The Hotel de la Cloche (also known as Hotel De La Salle or Maison Natale) is situated at 40 Rue de l’Arbalete Street of the Crossbow.
It was built in 1545 and bought by Francois de la Salle in 1609. In this house in 1650 there lived a family of magistrates belonging to the nobility. Louis de La Salle, the future father of our founder, was a king’s counselor and president of the royal court in Reims. In 1650, Louis de La Salle married Nicolle Moet de Brouillet, the daughter of another king’s counselor, whose family was famous throughout the Champagne region for both their vineyards and their influence. The first child of the marriage was Jean Baptist de La Salle, born on April 30th, 1651. In French he was always called “Jean Baptiste” but in English he is known as “John Baptist.” He grew up in this house for the first 13 years of his life, surrounded by cousins and younger brothers and sisters. It was from Hotel de la Cloche that twice a day De La Salle would leave to follow lessons in the College des Bons Enfants.
Young Brothers & Sister Die
Here it was that John Baptist first learned the meaning of sorrow at the loss of his young brothers and sister, Remy, Marie-Anne and Jean-Louis. (This was not an uncommon occurrence in the society of the time; seven children out of eleven survived into adulthood.)
In due time the Maison La Cloche became too small for a family that kept growing in size at close intervals: eleven children in twenty years of married life. So the De La Salle family moved to the Rue de Marguerite (Hotel des Postes).
The House Today
The Maison Natale is now a museum, although a small community of Brothers lives there. It holds such treasures as an interesting tapestry of the life of De La Salle and a fine collection of books from the Insitute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.
The house is literally decorated with antiques, all kinds of paintings, and letters dating back to the early days of the Brothers. There is an alabaster statuette of Our Lady with a bunch of grapes (originating from Champagne) in the inner courtyard.
In this house is kept the chair that De La Salle used in Dijon in 1714, along with several garments and instruments of discipline that were part of the spirituality of the time.
The house chapel is located in the former sitting room of the De La Salle family. In the chapel is an interesting statue showing De La Salle teaching a boy. The statue is carved from a 14th century beam which is itself a remnant from the old part of the house that survived after the 1918 destruction from World War I. The mural on the left at the front shows Our Lady among the Arts. The child in her arms is the younger son of the sculptor of the wooden statue who recently had his son baptized in this Chapel.
The original misericord (a small wooden shelf underneath folding seats for canons in the cathedral, installed to provide some level of comfort for those standing during long periods of prayer) is here. It was the seat of Canon De La Salle in Reims Cathedral.
In the courtyard is a curious winding staircase in an enclosed stairwell. On the outside of the front of the house is the very attractive statue of De La Salle by Lejeune (president of the French Academy of Fine Arts). This is one of two statues of De La Salle by him. The front of the house is decorated with pillars, ionian capitals and a frieze.
At the left, the curiously slanted carriage entrance is flanked by two statues representing Adam and Eve. The slanted entrance was designed that way because another building jutted out at a 90-degree angle, filling in the present street, which did not exist when the house was built. Hence, the carriage entrance was on the far corner of the building and was designed accordingly.
The statue of De La Salle by Lejeune was unveiled in 1952. In the 17th century it is likely that a statue of Our Lady occupied the niche currently occupied by Lejeune’s statue. The base of the niche carries the date of the restoration of the building in the renaissance style – 1545.
Reims has an illuminated night tour which uses the Hotel De La Salle as its starting point.
The pilgrim should note the following details around the House:
On the right, the market square, “Place du Forum” which De La Salle crossed so often. Beneath the present Place is the actual Roman Forum: a large open market of the 3rd century, part of which has been cleared to reveal a huge room with square pillars.
On the left, the Town Hall, dating from the18th century, inside which, prior to 1914, there had been a commemorative plaque which read:
“Les Freres avaient bien merite de la Cite.”
From 1680 – 1880, the Brothers had been practically the only recognized teachers of the boys’ primary schools in Reims.
It was also at about this time that De La Salle’s cousin, Fr. Jacques Marquette left for North America, working with the Iroquois Indians along the upper Mississippi.
- De La Salle’s early home was located very near the center of town. What kind of influence could that have had on his eventual work and personal disposition?
- As he grew up, De La Salle was surrounded by siblings and cousins. Could he have developed some of his leadership abilities in that environment? Explain.
- When you take in the house and its grandeur, what do you think a typical day in the life of the young De La Salle was like, in a general way?
- The room reflects something of the nature of life for an upper-class family of the time. How do you imagine De La Salle saw himself, growing up in this environment?
- When De La Salle received the tonsure, he declared his intention to become a priest. Could young people be mature enough at that age to make such a decision?
- The room opens up onto the street, which in De La Salle’s time was actually a corner. What implications might that have had on De La Salle’s viewpoint of the world?
- There are many historical items in the archive room. Why do we want to keep in touch with tradition like that? Is it really that important?
- Can you think of a relationship between an interest in education and an interest in preserving significant items from the past? Is it relevant for the present?
- What part of Lasallian history would you be most interested in learning more about? What could you do to take a step in that direction?