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A Brief History

by Chantal Crépey

St. Vincent de Paul founded the Congregation of the Mission in 1625. 

In 1632, he moved its central administration to the newly acquired Priory of Saint-Lazare which became the first motherhouse of the young congregation.

On the eve of the French Revolution, 13 July 1789, Saint-Lazare was plundered. A few years later, the Congregation was expelled from its home.

In 1817, the government provided the Congregation a house and land at 95 rue de Sèvres which became, over many years, its second motherhouse.

In 1826, the Congregation laid the foundation stone for a chapel to be dedicated to St. Vincent. This handsome edifice was completed in a single year, under the leadership of Monsieur Vasserot the architect of the Chapel. Brother Augier was commissioned to supervise the work.

On 1 November 1827, construction was finished, and the new chapel, dedicated to St. Vincent, was consecrated by Archbishop de Quelen, when Father de Wailly was Superior General. This jewel in the style of Charles X was embellished and enlarged over the years.

In 1853, Father Etienne blessed the Chapel of the Passion, on the right of the main entrance, in honour of the Scapular of the Passion revealed to a Daughter of Charity, Sister Apolline, in 1846.

In 1854, the monumental main altar was set in place, and two stairways were constructed behind it for easier access to the reliquary containing the remains of St. Vincent. The following year, the decoration of the triumphal arches was completed. In 1859 the side aisles with tribunes above were added, as was the altar to the Blessed Virgin in 1860. In 1864 the stained-glass windows were installed. In 1865 M. Cavaillé-Coll completed the construction of the organ.

Father Etienne died in 1874 after 27 years in office. 1894 saw the end of construction of the main entrance, surmounted by the bust of Saint Vincent. Recently, from 1983 to 1992, under the impetus of then Superior General, Father McCullen, the Chapel was completely restored and classified as an historical monument in 1994.

The relics of Saint Vincent

The magnificent silver reliquary donated by Bishop de Quelen in the name of the Diocese of Paris is the work of a very talented silversmith, Charles Odiot, who received a gold medal for this masterpiece at the Exposition of 1827.

On 25 April 1830, a solemn procession led its way through Paris from the square in front of Notre Dame Cathedral. The cortège included a thousand Daughters of Charity, among them the young Catherine Labouré, who just arrived from her native Burgundy.

The reliquary was placed behind and above the main altar. It is crowned by figures in silver representing Saint Vincent in his glory, going up to heaven, with four cherubs who carry the symbols of faith (a chalice), hope (a staff with a serpent), charity (a horn of plenty) and the Church (a cross).

On either side, resting on a pedestal base, are two orphans, a boy and a girl, their eyes fixed on the face of the Saint to whom they seem to be praying.

The rich clothes chosen to cover the relics of St. Vincent are in marked contrast with those the Saint wore during his life. We notice the magnificent alb of embroidered tulle and the violet silk stole, richly embroidered with gold. The face of the Saint is wax, as well as the hands in which have been placed a painted and varnished wooden cross.

The cross is said to have been the one used by St. Vincent when he assisted Louis XIlI on his deathbed. This cross, with silver at the end of three of the cross pieces, holds a corpus made of ivory. Under the feet of the Crucified Jesus, a little oblong silver reliquary, decorated with crystal, contains fragments of the true cross and relics of St. Vincent. Below the cross is a coral statue of the Blessed Virgin carrying the child Jesus, with John the Baptist as a child at her side carrying a cross.

San vicente de Paul


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