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French Abbey and Order

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Grandmont, Abbey and Order of, in the department of Hte-Vienne, France. The exact date of the foundation of the order is very uncertain. The traditional story involves serious chronological difficulties, and is based on a Bull of Gregory VII now shown to be a forgery (see Marten and Durand, Ampl. Coll., VI, Praef.). The founder, St. Stephen, is said to have settled in the valley of Muret near Limoges in 1076, but Marten considers that the origin of the order cannot be placed earlier than about 1100. The Order of Grandmont has been claimed by both Benedictines and Canons Regular as a branch of their respective institutes, although the Grandmontines always maintained that they formed a distinct order. Martene considers that St. Stephen modeled his institute upon the life of the Carthusians. The so called “Rule of St. Stephen” was compiled at the request of the fourth prior, Etienne de Liciac, by Hugh of Lacerta, and embodies the customs of Grandmont some 20 or 30 years after St. Stephen’s death. The founder himself left no authentic writings. His maxim was: “There is no rule save the Gospel of Christ”; as this was the basis of all rules, to practice its morality was to fulfill all the duties of a good religious. The early Grandmontines were noted for their extreme austerity. Poverty was most strictly observed; the rule forbade the possession of lands, cattle, revenue, or impropriate churches. Begging was only permitted when there was no food in the house, and even then the local bishop was first to be informed of their state. The law of silence was also very severe, as were the rules of fasting and abstinence.

After the founder’s death in 1124 his disciples migrated to the neighboring rocky desert of Grandmont, owing to a dispute about the ownership of Muret. Under Etienne de Liciac the order spread rapidly, and in 1170 numbered sixty monasteries, mostly in Aquitaine, Anjou, and Normandy. Under his successor, Bernard de Boschiac, eighty new foundations were made, and the “bons hommes” were to be found in nearly every diocese of France. The influence of the Grandmontines reached its height in the twelfth century. Their holy austerity roused the admiration of all beholders, and the kings of England and France vied with one another in bestowing favors upon them. Henry II of England had the monastery rebuilt, and St. Louis erected a Grandmontine house at Vincennes. The golden age of Grandmont however lasted only some sixty years after the founder’s death. From that time onwards the history of the order is an almost uninterrupted series of disputes. Even in the twelfth century the ill-defined position of the lay brothers caused troubles. They were far more numerous than the choir-monks, and were given entire control of all temporalities in order that the latter might be entirely free to carry on their spiritual duties. Gradual relaxation of the rules of poverty led to great possessions, and thus increased the importance of the lay brothers, who now claimed equality with the choir monks. This led to scandalous scenes. In 1185 the lay brothers at Grandmont rose in open revolt, expelled Prior Guillaume de Trahinac with 200 of the religious, and set up an intruder. The political situation embittered these dissensions, the order being divided into two parties, French and English. Successive popes tried to restore peace, but in vain. In 1219 the prior of Grandmont and forty monks were again expelled by the rebellious lay brothers. In 1244 the papal delegates advised a union of the order with the Cistercians as a means of ending the disputes. This threat and the expulsion of a large number of monks produced a certain degree of peace. Numbers, however, declined; about 1150 the order had over 1200 members, but towards the beginning of the fourteenth century only 800. Moreover, a relaxation of the rule (1224) led finally to the cessation of all observance.

In 1317 John XXII, sometimes said to have been a Grandmontine monk, issued the Bull “Exigente debito” to save the order from complete destruction. Its organization was altered and certain mitigations were approved. The number of houses was reduced from 149 to 39. The prior of Grandmont was made an abbot, and the superiors of the dependent houses, who had hitherto been known as “Correctors”, were for the future to bear the title of Prior. The Abbot of Grandmont was to be elected by his own community, and not, as before, by the deputies of the whole order. A general chapter, to be attended by the prior and one monk from each dependent house, was to be held annually. These vigorous measures brought about a slight recovery, but, in spite of the vigilance of the Holy See and the good administration of the first abbots, the improvement was of short duration. The order suffered severely during the Hundred Years War. From 1471 till 1579 Grandmont was held by commendatory abbots; shortly after the latter date there were only eight monks in the monastery. The Huguenots seized the abbey on one occasion, but were expelled by Abbot Rigaud de Lavaur in 1604. In 1643 Abbot Georges Barny (1635-1654) held a general chapter, the first for 134 years, at which Dom Charles Fremon was authorized to found the Strict Observance of the Order of Grandmont. This new branch, which remained under the jurisdiction of the abbot, was conspicuous for the primitive austerity of its observance, but never numbered more than eight houses. By the beginning of the eighteenth century the two Observances together numbered only about 150 members, but the quarrles were frequent and as bitter as ever. Grandmont was one of the first victims of the Co mission des Reguliers. The religious of the Strict THOMAS F. MEEHAN. Observance were dispersed in 1780, but the struggle for existence was prolonged till 1787, when the last two monks were expelled from the motherhouse. The monastery was finally destroyed at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and nothing but a few fragments of wall now remains.

Grandmont never produced any writers of importance. Apart from a number of lives of St. Stephen, the most important work issuing from Grandmont was Gerard Ithier’s treatise “De institutione novitiorum”—a favorite spiritual work in the Middle Ages, usually but erroneously attributed to Hugh of St. Victor. The original habit of Grandmont was a coarse tunic with scapular and hood, brown in the early days but changed later to black. The monks gradually laid aside scapular and hood in favor of rochet and biretta. The original habit was resumed by the Strict Observance. The founder had expressly forbidden the reception into the order of houses of religious women, nevertheless four small nunneries in the Diocese of Limoges were admitted. Outside France the order only possessed five houses, two in Spain and three in England. These latter, situated at Alberbury, Creswell, and Grosmont, never attained any importance and were occupied by a very small number of monks.


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