of Laon, were visited by the kings of France who, after their anointing at Reims, were wont to go to the tomb of St. Marculfus to cure the king’s evil (see Archdiocese of Reims); St. Sigrada, mother of St. Leodagarius, exiled by Ebroin to the monastery of Notre Dame at Soissons (seventh century); St. Hunegundis, a nun from the monastery of Homblieres (d. c. 690); St. Grimonia, an Irishwoman martyred at La Chapelle (date uncertam); St. Boetianus (Bosan), husband of St. Salaberga, and St. Balduinus, martyr, his son (seventh century); St. Voel, or Vodoalus, hermit (d. c. 720). Among the natives of the diocese may be mentioned: Pierre Ramus (1515-72), Racine (1639-99), La Fontaine (1621-95), Dom Luc d’Achery (1609-85), Charlevoix (1683-1761), Camille Desmoulins (1760-1794). The chief pilgrimages are: Notre Dame de Liesse, a shrine founded in the thirteenth century, and replaced at the end of the fourteenth century by the present church; Notre Dame de Paix at Fieulaine, which dates back to 1660. Before the application of the Congregations Law (1901), there were in the Diocese of Soissons Jesuits, Trinitarians, and several teaching congregations of brothers. Some congregations of women had their origin in the diocese: the Nursing and Teaching Sisters of the Child Jesus, with mother-house at Soissons, founded in 1714 by Madame Brulard de Genlis; the Sisters of Notre Dame de Bon Secours, a nursing and teaching order, founded in 1806, with mother-house at Charly; Sisters of Notre Dame, nursing and teaching order, with mother-house at St-Erme, founded in 1820 by the Abbe Chretien; the Franciscan nuns of the Sacred Heart, a nursing order founded in 1867, with mother-house at St-Quentin; the servants of the Heart of Jesus, of whom there are two branches, the “Marys” who lead a contemplative life and the “Marthas” who nurse the sick; they were founded at Strasburg in 1867 and brought to St-Quentin after the war of 1870-1.

At the close of the nineteenth century the religious congregations in the diocese had charge of 40 nurseries, 2 deaf and dumb schools, 1 orphanage for boys, 14 for girls, 6 work bureaus, 1 home for the poor, 29 hospitals, 10 district nursing homes, 1 retreat house, and 1 lunatic asylum. In 1905, when the Concordat was broken, there were in the Diocese of Soissons: 535,583 inhabitants, 39 parishes, 538 auxiliary parishes, and 15 curacies recognized by the State.


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