Talk given by GérardMoussay and Guillaume Arotçarena
Brief history of the Archives
Right from the inception of the Société des Missions Etrangères (Society for Foreign Missions) in the XVIIth century, the missionaries' letters and documents concerning the mission countries were collected –and conserved with care. The first conservator of the archives seems to have been Étienne Pal¬lu, nephew of His Lordship François Pallu. After having assumed the task of Attorney General of the vicar apostolics in Rome for a few years, he was invited to be the Director of the Seminary of the Foreign Missions in February 1679 : he remained in the post for seven years. The documents of this epoch tell us that he started collecting the Archives of the Society.
He was helped in his task by Jean-Marc Odam, who was appointed to take care of the material af¬fairs of the Seminary. Since he had a beautiful handwriting, he was also often entrusted with writing Directors' letters. The service of the Archives of the Foreign Missions conserves numerous letters of the end of the XVIIth century, which were written by him. During the French Revolu¬tion and the Napolionic period, one part of the archives were confiscated by the staff services, especially the documents which concern ownership and financial transactions.
In the beginning of the XIXth century, the archives began to get classified in a systematic manner. The initial works of classification of archives were undertaken by Jean Tesson (1798-1876), Director of the Seminary of Paris in 1833. They were followed by Joseph Voisin (1797-1877), appointed as Deputy of the Seminary of Paris in 1833 for the missions in China (Se-tchoan, Yun-nan, Kouy-tcheou, Fo-kien), and designated as Secretary to the Board from 1835. He brought two complete corpus of 80000 Chinese movable types from China, which were registered in 1838 at the Royal Printing House. From 1847, he took over as Librarian and Conservator of the archives.
However it is only in the middle of the XIXth century that the archives of the Society of Foreign Mission underwent a systematic classification. The important work was undertaken by Jean Rousseille (1832-1900). Appointed in 1855 to the procuracy of Hongkong, he was reappointed as Director of the Seminary of Paris in 1863, and was entrusted to teach the Scriptures and liturgy. He was also entrusted with taking care of the library and the archives. For 10 years, with the help of some aspirants, he succeeded in classifying, cataloguing and binding the first 300 volumes of the collection of archives of la Society. At the same time he took care of searching and recopying the main do¬cuments in the public archives concerning the Foreign Missions, which were confiscated during the troubled period of the Revolution.
In 1867, Jean Rousseille was entrusted with finding out everything that concerns the Rules of the Society in the archives of the Seminary. He published a book on this question entitled ‘Historical memory on the Constitutions of the Congregation of the Foreign Missions' (Paris, Goupy, 1869). He later published a collection of ‘Constitutions, decrees, induits and instruc¬tions of the Holy Office pertaining to the Foreign Missions' (Chamerot, 1880).
The work of Jean Rousseille was pursued by Adrien Launay, who took over as Director of Archives for 40 years. In the month of September 1884, the Board of Directors entrusted him with writing the Tables of Archives of the Seminary. This work took ten years of his time.
The outcome of this was an analytical table including twelve infoliated volumes of 600 to 1000 pages each, and an alphabetical table made of four volumes in 4°. After having finished this important work, Adrien Launay took up the exploitation of the collection of Archives and started writing several books, concerning the History of the Society, the general and particular History of the Missions. In 1894, he published ‘History of the Society of Foreign Missions (3 vol.), a work that earned him an eulogistic papal brief from Pope Léon XIII.
To enrich his information, Adrien Launay consulted the Archives of the Propaganda, from the Bibliothèque Nationale and British Museum, as well as the Religious Weeks of most of the dioceses of France. In 1896, he went to India and, in 1898, published the His¬tory of the Missions in India (5 vol.), a work that was awarded a prize by the Académie Française. In 1898, he made a trip to China, where, with the help of about ten scribes, he was able to collect and reproduce numerous documents. Once back in France, in the beginning of 1899, Adrien Launay started working again and published several books one after another concerning the history of the Society and the missions, among others: The Memorial of the Society of Foreign Missions (2 vol.), the History of the Missions of Kuang-tong, Mission of Se¬tchuan (2 vol.), Mission of Kouy-tchéou (3 vol.), Mission of Kouangsi, Mission of Manchuria, Mission of Tibet, Mission of Siam 1662- 1811 (3 vol.), Mission of Cochin China, Mission of Tonkin, historical documents pertaining to the Society of Foreign Missions.
