14. The Christmas Eve of 1647 in the Journal des Jésuites

By Weiao Xing (@WeiaoX)

‘On Christmas Eve, at night, we assembled as usual, that is to say, at half past eleven; we sang hymns and canticles […]’. In 1647 in Québec, a group of French Jesuits gathered, probably illuminated by candlelight, chanting a repertoire of sacred songs to celebrate Christmas. ‘At the end of Te Deum, we rang the mass, as if presupposing it was midnight. The fort fired five shots at the Te Deum’.[i] The Jesuits were describing how they sang Te Deum, the hymn ‘God, We Praise You’ in Latin, close to midnight whilst Christmas was being saluted by the Saint-Louis Forts that saw the colonial power in New France.[ii]

These intriguing details were registered in the Journal des Jésuites. It consists of writings by Jesuits including Jérôme Lalemant (1593–1673), the in-service Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in Canada during that Christmas season.[iii] One of his predecessors Paul Le Jeune (1591–1664), a notable missionary in Indigenous–French encounters, reportedly said mass from half past six to eight on that Christmas Eve.[iv] Covering accounts from 1645 to 1668, the manuscript journal is held by the Musée de la civilisation in Québec City, Canada.[v] This journal was integral to the transatlantic circulation of information and knowledge. On the pages, the Canadian superiors including Father Lalemant recounted missionary reports compiled by other Jesuits. Afterwards, either quoting their words or summarising their narratives, the superiors usually referred to the journal to draft the Jesuit Relations, a well-known series of reports annually printed in Paris between 1632 and 1673.[vi] Back in New France, the Jesuit authors could consult the published Relations, noticing how the Parisian editors had kept or altered their words.[vii] In a more private sense, the hand-written journal pinpoints numerous facets of New France missions that were unavailable to the wider readership in the seventeenth century.

Featured image: Journal des Jésuites, Journal manuscrit des RR. PP. Jésuites

Credit: Musée de la civilisation, fonds d’archives du Séminaire de Québec, Canada

[i] ‘La veuille de Noel, la nuict, nous nous assemblasmes à l’ordinaire, c’est-à-dire, à 11. Heures & demie ; nous y chantasmes hymnos & cantica […]’, ‘à l’issue Te Deum, pendant lequel nous fismes sonner la messe, comme presuposant que c’estoit l’heure de minuit. Le fort tira 5. coups au Te Deum’, see Jérôme Lalemant and François Le Mercier, Le journal des Jésuites publié d’après le manuscrit original conservé aux archives du Séminaire de Québec, ed. Charles-Honoré Laverdière and Henri Raymond Casgrain (Montréal: Chez J. M. Valois, 1892), 97.

[ii] ‘Culture : Lieu historique national des Forts-et-Châteaux-Saint-Louis’Gouvernement du Canada, Government of Canada.

[iii] Léon Pouliot, ‘Lalemant, Jérôme’, in Dictionary of Canadian Biography (University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2020).

[iv] Lalemant and Le Mercier, Le journal des Jésuites, 97; Léon Pouliot, ‘Le Jeune, Paul’, in Dictionary of Canadian Biography(University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2017).

[v] François-Joseph Le Mercier et al., ‘Journal des Jésuites’ (1645–1668), MS48, Musée de la civilisation, fonds d’archives du Séminaire de Québec.

[vi] Peter Gagné, ‘Journal des Jésuites : journal intime des missionnaires’, in Objets de référence : 122 témoins de l’histoire, ed. Michel Laurent (Montréal: Les Éditions de l’Homme, 2011), 80–81; Reuben G. Thwaites, The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610–1791 (Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company, 1898); Micah True, Masters and Students: Jesuit Mission Ethnography in Seventeenth-Century New France (Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015), 3–26.

[vii] True, Masters and Students, 140–70.

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