This page of Augnet refers to a noble set of buildings that were built by the Order of Saint Augustine, and confiscated in 1793 during the French Revolution It is still possible today to see these magnificent Augustinian structures of the fourteenth century to the eighteenth century.
The Order of Saint Augustine was much present around Toulouse in France right from the thirteenth century. Toulouse was the place of origin of a separate group that followed the Rule of Saint Augustine. This group was called the Brothers of Sack Cloth, because their outer clothing was made of the same inexpensive and rough material as was used in making sacks to carry farm products. They were founded in Toulouse in the year 1248. Because they had begun after the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, by its Canon 13 they were suppressed by the Second Council of Lyons in 1274. After they appealed unsuccessfully to Rome a number of times, their houses were sold by the Pope or the local bishop, or handed over to other religious orders, including the Order of Saint Augustine.
This happened between 1290 and 1317 as communities of Sack Friars literally died out, and gave the Augustinians as many as fifteen new communities in France, a house in Barcelona (Spain) in 1295, another in Esslingen (Germany) in 1325, and in 1290 one at Acre in the Holy Land (but it never became occupied by the Augustinians). Fifty years after the Order of St Augustine began in its present form in 1256, there were an estimated seventeen Augustinian provinces in the Order. Two of these were centred in France. A third province named Toulouse-Aquitaine began in France between 1308 and 1311. Toulouse therefore had both importance and status in the early life of the Order.
An early figure in the history of the Order of Saint Augustine in Toulouse was Blessed William of Toulouse O.S.A. William was born about the year 1297 and entered the Order at about the age of nineteen years. He was sent to the famous Augustinian study house (in Latin, studium generale) in Paris. He then spent the greater part of his remaining years at Toulouse, France. William was a polite man of gentle disposition. His preaching drew many others to the religious life. Having great respect for poverty himself, he showed special compassion for the poor. Most of all, he was a man of prayer, whether at home or on a journey. "To pray, or contemplate, or speak with God" were what he liked doing best. William died in Toulouse on 18th May 1369. Pope Leo XIII confirmed his cult in 1893.
For more details about William, go to: http://www.midwestaugustinians.org/saints_williamtoulouse.html
This priory (convento) of the Order in Toulouse was built in the 14th and 15th centuries. Called in French the Couvent des Augustins (Convent of the Augustinians), it was one of the principal religious establishments within the walls of the city of Toulouse. Before this, the convento of the Order of Saint Augustine existed in the Matabiau district, which was outside of the walls of the city. Its position there was small and unhealthy, and was noxious and unhealthy because of the nearby sewers of the town. In January 1309, the Order successfully requested permission of Pope Clement V (1305-1314) to buy land inside the city walls to build a new monastery (convento).
This authorisation was granted on 28th October 1310 under the patronage of the Bishop of Toulouse, Gailhard de Pressac. Construction on the present site began soon afterwards; it extended over the 14th and 15th centuries. Protesting that some of the buildings on land purchased by the Augustinians belonged to the cathedral and pleading liturgical questions, the cathedral chapter brought an action against the Augustinians which lasted seventeen years and was finally settled out of court.
In spite of this dispute, the hermits began, from 1310, the building of the church's chevet, the square foundations of the bell tower, and the vaulting of the apse and chapels in the chevet. Once the dispute was over, in May 1327, the construction started on the east side of the cloister and various buildings surrounding the future cloister. A chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pity was erected between 1365 and 1397. These works were followed with the construction of the cloister and a refectory. In 1387, the octagonal floors of the bell tower were completed.
According to a local history from the 17th century, Bishop Gailhard de Pressac donated the cost of the chapel (capella) of Notre-Dame de Pitié (Our Lady of Pity - see below) to the Augustinians. Jean de Lobres was involved in the building of the church beside the convento. The church was based on a very simple plan. It had a single nave and had three side chapels. It was dedicated in honour of St Augustine. Its structure was in the traditional meridional Gothic style, with its eight-bay single nave vaulted by diagonal rib crossings, lateral chapels inserted into buttresses, a five-side chevet star-vaulted using an ingenious plan of intervalled chapels.
