Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sébastien Râle

Well might the traveler stop to see
The tall, dark forms that take their way
From the birch canoe on the river shore,
And the forest paths, to that chapel door;
And marvel to mark the naked knees
And the dusky foreheads bending there,
While in coarse white vesture over these
In blessing or in prayer,
Stretching abroad his thin pale hands,
Like a shrouded ghost the Jesuit stands.
Mogg Megone
, John Greenleaf Whittier
The border of what came to be the maritime provinces of Canada, and New England, was not fixed until 1842*. The first half of the 18th century, the territory was disputed between french l’Acadie and english Massachusetts, and of course there were the aboriginals. There is the high school history question, “Who won the French and Indian War†?” Well, those were not the competitors, but the allied opponents of the british empire, of which the colonies, which were to form the United States, were a part.

In that territory, the french and the indians were united in faith. That faith, was the ancient faith that, was demonised by the calvinists of Massachusetts. Because of the valuable timber and furs that were coveted, and the fear of enemies that the english had, there was always a war looming.

Nanrantsouak/Norridgewock was the principle village of the Abenaki/Wabanaki/Abernaquois on the Kennebec. The christian, catholic, identification of the area’s indians began with the Passamaquoddy in 1604, and later with the Penobscot and Abenaki. Sébastien Râle§ S.J.*1652, came to Quebec in 1689, and to the Abenaki in 1695 where he founded a chapel (to replace a previously burned church) and school, which the english first burned with the village in 1705. L’Acadie was lost (when the War of Spanish Succession, ended with the Treaty of Utrecht 1713), and english settlement approached the Abenaki.

It was, specifically, illegal to be a priest in the colony of Massachusetts, the repeated presence was a capital crime. More than one expedition was made to execute the law, on Father Râle. Samuel Shute, governor of Massachusetts, discharged the expedition to take care of Râle, when the english made war|| on the Abenaki, in 1722. It was the first war, in which, an american government offered a bounty on scalps. The english and their colonists always feared, and entertained conspiracies of indians, frenchmen, spaniards and catholics, and hated all of them, and coveted their possessions. Râle was a frenchman, a catholic, a priest, a jesuit (the most hated and feared of catholics) and a major figure amongst the indians. All these earned him martyrdom. On August 23rd, 1724 the Massachusetts militia caught their prey. The accounts differ widely based on partisanship, but his scalp was a prized trophy, along with other items. The oldest account, includes that, he was shot dead, in front of an outdoor cross. Forty years later, the english provided another account.

When the survivors returned, they found his grossly, mutilated body and buried him, where the altar had been. A ‘fama sanctitatis’ began among the Abenaki, concerning Râle, and remains. The requirements, to be recognised, as a martyr are, that he willingly risked life, with fervor for the faith, to those ‘in odium fidei’. Father Râles cause was entered in 1941, with 115 other martyrs, by Dennis Cardinal Dougherty of Philadelphia.
*Webster-Ashburton Treaty
†In the colonial period, wars were often named after the opponent (King Philip’s War 1675, Father Rasle’s War 1724-1726, French-Indian Wars 1754-1763) or the ruler of the time (King William’s War 1689, Queen Anne’s War 1702); similarly, to-day, it would be the Second Iraqui War 2003- , or george bush junior’s war 2003- .
‡The english settled in 1773, the town incorporated in 1804, and is now Madison, Maine.
§the circumflex a (â), in french orthography, suggests a, sometimes missing, following s, hence: Râle, Rasle, Rasles
||Dummer’s, Father Rale’s, Greylock’s, Lovewell’s, Three Years, or the 4th Indian War (1722-1725).

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