The History of Jansenism Part V Convulsionnaires of Saint-Médard.

The Convulsionnaires were an extremely strange and fascinating movement that rocked France during the eighteenth century that slowly fizzled out in the nineteenth century, although one branch lasted into the twentieth century and continued till today. It is a strange movement it that it started off as simple a very devout section of the Jansenist movement.

It was filled with many rigorist Jansenist with extreme sectarian tendencies. In continued to rigorism on the seventeenth century Jansenists and generally rejected the Enlightenment and Rationalism, (although some would eventually end up embracing these evil a very Luciferian way). In some way it was a prelude to modern Sedevacantism as it viewed the Catholic hierarchy as having largely become guilty of apostasy and they rejected even the Catholic monarchies are too lax. Unlike the more mainstream eighteenth century Jansenism it did not involve itself in political scheming, was not inked to parliament, attacked the monarch out of sectarian tendencies and not to expand aristocratic power, as such as had few links with mainstream Gallicanism.

It was in that sense the true heir of seventeenth century Jansenism, of Pascal and Arnauld, as opposed to the eighteenth century Gallican pseudo-Jansenists, but unlike figures like Pascal or Jean du Vergier de Hauranne its criticisms of the pope, the bishop, the monarchy and the government in general were extreme.

I find the movement to be fascinating in that it did seem to have a lot of supernatural elements, but also influences of charlatans and mental instability. Additionally the supernatural character seem to actually have started off as something very holy, but gradually became mixed with real Luciferian and Demonic influences. As such it really seems like a mixture of radical but saintly remnant cultists and self-deluded demonic figures. This would become especially clear during the French Revolution. Additionally, Convulsionnaries are said to have started practicing Seances but it is unclear whether this was necromancy or just communicating with saints they thought appeared to them, (either thing is extremely dangerous).

Prelude Saint François de Pâris

“The Convulsionary movements had its origins in the veneration of ascetic François de Pâris, a Jansenist deacon. François de Pâris was a saint by virtually any standard. Extremely humble, ascetic, dedicated and kind-hearted.

He was born in Paris into a wealthy and powerful family, the son of Nicolas de Pâris, Lord of Branscourt, Machault and Pasquy (1658–1714), and a member of the Parlement of Paris. His mother, Charlotte Rolland, was the daughter of the mayor of Reims. According to biographies published after his death, he was tutored as a young boy by Augustinians at Nanterre. Originally destined for a career in law, he went against his father’s wishes and chose a career in the Church instead. In 1712 a bout of smallpox left his face horribly scarred, “an affliction for which he thanked God”. In 1713, at the age of 23, three months after the death of his mother in April, he entered the seminary of the Oratory of St. Magloire, where he studied the scriptures. In December 1713, his father Nicolas de Pâris made a will deposited with a notary before he died in March 1714. François opposed the bull Unigenitus, which condemned Pasquier Quesnel’s annotated translation of the Bible. An active appelant, Pâris protested Unigenitus in 1720, calling it “the work of the Devil.” Unigenitus has never been regarded as having been an ex cathedra document. Even if was François de Pâris lived before the dogma of papal infallibility was declared. He then gave further support to the Jansenists. After three years at the Oratory, Pâris was ordained a deacon. During his time there he gave to the poor his annual family pension, and there is evidence to suggest that he turned down a position at canon of Reims Cathedral in 1718 or 1719 because of his humble stance. During his later career he was associated with the College of Bayeux in Paris, a haven for Jansenist priests and follows, disturbed by the Church hierarchy or the authorities.

François de Pâris retired to a modest house in Faubourg Saint-Marceau, Paris, where he led a very austere life. Indeed, his living condition was so lowly that he “lodged in a hutch of planks set up in a courtyard, wore a hair shirt, and ate one meal a day, all while knitting stockings for the poor and giving advice to those who asked for it. He modelled himself after St. Francis and was apparently considered a local saint by many. His life has been described as one of “heroic humility”.

During the final years of his life, Pâris became increasingly reclusive, and his ascetic lifestyle became increasingly severe, and he practised self-flagellation:

His bare feet became cut and bruised from walking on the paving stones … He slept on an old armoire, covered himself with a sheet bristling with iron wires that tore his flesh … He wore a hair shirt, a spiked metal belt, and a chain around his right arm. He beat himself with an iron-tipped lash until the blood ran down his back. He lit no fire for warmth even during the coldest winter days.”[1]

Miracle phase

Only 36 years old, Pâris died on 1 May 1727. Large numbers of people from across the social spectrum, including the Cardinal Archbishop Noailles, came to attend his funeral in the small chapel at Saint-Médard. During the funeral and after, people began to collect snippets of hair and fingernails, splinters of wood from his casket or furniture, soil from his gravesite, and other souvenirs which might serve as holy relics. He was buried at the graveyard there on the Rue Mouffetard in the 12th arrondissement of Paris, not far from the Jardin des Plantes. Shortly after the funeral, his tomb became the site of religious pilgrimages and purported wonder-working. Miracles were said to be performed before his tomb and left people in a state of ecstasy. The Jansenists came to pray at the cemetery. His admirers composed hymns and self-styled hagiographies praising the late deacon as a saint. In June 1728, Cardinal Noailles started an official enquiry to investigate five of the reported miracles and in the end his findings led to him posthumously bestowing upon François the title of “bienheureux”. Many of the city’s prominent Jansenists wanted Pâris to be made into a saint, and Cardinal Noailles even began the process of beatification. Cardinal Noailles had a complex relationship with the Jansenists; while he condemned their propositions, more orthodox theologians saw in his own teachings, hints of Jansenism, and Noailles was an opponent of the Jesuits in their attacks on the sect. His position on Pope Clement XI’s 1713 bull Unigenitus was also controversial; he opposed it, despite papal disapproval, up to 1728 but then abruptly reversed himself shortly before his death.

