Jean Mabillon

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Jean Mabillon

Portrait of Mabillon (4671638).jpg
Dom Jean Mabillon, O.S.B.
Born(1632-11-23)November 23, 1632
DiedDecember 27, 1707(1707-12-27) (aged 75)
Resting place Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés
Religion Benedictine religious order
  • Estienne Mabillon (father)
  • Jeanne Guérin (mother)
School Congregation of Saint Maur
Notable work(s)Acta Ordinis S. Benedicti
Known forDe re diplomatica
Military service
Rank Monk
Founder of Palaeography and diplomatic

Dom Jean Mabillon, O.S.B., (23 November 1632 – 27 December 1707) was a French Benedictine monk and scholar of the Congregation of Saint Maur. He is considered the founder of the disciplines of palaeography and diplomatics. [1]

French people are an ethnic group and nation who are identified with the country of France. This connection may be ethnic, legal, historical, or cultural.

The Congregation of St. Maur, often known as the Maurists, were a congregation of French Benedictines, established in 1621, and known for their high level of scholarship. The congregation and its members were called after Saint Maurus, a disciple of Saint Benedict credited with introducing the Benedictine rule and life into Gaul. The congregation was suppressed and its superior-general executed during the French Revolution.

Palaeography study of ancient writing

Palaeography (UK) or paleography is the study of ancient and historical handwriting. Included in the discipline is the practice of deciphering, reading, and dating historical manuscripts, and the cultural context of writing, including the methods with which writing and books were produced, and the history of scriptoria.


Early life

Mabillon was born in the town of Saint-Pierremont, then in the ancient Province of Champagne, now a part of the Department of Ardennes. He was the son of Estienne Mabillon (who died in 1692 at the age of 104) and his wife Jeanne Guérin. At the age of 12 he became a pupil at the Collège des Bons Enfants in Reims. Having entered the seminary in 1650, he left after three years and in 1653 became instead a monk in the Maurist Abbey of Saint-Remi. There his dedication to his studies left him ill, and in 1658 he was sent to Corbie Abbey to regain his strength. In 1663 he was transferred again to Saint-Denis Abbey near Paris, and the following year to the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris. This was a move which offered wide opportunities for scholarly acquaintances and Mabillon was to meet and work, among others, with Luc d'Achery, Charles du Fresne, Sieur du Cange, Étienne Baluze, and Louis-Sébastien Le Nain de Tillemont.

Saint-Pierremont, Ardennes Commune in Grand Est, France

Saint-Pierremont is a commune in the Ardennes department in northern France.

Champagne Sparkling wine

Champagne is sparkling wine. Many people use the term Champagne as a generic term for sparkling wine but in some countries, it is illegal to label any product Champagne unless it both comes from the Champagne region and is produced under the rules of the appellation. Where EU law applies, this alcoholic drink is produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France following rules that demand, among other things, secondary fermentation of the wine in the bottle to create carbonation, specific vineyard practices, sourcing of grapes exclusively from specific parcels in the Champagne appellation and specific pressing regimes unique to the region.

Ardennes low mountain range in Belgium

The Ardennes is a region of extensive forests, rough terrain, rolling hills and ridges formed by the geological features of the Ardennes mountain range and the Moselle and Meuse River basins. Geologically, the range is a western extension of the Eifel, and both were raised during the Givetian age of the Devonian as were several other named ranges of the same greater range.

As editor and compiler

At Saint-Germain, Mabillon prepared an edition of the works of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (published in 1667), and also worked on a monumental collection of the lives of the Benedictine Saints, under the title Acta Ordinis S. Benedicti (published in nine volumes between 1668 and 1701). The later work was undertaken in collaboration with Dom Luc d'Achery. This monk had long been the librarian of Saint-Germain-des-Prés and was senior to Mabillon. It was upon historical materials which d'Achery had collected that Mabillon drew for his Acta. A foreword subsequently added by Mabillon used the lives of the saints in order to illustrate the history of the early Middle Ages.

Luc d'Achery was a learned French Benedictine of the Congregation of St. Maur, a specialist in the study and publication of medieval manuscripts.

De re diplomatica

Title page of De re diplomatica (1681) De re diplomatica 17765.jpg
Title page of De re diplomatica (1681)

In 1681, prompted by the doubts raised by the Jesuit Daniel van Papenbroek over the authenticity of supposed Merovingian documents held at the Abbey of Saint-Denis, Mabillon published his De re diplomatica. This work investigated different types of medieval documents and manuscripts, including scrutiny of their script, style, seals, signatures, testimonia, and other intrinsic and extrinsic factors, using an acquired taste derived from long experience, and consulting the views of other document scholars. Manuscripts from many archives are addressed, and references made to items dating back to Dagobert I (King of the Franks, c.629-639). Concerned often with "distinguishing genuine documents from forgeries" the work is now seen as the foundation work of palaeography and diplomatics. Mabillon writes:

Manuscript document written by hand

A manuscript was, traditionally, any document that is written by hand — or, once practical typewriters became available, typewritten — as opposed to being mechanically printed or reproduced in some indirect or automated way. More recently, the term has come to be understood to further include any written, typed, or word-processed copy of an author's work, as distinguished from its rendition as a printed version of the same. Before the arrival of printing, all documents and books were manuscripts. Manuscripts are not defined by their contents, which may combine writing with mathematical calculations, maps, explanatory figures or illustrations. Manuscripts may be in book form, scrolls or in codex format. Illuminated manuscripts are enriched with pictures, border decorations, elaborately embossed initial letters or full-page illustrations.

