Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"Rehabilitated" Marriages

"Mariage réhabilité"

While researching family history, I’ve often come across the term, « réhabilité » in Québec marriage registries. Although I questioned a French-Canadian priest about the term, he couldn’t explain its meaning. It was obvious that the original marriage had not been accepted by the Catholic Church; but, I couldn’t find the story behind it. Thankfully, one a.m. I received the following e-mails :

Busy with the liturgy of the Mass, the priest failed to notice the foursome sitting close to one another in the rear pew. The young lady gazed at the youth beside her in rapt adoration, hardly aware of the celebrant at the altar. From time to time her companion gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. Unbeknown to the priest and those around them, the young couple were being married in a rite known as " le marriage à la Gaumine". Long before the Catholic settlement in Canada the church had been plagued by the practice of those who, for some reason or another, could not be married within the laws of the Church. The problem of clandestine marriages caused the Council of Trent to declare that a marriage could be valid only when reformed by a priest in the presence of two witnesses. The requirements of the Council were enacted into civil law by the DeBlois ordinance of 1579 and by the legal decree of Tametsi. The passage of the law and the enforcement of it are two different things, the decrees make little impression on those who wished to sidestep them. They quickly found ways to evade the restrictions. The most popular form of evasion was to marry "a la Gaumine", so-called after a certain Mr. Gaumine who had devised the ruse to circumvent both church and legal procedures. Using this method, the engaged couple and their two witnesses would meet at church and, during the Mass, would make their marital commitment to one another in the presence of the two witnesses, but without the knowledge of the priest. The custom of the marriage "a la Gaumine" came to New France with the immigrants and there were those who, in their homeland, resorted to the irregular and illegal ceremony for various reasons. The practice persisted despite the fact that church and legal authorities used every kind of tactic to prevent it. It became such a vogue that in 1717 the Bishop of Quebec issued a mandate to anyone contracting a marriage "a la Gaumine" would be subject to excommunication. He cited flouting of church authority, desecration of the church's sacred ceremonies and a sidestepping of parental permission. To add emphasis to his order, he warned that witnesses to such marriages would also face excommunication. In some dictionaries, such as Tanguay etc. and in some historical reporting one will find recorded accounts of such marriages "a la Gaumine". At Boucherville, the marriage of Jean Desnoyers and Therese Menard was celebrated. A few years previously, unknown to their missionary, Rev. de Francheville, who was celebrating Mass, they had married themselves "a la Gaumine". In 1727, while the pastor of Batiscan celebrated the Mass, a Daniel Portail and AntoinetteLangy became husband and wife "a la Gaumine". At St.Jean Port-Joli a young couple that had been refused a dispensation took the matter in their own hands. They erected a makeshift altar at home and while a friend impersonated a priest celebrating Mass, they married one another in a mock ceremony. The repercussions were swift and drastic. The erring couple were excommunicated, as were those who acted as witnesses to the affair. Twenty days the couple repented and returned to the embrace of the church and its legal requirements. This episode marked the end of the "marriage a la Gaumine" and the custom became a quaint bit of history; the year was 1774....

Ref: "The Genealogist", The American-Canadian Genealigist, Manchester, N.H. done by Edwin J. Allard, a retired N.Y. columnist who now writes on a freelance basis. Extract from Jacques Lacoursière's "Histoire populaire du Québec"

Another person wrote:

Many Acadians who fled to Quebec after being in exile in the colonies, (especially, I think, in New England) had their marriages "rehabilitated" by a priest in Quebec. For example, some of my ancestors in the Bourgeois line were married in Protestant ceremonies where they were in exile in Massachusetts, because no Catholic priests were allowed in the colony under pain of death. So much for Boston as the "Cradle of Liberty" and religious freedom! Because of this, you have confusing-looking families, with children born in exile years before their parents were officially married in Quebec, and children born 10 years earlier finally being baptized, etc. Many of these marriages of the rehabilitated sort took place in 1768 & 1769. The Acadian exile began in 1755 and ended in about 1668. I only know about the New England-Quebec Acadian families, but probably other Acadian exiles in other places where Catholic priests were not available have similar stories.

A third emailer explained in French:

Pour l'église catholique,"Réhabiliter un mariage" veut dire que le mariage avait été célébré de la meilleure manière possible dans les circonstances, mais qu'il y avait eu un empêchement de se conformer à toutes les exigences de l'église, soit la présence d'un prêtre célébrant, la présence des conjoints, la présence des deux témoins, la publication des bans de mariage, la divulgation des empêchements après cette publication de ban, ou tout autre circonstance d'empêchement de se conformer à la coutume de Paris. Les meilleurs exemples viennent des Acadiens en exil. Ils se mariaient devant une personne désignée

par un prêtre de leur ancienne paroisse. Cette personne servait d'officiant et enregistrait l'union dans un document personnel qui devenait officiel pour la communauté. Toutes ces unions devaient être reconnues par une réhabilitation de l'église à la première opportunité. La coutume de Paris voulait que le mariage soit célébré par un prêtre qui enregistrait l'union dans les régistres paroissiaux après publication de 3 bans, faite à 3 messes précédant immédiatement le mariage. Les conjoints devaient être présents avec chacun un témoin: donc ça prenait 5 personnes au moins, soit l'officiant, les deux conjoints et les deux témoins, et le tout devait être confirmé par écrit dans le régistre qui devait être signé par tous si possible, sinon par l'officiant au moins, qui agissait alors comme représentant civil. Quand le mariage était fait "à la Gaumine", l'enregistrement était fait le plus tôt possible, au plus tard au baptême du premier enfant par le prêtre qui baptisait le bébé et qui ne pouvait refuser de le faire. Je ne suis pas un expert en cette matière, mais ce sont les pensées qui me viennent à l'esprit.