Noailles acted as a staunch moralist when at the end of March 1719, he firmly stood behind the curé of Saint-Sulpice, who refused to administer the sacraments to the Regent’s daughter, Louise Élisabeth, Duchess of Berry, who was in a critical condition giving birth to an illegitimate child in the Palais de Luxembourg. Despite all the pleas of the Regent, Philip II, Duke of Orleans, Noailles refused categorically to overturn the decision of the parish priest

As mentioned above, the miracle for Jansenists represented God’s grace manifested in human history, however briefly. Jansenist theologians and writers were also deeply interested in the power of lay witness and lay faithfulness to true religion. The initiative to create the Jansenist periodical Nouvelles Ecclésiastiques in 1727 owed largely to this interest in inviting ordinary Christians to witness religious truth for themselves. As a result, the movement was thoroughly pleased by the miracles which occurred at Saint-Médard between 1727 and 1731. They separated the ‘pure of heart’ from the hard-hearted Church hierarchy. For the Paris Jansenists, the miracles served as proof that God was on their side and opposed Unigenitus.

The Nouvelles Ecclésiastiques, working to generate publicity, eagerly proclaimed the miracles to the public and devoted two whole pages to them in 1728. Jansenist churchwardens exercised their influence over their parishes and vigorously encouraged the cult of François de Pâris. Many of the appelant clergy supported the early cult; some even began to preach and perform masses there.

Pilgrimages to the tomb of Pâris continued over the years 1727-1730. During this period, roughly a dozen pilgrims declared that they had been miraculously cured at the tomb. In June 1728, Cardinal Noailles started an official enquiry to investigate five of the reported miracles and in the end his findings led to him posthumously bestowing upon François the title of “bienheureux”. This number of miracle cures exploded in 1731. Over 70 cures were announced that year, from a variety of ailments which included paralysis, cancer, and blindness, among others. Not surprisingly, the number of pilgrims also grew rapidly during the summer of 1731. Miracles were not necessarily unusual in this period, but the connection with Jansenism was considered a cause for suspicion.[2]

Other sources say that at least 800 were reportedly cured by the convulsions of 1731, amongst them were several prominent people such as Carre de Montgeron, a well-respected magistrate and Counsellor of the Parliament of Paris who converted to Jansenism on the 7 September 1731 after experiencing a miracle at the tomb of François de Pâris. He began compiling a 3 volume book of some 1800 pages afterwards in a work which is described as “one of the most extraordinary works that ever issued from the press.” Lives was also published in 1731, by Pierre Boyer, Jean-Louis Barbeau de La Bruyère, and Barthélémy Doyen.

The Convulsions

While the first recorded case of convulsions at the tomb of Pâris occurred in July 1731, one of the best recorded early cases is that of l’abbé de Bescherand, who made two daily pilgrimages to the cemetery: During these visits, Strayer writes, “his body was wracked by convulsions that lifted him into the air, his face was contorted by grimaces, and foaming at the mouth, he yelled and screamed for hours on end.” A number of other pilgrims began to exhibit similar convulsions, and the convulsion phenomenon began to rival and eclipse the miracle phenomenon. The cemetery’s atmosphere became busy and noisy as people variously prayed, sang and convulsed. Rumours spread through Paris that people were speaking in tongues, stomping on Bibles, barking like dogs, swallowing glass or hot coals, or dancing until they collapsed.

Altogether, the convulsionnaire phenomenon sparked a great deal of public interest. By mid-century, there had been 1600 publications on the subject. The early convulsions which occurred in 1731 at the cemetery at Saint-Médard attracted large crowds of observers. It is likely that many of these went purely for amusement. Onlookers were even able to rent chairs for 6 sous so that they could sit and watch the strange business that was taking place. The many rumours attracted many curious spectators, some of whom were actually converted to the convulsionnaire movement when they observed the convulsions or even experienced them for themselves.

Jansenist split: Rationalists vs Rigorists

The spread of the convulsion phenomenon, however, divided the Jansenist camp. The Nouvelles Ecclésiastiques continued more or less to defend the convulsions through the 1730s. But the split became evident. Jansenists published as many as 100 different tracts during the years 1732-34 as a heated debate emerged within the movement. Jacques-Joseph Duguet, one of the editors of the Nouvelles Ecclésiastiques fell out of favour with his colleagues when he condemned the convulsions. This debate did not escape the attention of the Cardinal Fleury, who exploited this division by encouraging, even subsidizing the publications of those Jansenists who attacked the convulsionnaire phenomenon.

However, several writers believed that the extraordinary events at the graveyard were grossly exaggerated. Dom La Taste, Bishop of Bethleem, authored Lettres Theologiques and Memoire Theologique, both critiques of the Convulsionists and Abbe d’Asfeld published Vains Efforts des Discernans, a similar work denouncing the extravagance of the people who claimed to have experienced the supernatural there. Due to the rising hysteria which amounted in 1731, with increasingly bizarre and extraordinary events frequently reported which ultimately led to conversions to Jansenism in the thousands, Louis XV decided to close the churchyard on 27 January 1732. However, the earth which had been taken from the grave was valued by Jansenists and they continued their practices. Demoiselle Fourcroy, for instance, alleged to have been cured of her medically diagnosed condition of anchylosis on 14 April 1732 and said of it, “They caused me to take wine in which was some earth from the tomb of M. de Paris, and I immediately engaged in prayer, as the commencement of a neuvaine (nine-days of devotion). Almost at the same moment I was seized with a great shuddering, and soon after with a violent agitation of the members, which caused my whole body to jerk into the air, and gave me a force I had never before possessed, so that the united strength of several persons present could scarcely restrain me. After a time, in the course of these violent convulsive movements, I lost all consciousness. As soon as they passed off, I recovered my senses, and felt a sensation of tranquillity and internal peace, such as I had never experienced before.”

