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Henri and Jules Desclée
Henri (1830-); Jules (1828-1911).
Natives of Belgium, founders of a monastery and a printing establishment. Among the religious orders, which at the close of the nineteenth century were driven out of Germany by the Kulturkampf and sought refuge in Catholic Belgium, were the Benedictines of a congregation established by the Wolter brothers, two German monks of St.-Paul's-without-the-Walls. With Dom Hildebrand de Hemptinne, a Belgian monk of that congregation (now Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Order), Jules Desclée had been a captain of the Pontifical Zouaves. Baron John Béthune, inspired by the same motive as the Desclée brothers for the restoration of Christian art, had attached his school of St. Luke to the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools; it was therefore natural for the Desclée brothers to look to a religious order for the realization of their plan, and the traditions of the Benedictine Order fitted in perfectly with their designs. Moreover, a Count de Hemptinne had been amongst the founders of the first school of St. Luke (1862). Accordingly the brothers chose a picturesque site on an estate of Henri Desclée's in the Province of Namur, for the erection of a monastery in which to establish the monks of Beuron. The monastery of Maredsous, constructed in the purest Gothic style of the thirteenth century after the plans of Baron Béthune, is one of the finest and most remarkable masterpieces produced in Belgium by the movement for the restoration of the architectural art of the Middle Ages. Its 120 monks devote their lives to the liturgy, study, and education. Maredsous has thus become an important centre of religious influence and the practice and teaching of Christian art. A college or abbey school and a technical school were added to the monastery in 1882 and 1902. The monks have also taken an active part in the reform of the religious chant.
In 1882 the Desclée brothers also founded an important printing establishment at Tournai, under the title of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, their object being to restore Christian art in liturgical publications. The aesthetic principles by which their enterprise was to be directed were those of the Middle Ages. Here also Baron John Béthune assisted them. At first the society relied upon English workmen, compositors, and printers, England being the country in which the old traditions had been best preserved. The first publications attracted the attention of connoisseurs, and the technical perfection of the work soon earned for the house a world- wide reputation. The Society, following first the work of the Rev. Dom Pothier, and afterwards the studies of the Benedictines of Solesmes, issued the first publications for the re-establishment of the liturgical chant, commonly called "plain chant". These editions served as a basis for the edition brought out by the Vatican printing press, and imposed by Pius X on the universal Church. About 1880 the Desclée brothers resolved to apply to other branches of Catholic literature the same principles of artistic restoration which had met with such success in the liturgical domain. Under the title of the Society of St. Augustine they founded a separate business, devoted to the publication of all kinds of books relating to ecclesiastical studies, ascetic theology, religious history and literature, hagiography, art, archaeology, education, etc. The production of religious images forms also an important part of the work of the society, which possesses two establishments, one at Bruges in Belgium, and the other at Lille in France.