Representations of Figures Active in the French-Canadian Church

 

Introduction

The role of the church in New France was both religious and social in nature. In addition
to providing religious services to colonists and trying to convert natives, the church also took
care of the children's education, cared for the sick and helped the poor. The woman of the
religious communities were some of the first females in New France. They were strong
individuals who were responsible for the establishment of many of the first schools, hospitals
and churches (Cosentino). I will be exploring how these females' images are represented in art
and the ways that the images reflect the personalities of the individuals.

The actions of these early religious communities were influenced by the Counter
Reformation. The Counter Reformation was the Catholic Church's response to Protestant ideas
which were spreading throughout Europe during the 16th century. The Protestants rejected many
of the ideas of the Catholic Church, such as the Cult of Saints, and sought reform. In response
the Papacy established the Council of Trent, which upheld many practices opposed by the
Protestants and instituted changes in order to triumph over heresy.

The Counter Reformation did not appear in France until after the accession and
conversion to Catholicism of Henry IV, in the late 16th century (The Columbia Encyclopedia).
During the Theocratic period, 1608-1663, there was "intense religious activity in France as well
as political instability and upheaval" (Belanger) which was reflected in New France. In effect the
church was actively trying to convert Amerindians and wished to establish a model Christian
community that they could reference in their work with the natives (Belanger).

Civil government was established by Royal Edict in 1663 which lead to the Galician
Period in New France, 1663-1760. During this period the church was still strong but subordinate
to the state meaning that the colonists were free from papal but not royal encroachments. Under
the watch of the state the church continued to see to most issues regarding education, health and
social services (Belanger).

The females active in the early French Canadian church whose images I will be exploring
are Mere Marie de L'Incarnation, Marguerite Bourgeoys and Marie Marguerite d'Youville.
L'Incarnation and Bourgeoys were involved in the Church of New France during both the
Theocratic and Galician period. Youville was actively involved in the Church during the
Galician period.