Once called “the ugliest building in Rouen,” the present St. Sever Church dates from 1860. De La Salle would have known the previous church, built on this location. Although not an ancient church, it has the oldest Roman crypt in Rouen, dating from the 5th century. When the relics were transferred to St. Yon in 1734 a new tombstone was made for St. Yon with a French translation for the original Latin text.
It was the “French” tombstone that was broken when the Founder’s relics were scattered in the Revolution, and a part of the “French” tombstone is now in the side chapel of the Pensionnat Jean-Baptiste de La Salle.
A plaque in St. Sever recalls:
“John Baptist De La Salle born in Reims, 30th April 1651, priest, founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, who created and established gratuitous popular schools in 23 towns of France, including Darnetal, and five schools in Rouen. He resided at the manor of St. Yon (the present Ecole Normale) from 1705 to 1709 and from 1715 to 1719. He died there on Good Friday, April 7th, 1719. From 1734-1835 his remains were in the chapel of St. Yon, Rue St. Julien (which had been constructed by the Brothers and their pupils during the years 1728-1734). This memorial was erected in the year of the Tercentenary of the birth of St J.B. de La Salle, 1951.”
In 1925, the parish priest of St. Sever erected a chapel to De La Salle in his church, in reparation for the troubles De La Salle had in that parish.
Painted in 1715, there are now two pictures that are from the Brothers’ chapel of St. Yon in the church of St. Sever, in the chapels of St. Joan of Arc and St. John Baptist de La Salle. This chapel of the Founder dates from 1925 and is due to Fr. Farcy, priest of the parish and author of a history of the House of St. Yon. He learned from his father, a teacher trained by the Brothers in the Rouen teachers’ college, his great devotion to De La Salle. In the left aisle, in the chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, can be found an altar which came from the Brothers’ chapel of St Yon.
It is thought that here lies the tomb of St. Mellon of Cardiff, who was bishop by the middle of the 3rd century.
In 1860, the St. Sever known to De La Salle (and once called “the ugliest building in Rouen”) was replaced by the present church which stands perpendicular to the original church but on the same site.
In 1906, De La Salle’s relics were transferred from Rouen to the then Mother House at Lembecq-Les-Hal, Belgium, and then in 1937 finally to the new Motherhouse in Via Aurelia, Rome.
Panoramic view inside Church of St. Sever
- When De La Salle died on April 7, 1719, there were some 23 communities around France and 100 Brothers. What do you think might have been going through his mind?
- De La Salle seems to have had his share of controversies with parish priests, pastors, and other figures in the hierarchy; but was always very respectful. Why was that? And how did he handle such difficulties, especially if he knew that he was in the right?
- When you think about your own death, what kind of legacy or remembrance would you like to think you might have? Is there any evidence that such might be the case?