Recently the abbot stumbled across an image hitherto totally unknown to him. It has lain unrecognised (by us, at least) in the Bibliothèque National in Paris until they digitised the image. It is rather important for my community of St Edmund, or Douai Abbey. It is displayed at the very end of this post.
Douai Abbey was founded in Paris on Faubourg (now Rue) St Jacques in 1615 as the third house of the recently-revived English Benedictine Congregation (EBC), and under the patronage to St Edmund, King, Virgin and Martyr. It was near the city walls, but an easy walk from the Sorbonne. In our 401 years of existence thus far, Paris is still the place we lodged longest.
Moreover, in Paris our community had its glory days, and for a time was more prominent than the older communities now at Downside and Ampleforth. The most important annalist in the EBC’s history was a monk of Paris, Dom Benet Weldon, an unsettled man, one of the few back then to make solemn vows but not to be ordained. There we produced scholars, not least Bishop Charles Walmesley (†1797), a Doctor of Divinity of the Sorbonne who was so renowned a mathematician and astronomer that he was consulted by the British government on the reform of the calendar and elected Fellow of the Royal Society of London (as well as of those of Berlin, Bologna and Paris) even though he was a Catholic cleric. Under the pseudonym “Pastorini” he wrote The General History of the Christian Church, which is in effect an application of the Book of Revelation on contemporary history. King James II, in his exile, was a regular visitor to the Paris monks, and on his death he was laid to rest in the priory church, where he lay quietly venerated until the Revolution saw his tomb despoiled. The community is historically of Jacobite sympathies.
The recent discovery is important for us as it represents the earliest known image of our community. And it is no ordinary image. It is a drawing by Laurent de La Hire (†1656) of the 15-year-old Louis XIV of France, the Sun King, giving letters patent to the prior of the community of St Edmund in Paris, Dom Augustine Latham, in 1653. By this act our existence in Paris was secured, until the Revolution. Those who have visited the old monastery in Paris, now an eminent music school, will recognise in the drawing the mouldings of the main salon, which is largely intact to this day.
Little discoveries such as this add colour to life. It never hurts to find reminders of our past, to inspire us in our present.
Tenez la foi!