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Saint Vincent's Reading List XLIX: The Monastery of Val-de-Grâce in Paris

by Rev Edward R Udovic CM 1/27/2014 9:35:00 AM

Exercice Journalier pour les Religeuses Benedictines de Nostre-Dame du Val-de-Grace, by Marguerite d'Arbouze. Paris: Chez Louis Billaine, 1676.

Call Number: SpC. 271.1044 A666e1676


After the marriage of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria on 24 November 1615, the king, the queen, and indeed the entire kingdom began to wait expectantly for the birth of an heir to the throne. No one wanted a repeat of the troubled and precarious succession of Henri IV in 1589 which had established the new Bourbon dynasty on the throne. The waiting continued for the next twenty-three years. During this time the Queen suffered four miscarriages. Louis XIII was even moved to make a vow to the Virgin Mary that if an heir was born he would dedicate the kingdom to her honor. Finally, in early 1638, the Queen became pregnant and on 5 September 1638 an heir was born Louis Dieu-Donné, the future Louis XIV. As an act of thanksgiving for her son, Anne vowed to construct a new Benedictine Abbey in Paris.

The result of the queen's vow was a Baroque masterpiece: the Abbey of Val-de-Grâce on the rue Saint-Jacques. Baroque architecture was all the rage, and became the architectural style identified with the attempts to modernize medieval Paris that had begun under Henri IV.

The foundation stone was laid by the young king in 1645, and construction of the vast complex was completed in 1667. This was at a time when the cityscape of Paris was exploding with the building and renovation of a large number of convents, priories, monasteries, and abbeys to accommodate the new and reformed religious communities that sprang into being with the Tridentine reform of the French Church.

Val-de-Grâce Abbey became a personal place of refuge in Paris for Anne of Austria, who kept apartments within the cloister. There she could escape the close scrutiny that was unavoidable at the Louvre or Fontainebleau palaces. For his part, Cardinal Mazarin was very suspicious of the goings-on at Val-de-Grâce, and kept his network of spies and informants busy trying to keep tabs on what went on there.1 

The famous period painter Philippe de Champaigne produced a famous portrait for the Abbey showing Anne of Austria, Louis XIV, and her second son Philippe, Duc d’Orleans dressed in full court costume kneeling in prayer before Saint Benedict and his sister Saint Scholastica the patrons saints of the Benedictine order.

The present volume dates not long after the completion of the Abbey and primarily contains an account of the daily monastic customs for the nuns of the abbey.

1"Excepts from Mazarin’s Journals (1643-1650)." In Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, by Vincent de Paul. Vol. 13b (Brooklyn, NY: New City Press, 2003), p.154-155.



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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