Populist backlash

The cemetery’s closure in January 1732 led popular opinion to sympathize with the convulsionnaires and Jansenists. This produced, in turn, a backlash against the Monarchy’s religious prerogative. “All powerful though he was,” one writer said, “the king had no right to suppress the news of the marvels of God.” One protester posted a sign on the cemetery, which read: “By order of the King, it is forbidden to the Divinity to perform any more miracles in this vicinity.”

After the closure of the cemetery in early 1732, the convulsionnaires continued to gather outside the gates. They were driven further underground in 1733, and began to assemble in private homes in Paris and in other French cities such as Nantes and Troyes. As a possible parallel to the contemporary Parisian salon, women often hosted the meetings while men preached. Social class was largely ignored, and nobility and clergy were sometimes present. Many of the convulsionnaires began to live an austere and ascetic lifestyle in cooperatives, referring to each other as ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ and taking new names, usually from the Bible.

Class and sex divisions

Countesses, duchesses, and members of the Parlement of Paris, including the President Charles-Robert Boutin, came to observe the miracles at Saint-Médard in 1731. Certain members of the nobility did continue to attend private convulsionnaire meetings through the 1730s, including the brother of Voltaire. By and large, however, the dominant element among the convulsionnaire movement appears to have been lower-class women who were “assisted” by the lower male clergy. Daniel Vidal’s study of convulsionnaires found the majority (60%) to be women, of which the largest portion (43%) came from the lower classes. By contrast, men comprised 78% of those who assisted the convulsionnaires, and nearly half of those were members of the clergy. Catherine Maire’s study also made note of this predominance of male clergy.

Gender analysis has revealed a predominance of unmarried women and girls experiencing convulsions. Catherine Maire has demonstrated that of 116 people who claimed miraculous healing at Pâris’s tomb, 70% were women, and the majority of these were celibate or widowed. Of an estimated 270 people experiencing or observing convulsions in 1732, 211 were women and only 59 were men. Women made up 90% of the convulsionnaires arrested between 1732 and 1774, and a smaller majority (55%) of the convulsionnaires imprisoned at the Bastille in particular between 1715-1774 were women. This 55% female majority, however, is in sharp contrast the strong male majority (82%) of Jansenists imprisoned at the Bastille during the same period.[3]

Other sources reinforce this view. In 1732, a visitor from another parish was quick to note that the convulsions were predominant among women. The robe de convulsionnaire was invented to facilitate the convulsions for women. The reports of police spies referred to the female convulsionaries as prostitutes who allowed others to beat and torture their half-naked writhing bodies. Philippe Hecquet, a Jansenist physician who sought to distance the Jansenist movement from the convulsionnaires phenomenon, claimed that female biology and moral inferiority were the causes of the convulsions. By contrast, defenders of the convulsionnaires tended to minimize the role of women and emphasize the social diversity of the movement.”


“The format of their seances changed perceptibly after 1732,” according to Strayer. “Instead of emphasizing prayer, singing, and healing miracles, believers now participated in ‘spiritual marriages’ (which occasionally bore earthly children), encouraged violent convulsions […] and indulged in the secours (erotic and violent forms of torture), all of which reveals how neurotic the movement was becoming.”

Some of the Jansenists, however, became more and more suspicious of convulsions. The episcopate was divided on the subject. If Soanen and Colbert de Croissy were rather favourable, their colleagues considered that the work could only be of demonic inspiration. Sessions were suspected of being the locus of indecency, and some convulsionary monks took a disproportionate place in their eyes, passing for incarnations of Elijah, such as Pierre Vaillant who claimed to be an incarnation of the prophet and led the group of Vaillantists. Some, called mixists, were reluctant to condemn completely the work of convulsions. They believed that there was good and bad in it, without being able to unravel in convulsions what was the work of God and the work of a misguidance of the human spirit (even the Devil). In this impossibility of judgment, they saw an image of the world, shared alternately between good and evil. They did not doubt that the origin of the convulsions was divine, but they judged that the convulsions are not always of divine quality.

Among the Jansenist theologians, the division was quite clear: Jacques-Vincent Bidal of Asfeld , Gabriel Nicolas Nivelle and Nicolas Petitpied strongly condemned the convulsions. On the other hand, Laurent-François Boursier and the abbot of Étemare , as well as the editors of the Nouvelles Ecclésiastiques, were rather in a mixed position. Cardinal de Fleury exploited these divisions by secretly subsidizing anti-convulsionist Jansenist writings. The Parliament publicly takes a stand against the work of convulsions in 1735, so as not to lose its credit in its struggle against the royal power.

It is in this context that Louis Basile Carré de Montgeron attempts to reconcile appellant and convulsionary Jansenism, by the drafting of his book The Truth of the Miracles of M. de Paris demonstrated against the Archbishop of Sens, published and presented to the King in 1737. The book has some success, it is reprinted twice until 1747, but its author was immediately incarcerated.