In 1926, one year before his death, the delegates of the vicar apostolics and the Seminary, who met at Rome, still had recourse to his knowledge on the history of the Foreign Missions, before deciding on the modifications to be brought about to the Rules of the Society of Foreign Missions. The archivists who came after Adrien Launay, continued to manage the collection of archives with care, bringing together and scrupulously conserving the documents originating from missions, but a methodic filing of the contemporary archives was not yet possible in all its entirety.
After the death of Adrien Launay in 1927, Henri Sy, the then Superior of the seminary of theology, became the Director of the service of Archives. He was more particularly interested in the history of the Society of Foreign Missions and brought together all the information pertaining to the dispatch, the departure and the works of the first vicar apostolics in Asia, as well the foundation of the Seminary of the rue du Bac. The whole story of the beginnings of the Society is contained in two big typed volumes, which were published in the collec¬tion of the Archives ‘studies and documents', Henri Sy takes advantage of a precious collaborator, Jacques Papinot. First Head of the Bulletin of the Society of Foreign Missions, edited in Hong-kong, he had to come back to France due to health reasons. For several years, he lent his support in filing the archives, while managing the Annals of the Society of Foreign Missions and the Oeuvre des Partants. From 1939, an old professor of the Seminary of Bièvres, Charles Cesselin, also lent his support to the Service of Archives by collecting information on the missions and writing the obituary columns of the missionneries.
In 1950, Hubert Monjean was called to replace Henri Sy, who had died the previous year. Since he started his missions in 1923, Hubert Monjean had spent his life in Malaysia as Professor of philosophy and theology at the General College of Pinang. Specially talented for languages, he studied and perfectly knew not only English and Malay, but even Tamil and the dialect Hakka. In his new responsibility as con¬servator of archives, he quickly realized the difficulty in consulting manuscripts, which were stuck on the narrow strips of paper markers, then bound into very thick volumes. He inaugurated a new method of classification and henceforth filed the manuscripts by mission and by year, by making a cross-reference index, by making a list in every folder. The folders containing the archives were themselves put together in numbered cartons. In less than seven years, Hubert Monjean succeeded in inventorizing 80,000 pages of manuscripts, which were filed in 400 volumes, and made a detailed descriptive inventory of half of these documents.
From 1953, Henri Simonin, recently expulsed from Manchuria, was appointed as Hubert Monjean's Assistant. Famous specialist in botany and entomology, and active member of the Society of Geography and the Friends of the Museum, he henceforth engaged his great skills in the service of the Archives.
In 1958, Jean Guennou became Archivist. He occupied this post until 1981. He continued the classification work of recent archives, undertaken by his predecessors, but he was especially interested in the history of the Society of the Foreign Missions of Pa¬ris. He wrote numerous articles on the first vicar apostolics, F. Pallu, P. Lambert de la Motte, Louis Laneau, and on some more remarkable persons like His Lordship Langer or His Lordship Luquet. He also was interested in the life of the martyrs of the Foreign Missions, especially those who have sacrficed their lives in Korea or in Vietnam. In 1986, he published his book ‘Foreign Missions of Paris', which summarized his thoughts on this Society, a book which is rooted in the history of France, history of Asia and history of the Church all at once. To help him in his task of Archivist, some colleagues came to support him soon. From 1968 to 1981, Charles Barbier, former Director of the review ‘In the country of the Pagodas' and the printing house of Assumption at Bangkok, devoted himself to the filing of the memorial.
From 1981, Pierre Grasland, expulsed from China where he had spent close to 20 years, devoted all his time to make a descriptive inventory of the recent archives of China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, India and Burma. The result of his monumental work was put together in 70 manuscript notebook of 300 pages. After the General Body Meeting in 1974, Pierre Pencolé, former missionnary of Vietnam, was also appointed to the Services of Archives. He was specially entrusted with the writing of the Memorial and obituary notices of the missionaries.
