Seo agus Siud  Edition 7 June 2019            

Main Page Seo&Siud Page1 Page2
Main Page Seo&Siud Page1 Page2

A Visit to Chimay

Reproduced from an article Mairin Barret wrote for the Saint Louis Newsletter of May 2002.

It was a wet and windy evening in December when Philomena Morris and I arrived at the Chateau of Chimay in southern Belgium. We had come to visit the lady of the Chateau, Elisabeth, Princesse de Chimay and when we got out of the car, there she was, waiting at the open doorway to receive us. It was thanks to Père Armand of the Cistercian Abbey of Scourmont that the visit had been arranged and though the princess did not know us, we knew she was aware of the connection between Chimay and St Louis

Family history

Our foundress’ mother, the beautiful Theresia Cabarrus, better known as Madame Tallien, is the connecting link. When Mère Thérèse was a little girl of five, her mother re-married. Her new husband was heir to the princedom of Chimay; in due time Theresia acceded to the title of Princesse de Chimay and the children of this marriage were half-brothers to our Mère Thérèse. Knowing that the present Princesse de Chimay is very well versed in the history of the family and that she has a particular interest in Madame Tallien, Philomena and I looked forward keenly to our visit.

We were not disappointed. It proved to be a treat every moment of it! The Princess’ vivacity, her encyclopedic knowledge and her gift for bringing the past to life ensured that we were entertained as well as instructed! She is a frenchwoman, and her excellent command of English she owes to her much-loved Irish governess, one Miss Edmonds, by name.

The Shroud of Turin

Our first port of call was the chapel, a dark place with thick walls crowding in on us. It did not come as a great surprise to learn that this had been originally been the castle dungeon. But it was a surprise to discover that at one time, in the Middle Ages, the Shroud of Turin was housed in this same chapel. This naturally attracted pilgrims and the accompanying clink of money, until the Prince-Bishop of Liège intervened on the grounds that displaying the Shroud encouraged superstition and furthermore that it was a money-making racket. How pure the good bishop’s motives may have been is an open question, but one could readily sympathise with the Princess’ wry comment that if the family still had the Shroud, finances would not be such a problem! Then as we were about to leave the chapel, she drew our attention to a small framed picture which we would not otherwise have noticed. It was a cheap looking thing such as one might have seen on any cottage wall a couple of centuries ago but it was not what it seemed to be. It was constructed in such a way that it could conceal a tiny mass set, used by priests on the run, during the French Revolution. As I looked at it I wondered if our own Joseph-Louis Colmar would have had something like it when he was exercising his clandestine ministry during the years of persecution.

Centre of arts

Our next stop was the jewel of a little theatre, which replaced the original one Theresia had caused to be built in the grounds. She did much to restore Chimay to the grandeur it had known before the Revolution and in making it a centre of the arts, she added to its renown. She and her husband were both keen amateur musicians (he played the violin and she the harp) and she invited many of the best musicians of the day to Chimay. Thus was established the tradition of music-making which gave rise to the well-known Chimay Music Festival, a tradition which is finding new expression today.


We followed the princess from room to room and marvelled at the multitude of ancestors whose portraits covered the walls. Even more fascinating was the fact that our hostess appeared to know many of them personally and had more than one amusing tale to tell about them. One character who particularly took my fancy was the twice-wed gentleman who had himself portrayed, flanked by both his wives - the dear departed and her successor! Eventually we came to the music room and there was no doubting who dominated the scene. It was Theresia, whose memory had brought us to Chimay.

There she was, as she is shown in the best known portrait of her, tall, well-built and serenely beautiful, stepping into the house from the out-of-doors. Set in another wall of the same room was a glass cabinet where one of Theresia s dinner services was displayed. Her parties were famous, though it must be acknowledged that the more self-righteous of her enemies had reason to sniff at some of the company she entertained in the mad days after the Revolution!

