Relation de la mission des Pyrénées (1635-1649); Le jésuite Jean Forcaud face à la montagne
Jesuit reports to their superiors have long been appreciated as a source of early-modern social and cultural history, invaluable outside eyes on local cultures; the reports of Jean Forcaud and his successors in the valleys of the Central Pyrenees are no exception. These accounts of missions tell about social structure, religious organization, feuding, and emotions. They are also dramatic descriptions of the cutting edge of Catholic Reformation, as the charismatic missionary, with the willing collaboration of his lay audience, sweeps away local custom and idiosyncrasy (music, dancing, games, masks) and replaces it (for how long we do not know) with Tridentine norms.
Forcaud describes missions in the following dioceses: Tarbes (1635, valleys of Lavedan and Ossun), Comminges (1637–38, valleys of Aure, Louron, Larboust, Oueil, Bareilles, Luchon, Layrisse, Bavarthés, and Barousse, as well as the larger towns of St. Béat, Aspet, and Salies de Luchon; in 1642, valley of Aran), Couserans (1639, valleys of Birós, Bellongue, Bethmale), Alet (1640–41, valley of Capcir), Mirepoix (1643), and Auch (1644, valley of Mauléon). After Forcaud's death in 1644, other Jesuits continued the work. This book contains a brief account of missions in Comminges of 1648–49. [End Page 142]
Forcaud, based in Auch, missionized the Pyrenées in a kind of personal calling, first convincing the bishops, and then moving communities and entire valleys by his preaching. As he tells it, the fame of the missions spread quickly, and he and his companions were besieged by requests for their preaching. Their reports describe the landscape; the communities; a widespread, public polygamy, an easy tolerance in those towns in which Catholics and Protestants lived together; the enthusiastic celebration of carnival; ongoing disputes, brouilles, and feuds; and a general ignorance as to the basics of the faith, despite the ample numbers of local clerics (whom they missionized separately, notably with spiritual exercises). Foucaud found a willing audience for a program of reconciliation and the settlement of civil disputes, consolidation of brotherhoods into (especially) those of the Holy Sacrament, enclosure of cemeteries, the erection of crosses on prominences, and a rigorist penitential devotion to the crucified Christ, reaching parents through children, and encouraging household images and altars. In a detailed introduction and footnotes, Serge Brunet confirms the events in the relations and identifies local protagonists. Only in the Val d'Aran was Forcaud rebuffed, in the midst of the revolt of the Catalans against the Spanish monarchy and in the context of the Aran clergy's dedication to preserving their stubborn autonomy.
Some of the texts are seventeenth-century French versions; others are translations into modern French along with the Latin originals. The book includes an annex with complementary documents, a glossary, indices of subjects and proper names, maps, and numerous illustrations.
Relation de la Mission des Pyrénées is fascinating reading, a fine complement to Brunet's account of Val d'Aran in the early-modern period (reviewed ante XCIII, , 84–103).