French Oratory Architectural Politics
Politecnico di Torino, Turin, Italy
In reconciled France after the Wars of Religion the new post-Tridentine orders established themselves all over the country in just a few decades. Many of them were founded through local initiatives, such as the Congregation of the Oratory of Jesus, founded in Paris by Pierre de Bérulle in 1611 on the pattern of Philip Neri's Roman institute. Aimed to reform French secular clergy, Oratorians composed a society of priests who, taking no vows, chose to live in community to accomplish their apostolic ministry. Primarily devoted to achieving priesthood perfection, Oratorians also turned towards the education of youth, staffing colleges and seminaries everywhere in France, usually in competition with the Jesuits.
This paper aims to analyze Oratory architectural politics and production, by introducing the results of an ongoing research project. The Congregation exercised a clear form of centralized control upon their buildings: no maison was authorized to contract any loan, to sell or buy, to demolish or build without a written approval from the General Superior and his Council, who demanded to be informed through drawings, notes and plans. Thus, Oratory leadership controlled the temporal administration of the whole Congregation: an architectural policy primarily influenced by cost-control and financial means, rather than by planning and formal choices. Even if Oratorians do not seem to have ever worked out any particular plan type, interest in their building practice and in their idea of architecture lies in explaining similarities and differences in comparison with Jesuits, but also with other counter-reformational orders.
All these aspects will be examined through the exemplary case of Abel-Louis de Sainte-Marthe, fifth General of the Oratory (1672-1696), whose predilection for architecture made him a competent reviser of the projects for the Congregation, and even occasional designer as with the rotunda of Notre-Dame-des-Ardilliers in Saumur.