(Our Lady of Fourvière)
Chapelle de la Vierge, adjoining the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière
8 Place de Fourviere, Lyon, France [ Map ]
Fourvière is an ancient site, now part of the Historic Site of Lyons World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO in 1998. Fourvière Hill was originally the location of the Roman Forum and a temple. As early as 1168, a Christian chapel was built on the hill, which by that time had already become a Marian shrine. The chapel was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and to the medieval English Saint Thomas Becket (1118-70). Its popularity as a place of pilgrimage increased significantly after Lyon’s preservation from plague in 1643 was interpreted as an answer to the prayers of the city leaders.
The chapel and parts of the building have been rebuilt at different times over the centuries, the most recent major works being in 1852 when the former steeple was replaced by a tower surmounted by a golden statue of the Virgin Mary sculpted by Joseph-Hugues Fabisch (1812-1886).
When the city of Lyon was spared in the Franco-Prussian War (1870), the community again acknowledged the special blessings of Our Lady and committed to build the present Basilica alongside the ancient chapel. Designed by Pierre Bossan as an architectural expression of faith, the massive exterior of the Basilica (built 1872-96) symbolises the strength of the faith of Our Lady. The visitor enters into the light of faith by moving from the symbolic darkness of the outside world into the Basilica’s brilliantly lit and richly decorated interior.
Note that the Basilica was built after Eymard’s death. The older, adjoining chapel building dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St Thomas (the ‘ancient chapel’, shown below) was the Shrine of Our Lady of Fourvière in Eymard’s time and was the place to which he made his regular pilgrimages.
On 16 November 1839, Eymard made an ‘act of abandonment’ at Fourvière. He wrote: ‘Today . . . I placed in the hands of my dear Mother at Fourvière my health, my cares and my work: everything . . .’
On 21 January 1851, Eymard prayed at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fourvière and experienced what he called the ‘grace of vocation’. This grace was not a sudden or impulsive thought, but a clear conviction that emerged within Eymard after much uncertainty and reflection. His thoughts related to the spiritual neglect of priests and devout lay people, and to his perception of the indifference and lack of devotion shown to the Blessed Sacrament.
Eymard later recalled:
Moved by all these thoughts, another one came to me: there should be established for men the same as what is being established for women, a body of men for reparatory adoration: this body would form a community and this community would have associates in the city, who would come to renew themselves in the community, share in the hours of adoration, and come there to make private retreats. The church and the community would be open to men only. The priests in charge would exercise their ministry in the house, and strive only for the development and the strengthening of the work. This special body would be linked to the Society of Mary by a spiritual bond. It would be its Third Order, but with independent existence.
Soon afterwards, Eymard moved to establish a group of men with a Eucharistic mission within the Marist order, similar to the Third Order Reparation Sisters which Théodelinde Dubouché had founded.
Fourvière is significant in Marist history as the place where Jean Claude Colin (1790-1875) and the first Marists made their promises in 1816 to establish the Society of Mary (the ‘Fourvière pledge’).
In 1845, when Eymard was a Marist priest and spiritual director of the Third Order of Mary, he made a pilgrimage to Fourvière with Marie Francoise Perroton (1797-1873), who was a member of Pauline Jaricot’s Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Perroton was intending to respond to a call for ‘devout women’ to work as missionaries on the island of Uvea in the South Pacific. She was encouraged by Eymard. He went with her to the statue of Our Lady in the chapel and placed her name with the names of other missionaries inside a gold heart that was around the neck of the statue. She subsequently left for the South Pacific, finding on her arrival in Tahiti that Eymard had enrolled her in the Third Order of Mary. Perroton eventually made her formal profession in the Order, but never returned to France. She is recognised today as the first pioneer of the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary.
Each year, on 8 September, the city leaders still make a symbolic pilgrimage to Fourvière to give thanks for the sparing of Lyon from plague in 1643.
Of the two main hills in Lyon, Fourvière is said to be known locally as ‘the hill that prays’ (‘la colline qui prie’) because of the churches and religious communities that are based there. The other hill, La Croix-Rousse, is the ‘hill that works’ (‘la colline qui travaille’). Of course, the faithful might say that the prayer works, too.
The magnificent basilica has the (somewhat irreverent) local nickname of ‘the upside-down elephant’.
The Museum of Religious Art is located on the site (note: closed from the first Sunday of January to mid-March).
Pauline Jaricot’s house Lorette is accessible by a short walk from the Shrine to the bottom of the Rosary Garden.
Fourvière Celebrates Saint Peter-Julian Eymard, Fr Thaddée Mupapa SSS, SSS International, 307e, 27 March 2022, pp. 5-6 [PDF: 1MB]
The Marist Places : Fourvière (Marist Internet Project)