Jean de Lobres also supervised the construction of the Cathedral of Toulouse, which is dedicated to Saint-Etienne. Construction of the building had sufficiently progressed in 1341 to allow a General Chapter of the Order of Saint Augustine to occur there. At the time the Prior General was William of Cremona O.S.A., who succeeded in gaining for the Order the authority of the Pope for the Order to become guardians of the tomb of Augustine in the church of Saint Peter in Ceil d'Oro, Pavia, Italy.
At this General Chapter at Toulouse in 1341, as a means of protection for the brethren and in order to preclude scandals which might arise for the Order, the General Chapter enforced a disciplinary precept of the Augustinian Rule and the Constitutions. Accordingly, it was ruled that no brother was allowed to leave the monastery without a companion. Transgressors of this regulation were to be considered as apostates from the Order.
The bell tower, still incomplete in 1510, of the convento was placed on the side of the main building. (See image at right) Forty years later, its upper level was destroyed by lightning on 14th September 1550. By this time, the financial situation of the convento was poor, and nothing could be done other than to remove the damaged top levels of the tower. It was built in two stages: the eastern gallery leading to the sacristy, the chapel (capella) of Our Lady of Pity (Notre-Dame de Pitié) and the chapter house was built in 1341. The three other galleries were completed at the end of the 14th century.
The small classic cloister, completed in 1626, was added in front of the west door. The cloister (clausura, choistro, patio), a haven of peace, has a garden that was restored in 1995. The excavations conducted in 1976 and 1977 uncovered the foundations of these chapels, which were probably built once the main buildings were completed.
They were certainly built by 1463 because the ceiling of one of them, the Conception de la Vierge chapel, was miraculously spared from the fire, as was the ceiling of the Notre-Dame de Pitié chapel (cappella). A great fire in Toulouse in 1463 was a major catastrophe for the city. It destroyed an entire district. The vaults of all the churches touched by the fire collapsed. Some of the buildings of the Augustinian convento were badly damaged, but the stone buildings suffered less than did the ones built of wood. Restoration was a slow process.
The large cloister had a surface of 321 square meters, it was formed by four avenues of twenty trifoil archways, supported by 176 marble double pillars topped by sculpted chapiters. On the east side of the cloître, three halls were preserved: a vestry, a chapel, and the chapter hall. In the year 1487, twenty four years later, Pope Innocent VIII granted indulgences to the congregations who lent their help to the reconstruction of the convento.
In appealing for help from the public, opportunity was taken to gather the necessary funds to finance the definitive roof of the church. The roof was assigned to the masons Martin Pujol and Pierre d'Arroye in 1495. They worked rapidly, and the completion of the church was celebrated on 30th June 1504. The first-known mention of in organ in the Augustinians' church goes back to 1504. Many times modified, this first instrument was finally installed in a galley at the crossing of the nave and the chancel where it stayed for two centuries. When the church was converted into a museum, in the Revolution, the organ and its gallery were destroyed.
However, the Couvent des Augustins had by 1504 entered a period of decline. The number of friars in residents had slowly but surely decreased: 200 in the 14th and 15th centuries, 140 in 1518, 60 in 1649, and 31 in 1680. This was partly caused by the internal factor that community life had deteriorated in France possibly more than elsewhere in Europe. Giles of Viterbo O.S.A., the Prior General of the Order of Saint Augustine from 1506 to 1517, agonised over the low ebb of religious life in France. Community regulations were not being observed. This related to the chanting of the Divine Office (prayer in choir), the eating of meals in common, the wearing of the tonsure, and the restriction on the visiting of taverns. The efforts of the Prior General in Rome (especially when the King of France was at political odds with the Pope) was very often a fruitless task.