Mortification of the flesh

Just like their saintly Pâris, the convulsionnaires appear to have regarded the body with increasing contempt as the movement evolved through the 1730s. They began the practice of secours (release), which involved the violent beating of the individual who was experiencing the convulsions. The secours was intended to release the individual from the painful experience of the convulsions, while simultaneously symbolizing the pain of persecution. They viewed the body with disgust as the site of disease, sinfulness and corruption. Eighty convulsionnaires were arrested in 1736 for beating and cutting each other. They also began to practice regular crucifixions—with nails—to further connect their suffering to that of Jesus Christ and the early Christian martyrs.”

Shift in public opinion and crackdown by the authorities

“Public opinion would turn against the convulsionnaire movement by the mid-1730s as more scandalous stories of torture and violence came to light. “In the popular mind,” Strayer writes, “their tortures had crossed the line between the self-denial of spiritual mystics and sexual brutality. Increasingly, people viewed this strange blend of millenarianism, eroticism, torture, and hysteria as a medical problem rather than a religious phenomenon.” In 1735, a group of 30 Paris physicians proposed that “overheated imaginations” were the cause for the convulsions.

In 1735 the parlements regained jurisdiction over the convulsionary movement which changed into an underground movement of clandestine sects. The next year “an alleged plot” by convulsionnaire revolutionaries to overthrow the parlements and assassinate Louis XV was thwarted. The “Augustinian convulsionnaires” then absconded from Paris to avoid police surveillance. This “further split the Jansenist movement.”

As the historian B. Robert Kreiser has noted, the themes of persecution, martyrdom, apocalypticism and millenarianism, pervaded the “mental universe” of the convulsionnaire movement. Prophetic dreams and visions were common among its adherents, along with appeals to God’s divine judgment and wrath.

Broader Jansenist theology encouraged a certain degree of individual conscience among the laity. It allowed for the possibility that a bishop could be wrong about a matter of religious truth, while a lowly priest could be right. Therefore, it allowed for the possibility of resistance to the higher clergy. The convulsionnaires took this belief even further. They identified themselves as God’s persecuted faithful and compared themselves to the early Christians persecuted by the Roman Empire. Prophetic and apocalyptic speeches, often preached by illiterate artisans or women, railed against the apostasy of the Church hierarchy and prophesied the destruction of Babylon.

The convulsionnaires left behind thousands of written works, including prayers, visions, parables, dialogues, letters, songs and poems. Strayer identifies three common themes in their writing: eschatology (their theology of the end-times), word games, and their relationship to the French Monarchy. Their eschatology was particularly concerned with the conversion of the Jews to Christianity, which they believed to be imminent. The abbé Vaillant, a convulsionnaire leader who called himself ‘Elijah’ after the prophet who would accompany the Messiah, was deeply concerned with converting the Jews to Christianity and predicted that the end of the world would come in 1733. He was arrested in 1734 and imprisoned until his death in 1761.

Their perception to the Monarchy appears to have been variable, but generally unfavourable. On the one hand, a number of them called Louis XV a “criminal” who would suffer God’s wrath. They compared him to the Egyptian Pharaoh or even to the Antichrist. On the other hand, some convulsionnaire women dedicated their personal suffering and torture to the King after the attempted assassination of 1757 by Damiens.”

Further radicalisation

“Brian E. Strayer argues that movement descended further into sadomasochism from 1740 onward. The torture became increasingly brutal while the spiritual content decreased.[4]

According to Strayer, by 1741 the leadership was “dead, exiled, or imprisoned,” and the movement divided into three groups. The police role increased and the parlements role decreased “in the social control of Jansenism” but cells continued engaging in seances, torture, and apocalyptic and treasonous rhetoric.

By 1742, popular opinion had turned so far against the convulsions that even the Nouvelles Ecclésiastiques began to revise their stance and withdraw their support.”

The condemnation of convulsions pushed the adepts to be shut up even more in clandestine groups and become more and more marginalized. The secours became “murderous”, that is to say that they used objects which increased the violence of the sessions.

Relief was observed by doctors, who were curious to see if the convulsionaries did not simulate their torture. One of them, questioned by a police lieutenant, divided the secours into five classes:

“First class: punches and feet, treading feet on the body, pulling limbs.

Second class: violent pressures.

Third class: log shots

Fourth class: assistance from piercing and non-piercing swords, and nails hammered into the various parts of the body.

Fifth class: crucifixion.”

The more the movement was marginalized, the more the relief sessions became representations of scenes of persecution: thus, the body of a “sister” was plowed with spades, struck with chains and hammers, scratched with wigmaker’s cards, before being stoned during a “journey to Calvary” at Mount Valerian , then buried alive. The tortured brothers or sisters did not complain about the pain, on the contrary. They tasted it and asked for more tortures, believing to be relieved by these helpings: “The log could not suffice him but for the sword that relieved her much more, she kissed and caressed it like something that a child would like a lot. In general, rescuers were more tense with fatigue than the satiated sister was. She said: “God will choose for you the children who will retire to corners and feel all the blows that we take to our good mother the Church.”

By 1755 there were fewer than 800 convulsionnaires in France. In 1762 the parlements criminalized some of their practices “as ‘potentially dangerous’ to human life.”

