As you can probably tell from the above picture, the term ‘bourdaloue’ has a rather… interesting history. It’s a word that’s been used to describe many things, some a little more hilarious than others. But, our story starts with one man and, depending on who you listen to, either his eloquence or his inability to shut up.
Louis Bourdaloue, Preacher Extraordinaire
Louis Bourdaloue was a French preacher during the seventeenth century. Born in Bourges, a town at almost the exact center of France, in 1632, he entered the Jesuit order at 16.1 During his time in school with the Jesuits his teachers noticed the lad had a gift for oration. Over the next 21 years, the young Jesuit honed his fine oratory skills, first through the formal Jesuit education, then preaching in rural provinces of France. Then, in 1669, he got a call up to the big leagues.
Now a preacher at the Church of Saint Louis, he found himself among the kingdom’s wealthiest and most powerful citizens. Here, he made a name for himself. He was known for his powerful sermons, which often drew large crowds among both the clergy and the general public. In addition to the theological nature of his work, Bourdaloue’s sermons often delved into sophisticated examinations of ethics and morality.2
While this may sound dry, if not tedious, Père Bourdaloue was apparently quite the performer. Bourdaloue’s preaching style was compared to that of an actor, as he was known for his dramatic gestures and delivery, using metaphors and stories to illustrate his points. He also apparently had quit the voice, the beauty of its timbre being remarked upon by many of his contemporaries.3
It was not long before our young preacher caught the eye, or maybe ear, of King Louis XIV himself. By 1670, he was delivering the king’s Lenten and Advent sermons. Thanks to this endorsement by the Sun King, Bourdaloue became known as the “king of preachers and preacher of kings.”4
Sadly for poor Louis B., his name has since become more closely associated with something a little more… weird.
The Other Bourdaloue…
In eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe, a certain item came to bear the name bourdaloue as well. But, you may ask, what was a bourdaloue? Well, it was a chamber pot that featured a long spout that allowed waste to be easily emptied out. Designed for noblewomen, the bourdaloue made it possible for them to discreetly relieve themselves while out on the town in an era before indoor plumbing.
Not exactly the highfalutin stuff the faithful of Paris came to expect from the eloquent Jesuit. So, how does this relate to Louis Bourdaloue, other than the fact that our dear preacher had the misfortune to share a name with a chamber pot? Well, this may be apocryphal, but legend has it that M. Bourdaloue’s sermons were so eloquent, so enrapturing, that churchgoers didn’t want to miss a single word – even if that meant having to pee in the cathedral.5 Another version of the story says that his sermons proved so long that having to get up to pee in the middle was almost a guaranteed certainty.6
Either way, the women of Bourdaloe’s flock needed a solution. Enter, the other bourdaloue.
Designed to be slipped under the enormous dresses of early modern women, they had, what you might call, an ergonomic shape. A handle on one end, a spot on the other, with a basin in the middle. This all made them easier to use, with the added advantage that you could hand it over to your servant for them to deal with once your business was complete.7
Made for noblewomen, bourdaloues also had a certain panache. Constructed from porcelain or faience, they came painted with various designs – and some were even gilded!8
A Sweet Treat on Bourdaloue Street
Fortunately for Père Bourdaloue, these dainty chamber pots were not the only namesake the people of Paris gave him. In the mid-nineteenth-century, as chamber pots, portable or otherwise, lost the battle against indoor plumbing, Parisians christened the Rue Bourdaloue. Part of a royal ordinance issued on July 21, 1824, King Louis XVIII (just a few months before his death), opened the street “to facilitate access” to the new church of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette.9
Here, on the Rue Bourdaloue, an inventive pastry chef gave the world a new reason to eat until painfully full. Named after the street where this unknown pastry chef operated his bakery, the tarte bourdaloue has become a legend in the long line of Parisian delicacies. Originally conceived as more of a cake, it has since transformed into a tarte.
Nowadays, the tarte bourdaloue is a type of French pastry that is made from a light, airy dough that is filled with pears and either frangipane (almond custard) or almond cream. The dough is usually made from flour, eggs, sugar, and butter, and it is rolled out into a thin sheet. Once the filling is added, the tarte is baked until golden brown. The resulting pastry is light and flaky, with a moist and flavorful filling. Bourdalous are often served as dessert, but they can also be enjoyed as a snack or breakfast treat.10
I don’t know about Louis, but if the item that was going to be named after me came down to a chamber pot or pastry, I’d go with the pastry every time.
Sources on the Bourdaloue
- “Louis Bourdaloue,” britannica.com.
- Sarah Murden, “What was a Bourdaloue?”, georgianera.wordpress.com.
- “Regency Hygiene: The Bourdaloue,” janeaustensworld.com.
- Murden, “What was a Bourdaloue?”
- “Regency Hygiene: The Bourdaloue.”
- “Rue Bourdaloue,” fr.wikipedia.org.
- Mike Benayoun, “Tarte Bourdaloue,” 196flavors.com.