Theresia escapes execution
But another portrait showing Theresia in prison, her hair cut in readiness for execution on the morrow, was a reminder of how narrowly she escaped death. If the 21 year old Theresia had not been spared, what would the post-revolutionary history of Chimay have been like and where would Mère Thérèse have found those splendid qualities she so clearly inherited from her mother?

Fascinating though the 'ifs' of history may be, we had enough of real history to keep us in conversation until we got to the princess’ own den, high up in one of the oldest parts of the chateau. Walls almost three metres thick make it a cosy place; it is here the princess works amid the books and boxes containing all sorts of family records. She told how, when there was a fire, they had to throw the archival boxes out of the window and, dentists bills and thousand-year old documents ended in a very mixed up heap on the ground below! We had a cup of tea and then, to our regret, it was time to go.

It was raining harder than ever when we said good-bye to the princess and set off for Scourmont. The Abbey is a beautiful and holy place and it is not entirely unconnected with St Louis: it was founded by Prince Joseph, half-brother to our foundress, M
ère Thérèse.   Mairin Barrett

Joseph Philippe de Riquet 17th Prince of Chimay like his mother and half-sister Clémence (Mère Thérèse) was public spirited and charitably inclined  and did much to improve the life of the town of Chimay.  His parents had taken over and renovated the neglected estate when his father came into the title of Prince de Chimay. Joseph continued in that sprit. He finished the construction of a hospice for the destitute of the town, started by his mother, had a town gas network installed, built a railway connecting the town of Chimay with the rest of the developing railway network.  He refashioned, closer to the chateau itself, the theatre created by his mother in the castle grounds. This in turn was rebuilt 1991 and is now used for Chimay's summer festival of music and other noteworthy productions. And as has been mentioned above he donated Chimay land to enable the Cistercian foundation of Chimay.

As well as donating Chimay lands for the Cistercian foundation of Scourmont Abbey, Prince Joseph Philippe de Riquet continued to be a benefactor and frequent visitor to the abbey When  he died in 1886 and according to his wishes he was buried in the Abbey grounds in a monument erected by his son Joseph III and 18th prince of Chimay.  He is also commemorated in a plaque in the chapel.

Some Further Information about the Chimay Connection

Today Scourmont abbey is a thriving monastery, famous for its beer and cheese production and with the chateau has put the town of Chimay firmly on the tourist trail.

Theresia and her husband are buried in the family vault beneath the sacristy of the town church and are commemorated in a plaque to right of the high altar, bearing the inscription A La Memoire de Marie Thérèse Ignace Comptesse de Cabarus, Princesse de Chimay né a Madrid 18 decedée à Chimay 1835.

In 1875 some years after the death of his wife and having suffered a number of financial difficulties, Joseph retired to live in a small cottage near London. He lived there until his death in 1886. The history section of the Scourmont website tells us that the prior of the monastery journeyed to Calais with Joseph’s son  to accompany his remains back to the chateau. He was succeeded by his son, Joseph de Riquet de Caraman, the 18th Prince of Chimay and the then minister of foreign affaires in the Belgian government. His half-sister, Mère Thérèse had died in Juilly just two years previously. One wonders if the siblings had kept in contact over the years. Perhaps that is worthy of further exploration.

Joseph de Riquet de Caraman,
18e prince de Chimay
Thérésia’s grandson

Joseph Philippe de Riquet
17th  Prince of Chimay,
eldest son of  Thérésia

Scourmont Abbey

Page 1 A Visit to Chimay by Mairin Barrett

Page 2 Mme Tallien, Princesse de Chimay by Barbara McArdle

He also had a commerative fountain monument erected in town square. Each of the four sides bears a statue, three of them, former princes of Chimay, including his own father the 16th prince.  The fourth side is of his mother, la Princesse de Chimay, the former Thérésia de Cabarrus.  

For those who would like to know more about Thérésia de Cabarrus Tallien, Princesse de Chimay,
her story follows on the next page.

The Princes’ Fountain