The supreme secour was crucifixion. It was practiced on some very prominent brothers or sisters in the movement, and sometimes very regularly, from the late 1750s. Thus, a young man was crucified eighteen times in six months in 1765. This crucifixion was seen as the total identification of the body of the Christian to the body of the crucified Christ. The practice of crucifixion ended up supplanting the other reliefs and dispenses with related speeches or comments: “At the end of 1783 there were many crucifixions and supernatural operations of the most prodigious where the convulsionaries retained all their presence. ‘mind.

Supporters of aid were not necessarily convulsionists cut off from reality and locked in a sectarian logic. Augustin Gazier thus underlined the paradox of these people, quite respected in their public life, and adepts of the most violent help in their intimacy:

“It was not more (crazy), the lawyer in Parlement Olivier Pinault, who published esteemed books, including a good edition of the Ecclesiastical Laws of the famous Jurisconsult Héricourt, and that was until the Revolution, under the name of Brother Pierre, the most qualified convulsionary.  He played in what is called the Work of Convulsions, as an actor, witness and speaker, a role of the highest order […].  He even, according to some, was crucified a number of times, which did not prevent him from practicing his profession of advocate, to plead successfully and to be highly regarded by his confreres. 

I wonder if I am the only one to suspect that many of these girls and women were sexually abused when they were younger. It`d be logical. It could explain how they were so vulnerable to either insanity or demonic influence, why they were so hostile towards the human body, why the movement became so neurotic, why they tended towards rigourism, why they felt attracted to spiritual marriages while sometimes lacking the discipline for it, why they had such an anti-authoritarian remnant church and persecution complex, why they were so attracted to mortification of the flesh and why it seemed to become more and more erotic and sexualised, and why so many of them were virgins.

The convulsionary movement was initially essentially Parisian. But little by little, it won the provinces, notably by the action of Michel Pinel, a convictor oratorian priest proclaimed first pontiff of the Work.

In the middle of the 18th century, he left his order and his professorship at Vendôme to devote himself to the “Work of convulsions”.  He surrounded himself with two convulsionary sisters who prophesied and received help: the sister Angélique Babet, called “the peasant” first (from 1734 to 1747) and sister Brigitte, and again sister Angélique from 1772.

Michel Pinel circulated in France and spread a figurative and organized vision of contemporary times.  It spread convulsions especially through the order of the Oratory. It could be seen in Saumur, in Languedoc, in Lyon. He published the discourses of the two prophetesses in a Horoscope of times or conjunctures on the future based on the Holy Scriptures and on new revelations (without date).  A mixture of figurism and prophecy, the book circulated widely in France in the mid- eighteenth century announces the coming advent of Elijah and the return of the Jews. The theme of the conversion of the Jews was particularly recurrent in the pinelist discourses. This was a prerequisite for the return of Elijah and the reign of Christ.

Pinelism was established particularly in Lyon, and from there to the entire southern half of France. This was the most important branch of the convulsionary movement. It was also at the source of the convulsionary hierarchy: Michel Pinel, the Pontiff, was assisted by his prophetesses (Angelique becomes besides “secretary of the deceased” when it dies in 1777 and continues its work), keeping the seat of the ‘Work in Paris. Regional chiefs (priests most often) met regularly and send their requests to the sisters, who themselves were supported by ministers who ran the local assemblies, with lesser convulsive brothers and sisters.  Some laypeople were responsible for defending the cause of the work “outside” and in public, while clerics remained more withdrawn.

Since the convulsionary movement was initially essentially Parisian, in the provinces, miracles became known with delay, and the events happening in Paris were first seen in a more traditional conception of the miracle. While the Parisian groups locked themselves into the most severe clandestinity, from the 1770s groups were formed in the provinces, including Lyon and its region.

The Lyon movement, particularly studied by Jean-Pierre Chantin, was born directly in relation with the Parisian movement. The Lyonnais were in close contact and subordinate to Father Michel Pinel and Sister Angélique Babet.

The diocese of Lyon was often considered in the second half of the eighteenth century as a refuge for the Jansenists in the same way as those of Auxerre or Troyes. In fact, these dioceses were led by bishops, if not Jansenizing, at least not hostile to the cause of the appellants. Thus Monsignor Malvin de Montazet, Archbishop of Lyons from 1758 to 1788, was extremely indulgent towards the Jansenist ecclesiastics.

The study of Lyon’s convulsionary groups shows a certain difference with Paris in recruitment and organization. Recruitment was also carried out in the small and middle class, but there were more members of the nobility. These members of the second order wee generally of recent nobility, or of origin outside Lyon. We don’t find in the convulsionnaires the high society of Lyon. The vast majority of Convulsionnaires Lyonnais came from the people and were recruited in the entourage of wealthier families.

Meetings were held by wealthy individuals. The members were recruited first individually, then they brought into the Work their family and their household, unlike Parisians who had a more individual commitment. The laity federated around a “Father of the Work”, religious who liaised with Paris, especially for mail. The seven Fathers of Lyon regularly went to Paris to bring to the prophetesses, including Sister Angélique Babet, the mail of the provincials. The affinities between priests and lay convulsions were often based on an education in the Jansenizing colleges of the region (among Oratorians of the Trinity in particular), but also the Oratorian College of Juilly or, for example, the brothers Desfours de Genetière (main Lyon leaders of the movement) became acquainted during their studies with Antoine de Bournissac, the future head of the convulsionary movement of Provence.

In the 1770s, the convulsionary movement also spread to the rural world. A whole generation of priests trained in Lyon’s seminaries adhered to the Work, undoubtedly influenced by men like Father Darles, parish priest of Saint-Georges-en-Couzan, north-east of Saint-Etienne, who was identified as convulsionary from the end of the 1760s.

