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St Marcouf and the Foundation of the Abbey of Nanteuil.

The coronation of Charles VII, in the cathedral of Reims, is one of those events whose memory is still alive in France today. The anointing of the Dauphin, in the presence of Joan of Arc, made him the true King of France. Another ceremony, however, established the legitimacy of power and issue of the kings. The "Chronique de la Pacelle" gives an account of this. It talks of "a priory of the church of Saint-Remy, called Corbigny (or Corbeny) which is in the locality of Reims, being about six leagues from there. Here the relics of a glorious saint, a full-blooded Frenchman, called St Marcouf was for years a great influence over the illness scrofila,- and it is by the merits of this that the kings can heal it." We may note that Charles VII used the royal touch (laying on of hands) for this illness, as did King Phillip I (or else Robert le Pieuse) and as all his successors did to the time of Charles X.

This is not the place to repeat the history of the pilgrimage to Corbeny, and the mysterious royal privilege of the Kings of France in this matter. In a fine book. Marc Bloch has studied these: one can see there the important place held in the history of France by Marcouf, Abbot of Nantus in the Cotentin (Normandy peninsula).

If we do not know the exact date of the arrival of Marcouf's relics in Champagne, we have at least the date of the establishment of the priory of Corbeny. In 906, Charles III ("the Simple") carried out its settlement. In the church dedicated to St Peter was placed the body of Marcouf. The relics arrived, carried by some clergy from the village, and the King asked Bishop Erlebold for permission to guard them, so that he might ensure that their location was proven, and their return made difficult. The reply was signed by the Archbishop of Rouen, Guidan, and also by the other bishops of the province; it was favourable, and conditional of such a response, two lands situated by the village of Corbeny and in Laon were granted to the priory.

We see there how it was that the body of the saint came to a region under the Archbishop of Rouen. However, Bishop Erlebold is known only by means of this document and the fact that he is placed in the two lists of the bishops of Coutance and Bayeux. So this does not take us very far.

On the abbey of Nants (or Nantus), where the body of Marcouf was laid, we have another text, but it is very difficult to date. A Life of St Ouen tells us that, probably towards the middle of the 7th century, the Archbishop Ouen visited the regions of his diocese, travelling throughout the lands of the Cotentin. When he came to the monastery of St Marcouf, the abbot Ernuin (or Bernuin) asked him to carry out the transfer of the body of their founder. In recompense for this service, St Ouen wanted to take the skull of the saint, but he found enscribed on this the words: "Take all that you want of the body, but leave the head", and this is given as the reason why the head of Marcouf remained at Nantus, before leaving for Corbeny. The archbishop of Rouen carried away the rest of the relics, and some fragments were placed at Laen (in the church later called Notre-Dame de Froide-Rue). Other remnants were left at Cologne when Ouen passed by there, some years later.


The arrival of the Normans was fatal to the abbey. Wace in the "Romance of Rou" attributed to Hasting the destruction of the abbey:

By Saint-Marcouf on the river
There was found a rich abbey
In its day it was called Nantus.

Late as this testimony is, it may go back to an ancient tradition, and so is, perhaps, worthy of consideration.

When peace returned to the Cotentin, the abbey was not rebuilt. However, an oratory was built in memory of the saint on the Isles Saint-Marcouf and this dates from the 10th century. Legend reports that the roofing made for it was transported by a miracle from Notre-Dame de Fecamp!

Monks came from the abbey of Cerisy to settle in the Isle Saint-Marcouf, but they were taken ill during their stay, and did not remain for long. By 1250, there was only a single monk living there, and the priory was closed some years later. It is not until the 15th century that it was settled, and again only for a short time, by the Cordeliers. They came there when chased from Jersey.

But on the existence of Marcouf and the abbey, we still have another source: the testimony of the martyrologies.


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