Jean Baptiste Vérinaud replaced Jean Guennou who retired as Archivist in 1981. He will be occupying this post until his sudden death in 1987. In his new responsibility, Jean Baptiste Vérinaud kept the doors of his service wide open and ensured facilities to researchers who were anxious to consult the archives of the Foreign Mis¬sïons. He continued to write articles at the same time for special magasines and contributed to the writing of the book ‘Light on Korea', on the occasion of the canoni¬zation of martyrs of Korea. He wrote another very documented brochure, on the occasion of the centenary of the Saint-Raphaël sanatorium of Montbeton, which welcomed the retired missionaries.
After the death of Jean-Baptiste Vérinaud in 1987, Jean-Paul Lenfant was asked to replace at the management of the archives. He assumed the post of Archivist until 1992. Like his predecessor, he willingly welcomed researchers, to guide and advise them. He undertook to translate from Latin at the same time and published an unedited text by His Lordship Louis Laneau, entitled ‘The Divinization by Jesus-Christ'. This text had the objective of guiding the missionaries in the XVIIth century in their apostolic action. During the terms of Jean-Baptiste Vérinaud and Jean-Paul Lenfant, Joseph Devisse, former mission¬ary from Japan, continued the work of P. Pencolé, by ensuring the writing of the Memorial and obituary notices.
In 1993, Gérard Moussay was called to assume the post of conservator of Archives. He continued the work of filing and saving his predecessors, with the advantage of getting benefit from the advantages of software tools. An important database then saw the light of day. It contained all the useful information on the history of the Foreign Missions, on the life and activities of the missionaires since the inception of the current epoch. The service of Archives got itself organized henceforth by opening its doors even wider to the researchers.
In 2001, The Archives of Foreign Missions created a website (http://archivesmep.mepasie.org), to make the Foreign Missions and its archives better known. Until that day, about fifty thousand pages were put on the site and are consultable by all those who are interested in the history and the missionaries of the Society of the Foreign Missions.
On the site, we can find information on the missionaries (date and place of birth, date of ordination, successive appointments, date and place of death, life and missionary activities). We can also have access to major documents, like the Reports of the Society (annual reports of the Bishops and houses of the Society) since 1840 until the current epoch, or else ‘The Instructions of 1659' (data by the Holy Office to the first vicar apostolics), the ‘Monita ad missionarios' (Instructions to the missionaries,1665). Some entire books are still made available to the readers, for example the history of the ‘Beginnings of the Society' by the P. Sy, ‘Our Fathers in the Faith ‘ by An¬dré Marillier. etc ...
The Archive site can be consulted every day by the families of the missionaries, but especially by many French or foreign researchers, who want to know a little more about the history of the Foreign Missions, as well as on all the Asian countries where the Society of the Foreign Missions has worked through its history. We evaluate the number of pages read each year at about hundred and fifty thousand by the visitors of the site of the Archives.
Some new texts are being digitized, especially the Annals of the Foreign Missions, the Bulletin of the Society of the Foreign Missions, the Edifying Lettres. etc ... These texts should appear on the Archive site at the end of the year 2006.
The service of the Archives functions with a personnel of three people: Brigitte Appa¬vou, Assistant to the Archivist, replaces him when required. She especially takes care of receiving and welcoming the visitors, answering their mails, registering the filing of the documents, putting new data on the Archive site, etc ... Bri¬gitte Maguimey, Lab Assistant of the service, is in charge of transforming the documents into microfiches. She is moreover in charge of the conservation of microfilmed products, their covering and possibly duplicating the microfilms. Lucie Dalle is more specially appointed for inventory and filing of the iconographic documents (slides, photographs, postal cards) and audio-visual documents. She also lends a strong hand to Brigitte Appavou to welcome the researchers.
The service of the Archives also gets the precious help of four women doing voluntary work, who dedicate one day every week for the work of filing the correspon¬dance of the missionaries. A young Vietnamian also extends his collaboration few hours a week by entering the manuscipt texts into the computer.
The hand-written archives of the Foreign Missions are arranged in chronological order into two big categories: the old archives and the recent archives.
1. – The old archives, which underwent a methodical filing under the direction of Jean Rousseille and Adrien Launay, cover the period from 1660 to 1920 on the whole. These archives are bound in volumes, numbered 1 to 1815, and could be consulted easily with the help of analytical and alphabetical tables, allowing quick access to the information required.