This was particularly the case of the brothers Claude and François Bonjour. These two priests were trained in the jansenizing seminaries of Lyon, before receiving offices in rural parishes around Lyon.  Claude Bonjour was first professor of theology at Saint-Charles College in Lyon (from 1768 to 1771 ), then he was pastor of Saint-Just-les-Velay. He was chased out of this parish in 1774. He then arrived north of Lyon, Fareins-en-Dombe, where he was joined by his brother François, then by a vicar, the abbot Jean Baptiste Farlay, who was also a member of the Œuvre. In that village, the priest Bonjour distinguished a dozen faithful for their advanced knowledge of the “mysteries of the Work”. They met frequently, said offices, and engaged in convulsions and prophecies. Meetings without help made it possible to circulate information concerning the other convulsionary groups on the French territory. Indeed, the group of fareinists were clearly located in the pinelist movement. Jean-Pierre Chantin noted the originality of these training and information meetings, apparently absent from the original Parisian habits.

The Fareins group is best known for the scandals attributed to François Bonjour. The adviser of Seneschalde Dombes, and future conventional Merlino was his fiercest opponent and even obtained his imprisonment. He was accused by recalcitrant parishioners at the convulsions of locking themselves alone with young girls, causing “moans, thumps and marmots”. The majority of this group did not receive much help. The sessions were mainly “conversations with angels”, visions and piercings of feet using small knives. The great help seemed to be reserved to the sister Angélique Babet, Parisian right arm of Michel Pinel, but she died in 1786. In the following year, in 1787, François Bonjour crucified Étiennette Thomasson, one of the prophetesses of the village in the parish church, in front of several witnesses. He widely publicized this action, which earned him a lettre de cachet sending him in detention in the monastery of Burgundy Tanlay. His brother and vicar Farlay were summoned to leave the village. François Bonjour would take advantage of the French Revolution to return to Fareins.

The Jansenist convulsionary movement established itself massively in the Forez, also from the 1770s. The priests who brought their parishioners into the movement were, as elsewhere, from the seminaries and colleges of Lyons marked by Jansenism. The most striking figure of the movement was Father François Jacquemont, but there were also other groups, like that of Saint-Jean-Bonnefonds, closer to the Bonjouristes de Fareins.

François Jacquemont was one of the most prominent priests of the movement. He was moderately convulsive, but clearly figurative. In his parish of Saint-Médard-en-Forez, he practiced a strict Augustinianism and corresponded with the Jansenists Lyonnais, but without going to convulsionary sessions with great help. Around his parish, he created meetings of “Friends of the Truth”, where met they the faithful who venerate the deacon Pâris. It seems that the presence of visionaries in these sessions was not rare.

In Saint-Étienne, it were more laypeople (as in Lyon) who adhered to the Work. They regularly received visits from convulsionary priests, and were quite close to the Lyon group.

Finally, in Saint-Jean-Bonnefonds , a parish near Saint-Just-les-Velay where Claude Bonjour officiated, a convulsionary group was set up.  It evolved in close connection with the group of Fareins and did not move away from it after the Revolution.

On the eve of the Revolution, it was estimated that with 4000 people massively gathered in the vicinity of Saint-Étienne the importance of the Jansenist group in forézien was clear.

Although Lyon is the best studied group so far, other convulsionary groups have existed in the provinces.

These groups were mainly found in the south-east, between Lyon and the Mediterranean, but also in the Alps (Notre-Dame-de-Vaulx).

“This is how Pinelism, instructed from the hereafter by Abraham and supported in visions by mother Angélique Arnauld and Jean Soanen, was implanted in the Saumur, Lyonnais, Forez, Mâconnais, Dauphiné and Languedoc. During their wanderings, which lasted until the 1770s, its inventors founded a community of followers in Toulouse, whose members formed a mother church made up of a handful of elements of the flock of the Church of the Kingdom.”

This important group assembled in Toulouse, corresponds actively with Paris, until the middle of the 19th century. Reunited around the Fourquevaux family, he also had important links with the Spanish Carlist refugees during the nineteenth century.

The Convulsionnaires and the French Revolution

Reactions to extreme political and religious changes caused by the French Revolution were extremely diverse across groups. Some, like the Fareinists following the Good morning priests in their parish of Dombes, adhered fully, to the Revolution. They preached patriotism, some priests participated in popular assemblies and revolutionary clubs. In Saint-Jean-Bonnefonds, the convulsive cure Drevet was described as speaking freely of the Revolution and congratulating the children who sing La Carmagnole.

Clearly, they had become corrupted heretics, enemies of God, who embraced an anti-Christian and even anti-nature revolution.

The stance Parisian Jansenist Convulsionary groups or Jansenists Convulsionaries in many other regions are very poorly known for the revolutionary period. We know, however, that in connection with the Fareinists, a group of Paris, with a hundred people and gathered around François Bonjour and his son Elie, committed to the Revolution. Abbé Fialin, a convulsionary priest, thus became secretary of the Far-Left Atheist Hebertist section of Paris that was too radical even for Robespierre and who worshipped the cult of reason.

Jean-Pierre Chantin notes that in the interiors of convulsionary families of revolutionary conviction, they still found, in the middle of the nineteenth century, portraits of Robespierre, Marat or Danton, all anti-Catholic monsters.