Calligraphy visual art related to writing

Calligraphy is a visual art related to writing. It is the design and execution of lettering with a broad tip instrument, brush, or other writing instruments. A contemporary calligraphic practice can be defined as "the art of giving form to signs in an expressive, harmonious, and skillful manner".

Seal (emblem) Device for making an impression in wax or other medium

A seal is a device for making an impression in wax, clay, paper, or some other medium, including an embossment on paper, and is also the impression thus made. The original purpose was to authenticate a document, a wrapper for one such as a modern envelope, or the cover of a container or package holding valuables or other objects.

I do not deny that in fact some documents are false and others interpolated, but all of them should not be dismissed for that reason. Rather, it is necessary to devise and hand down rules for distinguishing genuine manuscripts from those that are false and interpolated. ... I undertook this task after long familiarity and daily experience with these documents. For almost twenty years I had devoted my studies and energies to reading and examining ancient manuscripts and archives, and the published collections of ancient documents. ... I compared and weighed them with one another that I might be able to compile a body of knowledge which was not merely scanty and meager, but as accurate and as well-tested as possible in a field which had not been previously investigated. [2]

Historical document document that contain important information about a person, place, or event

Historical documents are original documents that contain important historical information about a person, place, or event and can thus serve as primary sources as important ingredients of the historical methodology.

Archive institution responsible for storing, preserving, describing, and providing access to historical records

An archive is an accumulation of historical records or the physical place they are located. Archives contain primary source documents that have accumulated over the course of an individual or organization's lifetime, and are kept to show the function of that person or organization. Professional archivists and historians generally understand archives to be records that have been naturally and necessarily generated as a product of regular legal, commercial, administrative, or social activities. They have been metaphorically defined as "the secretions of an organism", and are distinguished from documents that have been consciously written or created to communicate a particular message to posterity.

This work brought Mabillon to the attention of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who offered him a pension (which he declined), and King Louis XIV. He began to travel throughout Europe, to Flanders, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy, in search of medieval manuscripts and books for the royal library.

Jean-Baptiste Colbert French politician

Jean-Baptiste Colbert was a French politician who served as the Minister of Finances of France from 1661 to 1683 under the rule of King Louis XIV.

Louis XIV of France King of France and Navarra, from 1643 to 1715

Louis XIV, known as Louis the Great or the Sun King, was King of France from 14 May 1643 until his death in 1715. His reign of 72 years and 110 days is the longest recorded of any monarch of a sovereign country in European history. In the age of absolutism in Europe, Louis XIV's France was a leader in the growing centralisation of power.

Flanders Community and region of Belgium

Flanders is the Dutch-speaking northern portion of Belgium and one of the communities, regions and language areas of Belgium. However, there are several overlapping definitions, including ones related to culture, language, politics and history, and sometimes involving neighbouring countries. The demonym associated with Flanders is Fleming, while the corresponding adjective is Flemish. The official capital of Flanders is Brussels, although the Brussels Capital Region has an independent regional government, and the government of Flanders only oversees the community aspects of Flanders life in Brussels such as (Flemish) culture and education.


Some of the less scholarly monks in Mabillon's own abbey criticized his Lives for being too academic; while Armand de Rancé, Abbot of La Trappe, declared that he was breaking the rules of his Order by devoting his life to study rather than manual labour. [3] He also caused trouble by denouncing the veneration of the relics of "unknown saints", wrote a controversial critique of the works of St. Augustine of Hippo, and was accused of Jansenism, but at all times he was supported by the king and the Church.

Later career and legacy

Annales Ordinis Sancti Benedicti (1739) Annales Ordinis Sancti Benedicti.tif
Annales Ordinis Sancti Benedicti (1739)

In 1701 Mabillon was appointed by the king as one of the founding members of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, and in 1704 a supplement to De re diplomatica was published. In 1707 he died and was buried in the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, in Paris.

According to Fritz Stern, writing in 1956, Mabillon was the "greatest historical scholar of his century". [4]

The Mabillon station of the Paris Métro is named after him. [5]

See also

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  1. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Jean Mabillon"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  2. Jean Mabillon, De re diplomatica (1681), his Supplement to it of 1704, translated from Latin by Richard Wertis (using Naples edition of 1789) as On Diplomatics, in Peter Gay and Victor G. Wexler, editors, Historians at Work, Volume Two, Villa to Gibbon (New York: Harper & Row 1972): blockquote at 165, prior short quote at 167, document scrutiny at 168 & 169, Dagobert at 192. Three long excerpts from the Supplement appear at 164-198, introduced followed by a short bibliography at 161-163.
  3. Mette B. Bruun, "A Case in which a Revitalization of Something Medieval Turned out not to be Medievalism," in: Falling into Medievalism, ed. Anne Lair and Richard Utz. Special Issue of UNIversitas: The University of Northern Iowa Journal of Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity, 2.1 (2006) Archived 2011-07-20 at the Wayback Machine .
  4. Fritz Stern, editor, The Varieties of History (Cleveland: Meridian Books 1956) at 406.
  5. Atanasiu, Vlad (11 September 2013). Expert Bytes: Computer Expertise in Forensic Documents - Players, Needs, Resources and Pitfalls. CRC Press. p. 66. ISBN   9781466591912.