2.- The recent archives, undergoing filing. They cover approximately the period from 1920 to 2006. In this category, we also find many old documents (from XVIIth to XXth century), which have come in late to enrich the Archive collection. The recent archives are contained inside the folders, in more than 1600 cartons.
The Archives documents were written on different types of paper: the European papers of the XVIIth and XVIIIe century are generally of good quality, and have resisted the test of time well. On the other hand, many letters and travel relations, written on papers of local make, are fragile and brittle.
The letters of the missionaries give an important sample of the various writings of the past centuries: some are very clear, indeed even elegant; others are badly written and abound in spelling errors. It also often happened that the Bishops or the missionaries used scri¬bes to copy or recopy their correspondance, who generally did not know French. Errors and omissions resulted from it, which harm the clarity and comprehension of the text.
Content of the manuscript Archives
The manuscript Archives of the Foreign Missions, whose number can be evaluated at three or four mil¬lion pages, contain among others:
- historical documents pertaining to the Society of Foreign Missions in the XVIIth century: decree of Rome, requests for sending Bishops to the Far-East, buying and selling contracts, ownership deeds, rules and customs of the Seminary of the Foreign Missions
- the reports of the vicar apostolics, sent to the Superiors of Paris. They give information on the life of Christendom, problems to be solved, difficulties encountered. A large importance is attached to the management problems of the collection required for the life of the missions and the subsistance of the missionaries.
- the correspondance of the Bishops with the Holy Office. It speaks of the apostolic activities of every diocese. The Bishops often request the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda to bring answers to some doctrine problems. The quarrels on rites with the other congregations are often brought out.
- letters of missionaries, addressed generally to their families, or else to the Superiors of Paris. In these letters, the missionaries speak of their lives, their missionary work and also describe the country in which they live, events that occur, po¬pulations that they meet.
Other than the manuscript documents, the Archives of the Foreign Missions still have a large iconographic collection, which has more than 100000 parts. It is mostly made up of photographs and slides but also includes post cards and printed pictures... The photographic documents, the oldest of which date back to 1845, are presented in different forms: negative on glass plates, daguerreoty¬pes, positive on glass, positive on paper, etc ... The filing of these icono¬graphic documents was done in a methodic way, by country, by themes and by missionaries' names.
The first photographs, which were conserved, are photographs of mis¬sionairies or groups of missionaries, taken on the occasion of going on mission. As, in times past, the missionaries left without hope of returning, towards 1850, one got into the habit of photographing them a few days before their departure, to keep their memory alive and leave a souvenir to their family.
The iconographic collection of the Foreign Missions has about 10000 photographs in relation with the departures of the missionaries. A large number of photographs, stuck on cartons, bear the names of reputed photographs. Among the most well known, we can retain the names of: Janicot, Pannier, Bureau, Petit, Muriel, Thévenot, Dagron, Trinquart, Berthaud, Saint-Edme, Samson, Doisen, Mustière, Fontés, Lavier, Vallois, (Paris), Lacour (Marseille).
From the years 1865, the first photographs appeared already, taken in the countries of mission, like China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, India. Several tens of thousands of photos were taken in these countries, some in the last half of the XIXth century. These photos were taken either by the missionaries themselves, or by famous photographers, among which we can retain the names of: Chit (Bangkok) Uyeno Hikoma (Nagasaki) - Otamachi (Yokohama) - Gsell (Saigon) - Kam-wo (Hanoi). Other photos were taken by visiting photographers, who have not left their names.
Some old photos, not identified, seem to come from purchases, made by the mis¬sionaries. These photos represent monuments (pagodas, churches) ; of religious ceremo¬nies; scenes of everyday life; portraits etc ... From the end of the XIXth century, the Foreign Missions also began to edit postal cards, made from photos taken in different countries of Asia.
These printed cards in sepia, meant for making the missions known and undoubtedly also for creating feelings of generosity among the benefactors of France, bear a short explanation at the back on the activities of the missionaries and on the country from where these photos come. The models of most of these post cards are conserved in the iconographic collection of the Foreign Missions. About 3000 photos of diverse origins were hosted on the web site of the Archives.