A second group adhered to the Revolution at first, especially in Forez. All the convulsionary priests of this region at first signed the civil constitution of the clergy. They wished to participate in what they called the “regeneration of the Church”. But, given the events, some retracted, especially in 1794.  About a third of the convulsionary priests of a large Lyon region, led by François Jacquemont, parish priest of Saint-Médard-en-Forez, oscillated between an acceptance of the ecclesial modalities of the civil constitution of the clergy and the rejection of the de-Christianizing wave. François Jacquemont himself was not a fervent revolutionary. He took the oath of the civil constitution in 1791 but retracted in 1794. When he joined the anti-revolutionary party led by anti-Jansenists, vicars acting on behalf of the emigre Bishop Monseigneur de Marbeuf asked him to sign the formula of submission of the Jansenists which affirmed the condemnation of 5 Jansenist propositions by Pope Innocent X as well as that these heretical propositions had been present in the Augustinus written by Cornelius Jansen in the sense in which they were condemned by the pope. François Jacquemont refused but then agreed then proposes to sign it by evading the question in an original way: he wanted to admit that the five proposals are in the copy of Augustinus handed to the pope, which implied a dishonest manipulation of the text by the Jesuits. In 1798, he spent several months in prison for refusing to take the oath of hatred to the kingship demanded of the citizens. He refused, however, categorically to sign the Formula for the submission of the Jansenists, which was asked again after the concordat, after which he was removed from his parish.

This seems to have been a very mixed group.

Yet other groups off Convulsionaries, especially those in Lyon, fiercely opposed the French Revolution from the beginning, (even while viewing it as divine punishment), and opposed the civil constitution of the clergy. J.-P. Chantin, Les Amis de l’Œuvre de la Vérité…, p. 45.

I suspect they may actually have been part of a saintly tradition which was very vulnerable to corrupting attacks.

The Convulsionnaires after the Concordat and throughout the nineteenth century

The convulsionary community grouped around François Bonjour was abused quite a lot after the Revolution. François Bonjour tried to return to his parish in Fareins, but found himself in the throes of hostility from some of his parishioners. With his son Elie, however, he kept a certain influence with convulsion groups. At the end of the Revolution, he was still supported by about half of his village, around 600 people, but the numbers were declining rapidly. This disaffection was caused in particular by the fact that the events prophesied by François Bonjour concerning his son had not occurred. François and Claude Bonjour were arrested and exiled to Ouchy in Switzerland in 1805 and died in Ribemont.

The hello group had an attitude of rejection to the concordat of 1801, believing that the pope had usurped his power. Ironically most of the parishioners of Fareins that had wholeheartedly embraced the Revolution now refused to continue to follow the Hello group in this attitude, and attended the services of the curate concordataire, even though they did so with reservations. In the middle of the twentieth century, the group has almost disappeared, leaving only an impression of strict religious practice and a distant attachment to Port Royal.

In the Forez also, but more around the abbot François Jacquemont, the more moderate convulsionaries reacted a little differently at the end of the Revolution and the Concordat of 1801.  Without accepting all the terms, they did not conceive of setting themselves too far from the Church and inauguratse an attitude of discrete, critical but obedient presence, which resulted in them being called “communicators”.  Grouped mainly around Saint-Étienne, in villages like Saint-Médard-in-Forez, La Tourette, Saint-Jean-Soleymieux or Marols, communicators were estimated at 4,000 people at the very beginning of the 19th century.

They attended the parish offices, but remained very close, especially for their religious formation and their spiritual exercises, their traditions. They continued to reunite with each other and were under the spiritual direction of François Jacquemont, who had had no parish since the Concordat, having personally refused to sign the Form of Alexander VII and condemn the bull Unigenitus.

In addition to their local role, François Jacquemont and his group of communicators were at the hinge between the convulsions of the entire Lyon region, who without sharing his positions, deeply respected the priest, and the Parisian Jansénisants groups that founded in the early nineteenth century. Jacquemont maintained a great correspondence, notably with Louis Silvy, and spend the last twenty years of his life writing for the defense of the Jansenist cause, to publish speeches of convulsionary visionaries, to keep the link between the different groups.

But he died in 1835. He was the last convulsive priest in the region. From then on, the group of communicators begins to wither. He was the target of a significant pressure from the clergy concordat, who wishes to return completely to the Church these recalcitrant but morally exemplary faithful. In the mid- nineteenth century, communicators disappeared as a group.

Even in Saint-Etienne, some families resisted longer, in strong connection with the Parisian Jansenists, especially through journals such as the Ecclesiastical Review. With them, they continued to believe that the expected times were close. The events that jostled each other in the middle of the century (the fall of Louis-Philippe, the Revolution of 1848, the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception  74  in 1854, etc.) were all seen as precursory signs. But political events passed, and nothing happened. The discouragement worked little by little, even if they still tried to persuade themselves that the conversion of the Jews is near:

“A Catholic Christian must believe it. And who knows if what is happening in Europe for twenty years is not a route to it?  Everywhere the Jews have reconquered and enjoyed all the rights of citizens and in the generality of the peoples a deep, ferocious hatred against the Roman Church.  She does not want at any price to make concessions to the modern spirit. The first pastor of this Church decrees new dogmas, unknown to all antiquity … Ultramontanism has won the episcopal body … A thousand years are like one day in the eyes of God.  Let’s wait 75! “

In the 1870s, the Stephanois formally detached from their convulsionary traditions, yielding to the municipality of Saint-Étienne a house called “Maison des Jansenistes”, where they met, as well as many documents and their libraries. the municipality. Only in the cemetery of the city was the “tomb of the Jansenists visible”, which hosted several members of the Work, and was owned by a descendant of convulsionaries. But if the groups were broken up, a certain practice of the faith remains, noticed during investigations at the beginning of the 20th century. In that of Benoît Laurent, carried out in the 1930s, he believed that some Jansenist families still exist, with the following characteristics: “a certain hesitation with regard to the frequent communion, a respect doubled of apprehension of this sacrament, inseparable for some spirits that of penance.”

