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Saint Vincent's Reading List XLI: The Impact of Devout Women

by Rev Edward R Udovic CM 5/27/2013 9:00:00 AM

Les Eloges et les Vies des Reynes, des Rrincesses et des Dames Illustres en Pieté, en Courage & en Doctrine, Qui Ont Fleury de Nostre Temps, & du Temps de Nos Peres; avec l’Explication de Leurs Devises, Emblems, Hieroglyphs, & Symbols, by Hilarion de Coste. Paris: Sebastien Cramoisy et Gabriel Cramoisy, 1647.  

SpC.305.489621 C839e1647

One of the most notable features of Vincent de Paul’s life and ministry was the key role played by women. This in turn was one of the signal characteristics of the Catholic reform movement in seventeenth-century France. The contemporary French Church and French society carefully carved out a prominent, if carefully circumscribed, role for women that creatively pushed gender role boundaries while preserving intact accepted views of the inherent gender differences that posited the inferiority of women to men.

Hilarion (Olivier) de Coste (1595-1661) was a member of the mendicant Order of Minims founded by Saint Francis de Paola in the fifteenth century. De Coste knew Vincent de Paul, who in 1621 had been honored with an affiliation to the order by its general superior.1

Coste was the author of numerous biographies. In 1625 he had published a work containing biographical sketches of pious men and women. The success of this volume led in 1630 to his publication of the present volume presenting idealized biographical sketches of notable dévot women. A second edition was published in 1647. Coste was a "patient and careful scholar" and although his sketches follow moralistic and didactic conventions they "also yield up interesting and documented details on his subjects’ lives...and also give useful insights into the values and mores of the time."2

Most importantly, from the perspective of Vincentian studies, this work includes an invaluable portrait of Monsieur Vincent’s collaborator: Marguerite Silly de Gondi, the wife of Philippe-Emmanuel de Gondi. This sketch includes an anecdote contributed by Vincent de Paul himself.3 It has been translated with annotation by John Rybolt, C.M. and Barbara Diefendorf.


1Louis Abelly, Life of the Venerable Servant of God: Vincent de Paul, (New York: New City Press, 1987), 2:385.
2Rybolt, John E. C.M., Ph.D. and Diefendorf, Barbara B. (2000) “Madame de Gondi: A Contemporary Seventeenth-Century Life,” Vincentian Heritage Journal: Vol. 21: Iss. 1, Article 1.
3Ibid., 27.


St. Vincent’s Reading List is a recurring blog series exploring texts known to have been read and recommended by Saint Vincent de Paul, those which can be presumed to have been read by him, and works published during his lifetime (1581-1660) illustrating his world. All materials discussed are held by DePaul University’s Richardson Library. The entire series may be viewed here.



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