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Saint Isabelle of France (March 1225–23 February 1270) was the daughter of Louis VIII of France and Blanche of Castile. She was a younger sister of Louis IX of France (Saint Louis) and Alphonse of Toulouse, and an older sister of Charles I of Sicily. In 1256 she founded the Franciscan Abbey of Longchamp in the part of the Forest of Rouvray now called the Bois de Boulognemarker, west of Paris.

When still a child at court Isabelle was already devoted to religion. By the Bull of 26 May 1254, Pope Innocent IV allowed her to retain some Franciscan fathers as her special confessors. She was even more devoted to the Franciscan Order than her royal brother. She not only broke off her engagement with a count, but moreover refused the hand of Conrad IV of Germany, son of Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, although pressed to accept him by everyone, even by Innocent IV, who however did not hesitate subsequently to praise her fixed determination to remain a virgin.

Abbey of Longchamp

As Isabelle wished to found a convent of the Order of Poor Ladies of Saint Clare, Louis IX began in 1255 to acquire the necessary land in the Forest of Rouvray, not far from the Seinemarker west of Parismarker. On 10 June 1256, the first stone of the convent church was laid. The building appears to have been completed about the beginning of 1259, because Pope Alexander IV gave his sanction on 2 February 1259, to the new rule which Isabelle composed along with a team of at least four leading Franciscans, including Saint Bonaventure. This rule was drawn up solely for this convent, which was named the Monastery of the Humility of the Blessed Virgin (monasterium humilitatis beatae Mariae virginis). In the rule the sisters were called the Sorores Ordinis humilium ancillarum Beatissimae Mariae Virginis ("sisters of the humble order of servants of the most blessed virgin Mary"). The fast was not so strict as in the Rule of Saint Clare; the community was allowed to hold property, and the sisters were subject to the Franciscans. Some of the first sisters came from the female Franciscan convent at Reimsmarker.Feast day February 26.

Isabelle refused to become an abbess, and she never entered the cloister, but from 1260 (or 1263) she followed the rules in her own home near by. Isabelle was not altogether satisfied with the first rule drawn up, and therefore submitted a revised rule to Pope Urban IV, through the agency of her brother Louis IX, who had also secured the confirmation of the first rule. Urban approved this new constitution on 27 July 1263. The difference between the two rules consisted for the most part in outward observances and minor alterations. This new rule was also adopted by other French and Italian convents of the Order of St. Clare, but one can by no means say that a distinct congregation was formed on the basis of Isabel's rule. In the new rule Urban IV gave the nuns of Longchamp the official title of sorores minores inclusae, which was doubtlessly intended to emphasize closer union with the Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans).She'd help the sick and poor for love.

Isabelle died in her house at Longchamp on 23 February 1270, and was buried in the convent church. After nine days her body was exhumed, when it showed no signs of decay, and many miracles were said to have been wrought at her grave. In 1521 Pope Leo X allowed the Abbey of Longchamp to celebrate her feast with a special office. On 4 June 1637, a second exhumation took place. On 25 January 1688, the nuns obtained permission to celebrate her feast with an octave, and in 1696 the celebration of the feast on 31 August was permitted to the whole Franciscan Order.

The Abbey of Longchamp had many vicissitudes. The French Revolution closed it, and in 1794 the empty and dilapidated building was offered for sale, but as no one wished to purchase it, it was destroyed. In 1857 the walls were pulled down except one tower, and the grounds were added to the Bois de Boulognemarker.


Further reading

  • Agnes d'Harcourt (third Prioress of Longchamp, 1263–1270), Vie de Madame Isabelle, Archives Nationales L. 1021 MSS., Paris.
  • André, Histoire de Ste Isabelle, Carpentras, 1885.
  • Daniélo, Vie de Madame Ste Isabelle, Paris, 1840.
  • Berguin, La Bienheureuse Isabelle de France, Grenoble, 1899.
  • Duchesne, Histoire de l'abbaye royale de Longchamp, 12557–1789, Paris, 1904.
  • Sbaralea, Bull. Franc., III, Rome, 1765, 64-9.
  • Sbaralea, Bull. Franc., II, Rome, 1761, 477-86.
  • Sean L. Field, Isabelle of France: Capetian Sanctity and Franciscan Identity in the Thirteenth Century (University of Notre Dame Press, 2006).
  • Sean L. Field, ed. and trans., The Writings of Agnes of Harcourt: The Life of Isabelle of France and the Letter on Louis IX and Longchamp (University of Notre Dame Press, 2003).

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