1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Port Royal (France)

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PORT ROYAL, a celebrated Cistercian abbey, occupied a low and marshy site in the thickly wooded valley of the Yvette, at what is now known as Les Hameaux near Marly, a few miles south-west of Paris. It was founded in 1204 by Mahaut de Garlande, wife of Mathieu de Montmorenci-Marli in 1204; the church was built in 1229 from the designs of Robert de Luzarches. During its early years the convent received a number of papal privileges; the most important of these, granted by Honorius III. in 1223, authorized it to offer a retreat to women anxious to withdraw from the world without binding themselves by perpetual vows. Little is known of its history during the three succeeding centuries, except that its discipline became relaxed; reform was only attempted when Angélique Arnauld (q.v.) was appointed coadjutor to the elderly and invalid abbess in 1598. Angélique's reforming energy soon brought her into contact with Jean Duvergier (q.v.) abbot of Saint Cyran, and chief apostle in France of the Jansenist revival, and the later history of her convent is indissolubly connected with this movement.

In 1626 constant visitations of ague drove the nuns to Paris; they settled at Port Royal de Paris, at the end of the Faubourg Saint Jacques. The deserted buildings of Port Royal des Champs were presently occupied by “hermits,” laymen, mostly relatives of the abbess, who wished for a semi-monastic existence, though without taking formal vows. In 1648, however, some of the nuns returned to the country, and the hermits retreated to buildings at a short distance from the abbey. Here they set up a “little school” for the sons of Jansenist parents; and here Jean Racine, the future poet, received his education. But in 1653 Innocent X. condemned the doctrines of Jansen. Three years later “the hermitage” and school were broken up, and the nuns were forbidden to receive new members into their community. These rigours were much increased when Louis XIV. took up the reins of government in 1660; between 1664 and 1669 the archbishop of Paris laid under an interdict those of the nuns who refused to subscribe the papal censure on Jansen. In 1669, however, came the so-called “Peace of Clement IX.,” when the Jansenists generally were admitted to grace, and the interdict was removed from Port Royal, though the authorities broke up the convent into two distinct communities. The conformist nuns were gathered together at Port Royal de Paris, under an independent abbess; their Jansenist sisters were united at the original building in the country. hereupon followed ten years of peace, for the nuns had a powerful protector in the king's cousin, Mme de Longueville. But in 1679 she died, and Louis at once ordered the nuns to send away their novices and boarders and to receive no others. Finally, in 1705, he got from Clement XI. a new condemnation of the Jansenists, which the few remaining nuns, all of whom were over sixty, refused to sign; and on the 29th of October 1709 they were forcibly removed from Port Royal by the police, and distributed among various conformist convents. In the following spring the buildings were pulled down; even the cemetery was not spared. The land on which the convent had stood was made over to Mme de Maintenon's college of St Cyr; in 1825 it was bought by some descendants of Jansenist families, who have done their best to restore the grounds to their original appearance, and have built a museum rich in Jansenist relics. Port Royal de Paris was secularized at the French Revolution, and is now a maternity hospital.

For a classified list of the chief books, ancient and modern, dealing with Port Royal, see the Abrégé de l'histoire de Port Royal, by Jean Racine, ed. E. Gazier (Paris, 1908). See also C. A. Sainte-Beuve, Port Royal (6 vols. and index, Paris, 1882); Charles Beard, Port Royal (2 vols., London, 1861); H. Reuchlin, Geschichte von Port Royal (2 vols., Hamburg, 1839-1844), and the books recommended under the articles Arnauld, Jansenism and Pascal.