From nearly two hundred residents in the 14th century and the 15th century, there were no more than forty in the convento at Toulouse 1518 (at the dawn of the Protestant Reformation), thirty in 1680, and only ten by the time of the French Revolution in 1789. During the same centuries, the resources of the convent dwindled. A balance was increasingly difficult to find with improved living conditions and periodic needs to restore rules and morals. After the middle of the 14th century, several events accelerated the decline of the convento. In 1542, it was subjected to systematic pillaging of the library, archives and almost all the linen, liturgical objects and valuable furniture, documents and money. The subsequent excommunication of the thieves and their supporters, however, neither secured their arrest nor caused the return of the stolen goods.
In 1768 King Louis XV of France ordered the closing of all small monasteries, allowed the existence of only one monastery of the same religious order in each city, and insisted, among other requirements, that monasteries have at least nine members. As a consequence, the Augustinians at a Chapter in 1771 decided to give up 44 of their 123 monasteries in France. Toulouse was not one of those surrendered, but like all other Augustinian monasteries it ended in the French Revolution under three decades later.
When the French Revolution came in 1789, there was very little damage to the church and convento. With the suppression of religious orders, the convento became the property of the nation by a decree of 2nd November 1789. The buildings of the monastery were allocated to the Provisional Museum of the South of the Republic, which was charged with the responsibility of collecting remnants of destroyed monuments.
Various sections of the property were then used in different ways. For example, the southern wing of the convent was rented out, and the big refectory sold to Citoyenne Verdier, who turned it into stables and a storehouse for fodder! The stable was then demolished in 1868. On the site, architect Denis Darcy built a large building whose eclectic style and decoration were inspired by a project by Biollet-le-Duc (1880-1896).
Created by a decision of 17 December 1793, the Musée des Augustins, the Museum of Fine Arts of Toulouse, was incorporated in the list of the fifteen museums established by the decree of 13 Fructidor year IX (31 August 1801), known as the Chaptal Decree, after the name of the Minister of the Interior of the time. It is one of the oldest museums in France. It was established four months after the Muséum Central de Paris (10th August 1793). Had not this decision been made on 17th December 1793 to use the former Augustinian church and much of the convento as a museum of art and sculpture, nothing probably would now have remained of these buildings.
The art and sculpture collection grew around the initial core that mainly consisted of revolutionary confiscations (nearly 250 works, mainly from the collections of the Cardinal de Bernis and Le Tonnelier de Breteuil. Funds diverted from the old Royal Academy of painting and sculpture in Toulouse founded in 1750 were poured into the museum. Further acquisitions have been added in the centuries that followed. Today, these collections represent more than 4000 pieces, of which there are an equal number of paintings and sculpture.
More than three hundred and fifty deliveries were brought from national collections. With them came masterpieces by Guerchin, Perugino, Rubens, Champaigne, etc. The city of Toulouse added their own acquisitions from legacies (239 works) and donations (725 works) thus embellishing the collection with masterpieces by Roques, François de Troy, Valenciennes and Corot.
Italian painters represented include Perugino, Guido, Crespi and Guardi, whilst French paintings from the 17th to the 19th centuries feature Champaigne, Moillon, Largillière, Vigié-Lebrun, Ingres, Delacroix, Corot and Courbet. French works by Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Vuillard and Manguin also attract many tourists to the museum.
Like most of the international religious orders that had property confiscated during the French Revolution, the Order of Saint Augustine has not been successful in returning permanently to France. Many attempts by the Order have begun (especially in Paris), but none have lasted permanently. In that Paris featured as an important city in the earliest century of the history of the Order, this is especially regrettable.
The spirit of Saint Augustine in France is carried by a separate religious order called the Augustinians of the Assumption ("The Assumptionists"), which began in France after the French Revolution and has since expanded to other countries, e.g., England, Canada, Holland and New Zealand.
Musée des Augustins. (The musée is the former convent of the Order of Saint Augustine in Toulouse.) There you will find five illustrated pages on the history of the church and convento. It is available in English, French and Spanish. http://www.augustins.org/dynaccueil_pop.htm
Musée_des_Augustins. Wikipedia. http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mus%C3%A9e_des_Augustins AN4217