The Lyon group  

The group of Lyons convulsionists was radically opposed to the Concordat. They daw it as a usurpation of the episcopal seats of the Old Regime  Just as they had massively rejected the civil constitution of the clergy, they clearly rejected this new organization and considered that the pope usurped his rights in the matter, just as the civil constitution of the clergy was illegitimate to depose the refractory priests .

In 1802 Father Chaix, one of the few priests who was a member of the Lyonnais group (which was characterized by a high proportion of lay people and a few Regulars), published a “Catechism for the Concordat”. This work was the basis for the Lyon opposition to the Concordat. They refused the intervention of the government in matters of the Church, opposed the cultural modifications (for example the reduction of the non-working holidays) and disciplinary. Father Chaix advocated a refusal to communicate with the national Church of his time, while refuting the term “Little Church”, since according to him he did not leave the universal Church.

The members of the Lyonnais group therefore placed themselves in a posture of a group of religious opponents of the Church. From 1831 after the death of Father Claude Germain, parish priest of Lacenas they no longer had a priest. This changed their way of life and the evolution of the group. There was no proselytism but on the contrary a community withdrawal. They did not participate in the parish mass but said offices amongst themselves with the help of ancient works, dating mainly from the episcopate of Monsignor Malvin de Montazet. The catechism of the same Montazet, still published in 1844, as well as with the convulsive works of Desfours de la Genetière (The Three States of Man, reissued in 1851 ) or, in 1886, were the consolations for the faithful in times of persecution of Demaris. The memory of Port Royal and the Jansenists of the XVIIIth century was permanent, including prayers to the “holy bishop of Senez” ( Jean Soanen ) or the litany of “saints Jansenists” that were recited:

“Holy prophet Elijah, Saint Michael our pontiff, Saint Soanen our father, Saints Jansenius, Pavilion, Colbert, Varlet, Saints John of Hauranne, of Saci, of Bagnols, all the saints of Port-Royal, Saint François de Pâris our protector [ …] Holy mother Angelica our protector, all the saints of Port-Royal […] all the saints of God attached to the call and to the work of convulsions, grant us faith in your work.”

The Lyonnais hired certain rural people from Jansenizing parishes of Dombes and Beaujolais, for example. They gathered in factories, lived in neighbourhoods. The Croix-Rousse district in Lyon was reputed to be the bastion of anticordorders. Rich members of the Work, such as the Bergasse families, and later the Berliet family or the Rolland family, provided work and relationships for the other members of the group. Wine estates in Beaujolais also helped finance the group. Schools were created to educate children in the Port-Royalist tradition. They still exist today. The Lyon Group is maintained, since the nineteenth century, about 400 people.

The Lyonnais group, if it decreased gradually during the nineteenth century, remains however one of the most important, and especially the only one still really existing today. Despite frequent attempts at rapprochement with the Catholic Church, they remained hostile to reinstatement until the composition of 1801 had been firmly condemned. During the Vatican Council I, in 1869 – 1870 the Lyon community took the head of a delegation from the various small French Churches (notably the Little Church of Deux-Sèvres) and went to Rome to try to negotiate their return to the Church Roman. Marius Duc, a teacher from the Lyonnais group, goes to Rome with a Vendean, carrying a memoir vigorously denouncing the Concordat but not really speaking on the question of the Unigenitus bull. They were not heard. The dogma of pontifical infallibility was for them a failure, since they understand it as implicitly denying any error of Pius VII at the time of the composition [ 67]. Religious authorities were gradually demanding less and less of their renunciation for a return to the Church, but visible returns are however quite rare. Disaffections are mainly made during marriages with a person outside the group.

The Lyonnais clearly have the pre-eminence among the other provincial convulsive groups. They were in constant contact with Parisian Jansenists, who were mostly hostile to convulsions. Louis Silvy was their principal correspondent at the beginning of the XIXth century, then they are in touch with the editors of newspapers and Jansenists Gallicans as religious Chronicle or ecclesiastical review. At the end of the XIXth century, they are also related to the Port Royal Society, to which they make large donations dedicated to the publication of books on Jansenism or restore Port-Royal des Champs.


The extreme spectrum of the Jansenists ranging from naïve temporary supporters of the French Revolution in the middle, to counterrevolutionaries and far left extremists perfectly sums up the Convulsionaries, a radical subsect of a radical subsect, that attracted those seeking the truth and moralists, who wanted to be holier than the Pope but eventually became filled with individualists and instable figures who seem to have been easily seduced and misled.

Truth-seeking souls can be the most vulnerable, especially if they lack proper guidance. It is open to both extreme light and subtle darkness. A lack of balance leads to the danger of falling of the narrow path into the deep abyss.

In the end, some of the Convulsionaries were noble fighters against the evils of the French Revolution, and devout Catholics who tried to balance obedience to the legitimate Church authorities with a rejection of what they perceived as illegitimate decisions that went against Church tradition.

This sums up the Jansenist movement in general.


  1. Convulsionnaires of Saint-Médard from English Wikipedia
  2. Garrioch 2002, pp. 142–4; Strayer 2008, pp. 242–4
  3. Strayer 2008, pp. 196–7
  4. Strayer 2008, pp. 268, 278

Altman Beten

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *