Destinations in France offer pilgrims an extraordinarily rich religious, historical, cultural and architectural heritage to discover. France, sometimes referred to as the “eldest daughter of the Church” was the first of the countries established after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 to become Christian and Catholic.
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Lourdes is the world's second most-visited Catholic pilgrimage destination, after Rome. On February 11, 1858, Bernadette Soubirous, age 14, had her first vision of the Virgin Mary, in the cave at Massabielle, along the River Gave. Mary appeared 18 times to Bernadette by July 1858. A miraculous spring began flowing during the time of the apparitions and still flows today. The stream has been the source of many miraculous healings.
The basilica, Notre-Dame du Rosaire (Our Lady of the Rosary), stands in the center of the shrines which include the cave where Mary appeared to Bernadette, the miraculous spring, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and an underground basilica. Pilgrims can both drink and bathe in the healing waters of Lourdes.
Each day there is a Healing of the Sick procession and an evening Rosary Procession. The shrine receives over five million pilgrims each year. In 2008, the 150th anniversary of the apparitions was celebrated. Nine million visitors came to the shrine from more than 160 different countries.
CHAPEL OF THE MIRACULOUS MEDAL
In Paris in 1830, in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, or Chapel of the rue du Bac, the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Catherine Laboure, a novice of the Daughters of Charity. The Virgin directed St. Catherine to give the world a medal with the inscription, "O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee." When a cholera epidemic broke out in Paris in 1832, it killed over 20,000 people. The Sisters began to distribute the first medals. Many were cured and converted. The people of Paris called the medal "miraculous". Today pilgrims can visit the chapel where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Catherine, as well as view the saint's incorrupt body.
NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL
Notre Dame Cathedral, is located in Paris. It was one of the first Gothic cathedrals and its construction spanned the Gothic period. The cathedral suffered desecration during the French Revolution in the 1790s, when much of its religious imagery was damaged or destroyed. During the 19th century, an extensive restoration project was completed, returning the cathedral to its previous state. In addition, the cathedral houses the purported Crown of Thorns in its reliquary.
THE SAINTE CHAPELLE
The Sainte Chapelle (Holy Chapel), located within the Palais de Justice complex on the Ile de la Cité in the center of Paris, was founded by the devout King Louis IX of France, who constructed it as a chapel for the royal palace and to house precious relics. The palace itself has otherwise disappeared, leaving the Sainte Chapelle all but surrounded by the Palais de Justice. Despite its small and humble exterior above the Palais de Justice buildings, Sainte Chapelle houses 6,458 square feet of stained glass windows surrounded by delicate painted stonework. The windows, considered the best of their type in the world, are in deep reds and blues and illustrate 1,130 figures from the Bible
SACRED HEART BASILICA
The hill of Montmartre is in the North of Paris. The name signifies " mount of martyrs " because by tradition it is the place of the martyrdom of Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris (late 3rd century) and his companions. A Benedictine Abbey occupied the whole hill until the French Revolution. At that time, the nuns were killed and the Abbey was destroyed.
In 1870, war broke out between France and Germany. France faced military defeat and occupation of part of the country by German troops. The archbishop of Paris agreed to build a church consecrated to the Heart of Christ in penitence for sins committed. Some believed that the problems of France stemmed more from spiritual than from political causes.
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart was consecrated in 1919. It is not a parish church but an independent sanctuary, a place of pilgrimage where the Sacred Heart of Christ is venerated.
Pilgrims visit Chartres, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to see its wonderful cathedral. It houses the "Virgin's Veil", which according to tradition would have been the one worn by Mary at the time of the birth of Christ. In addition, its stained glass windows dating from the 12th and 13th centuries are world-famous; and its architecture, filled with spirituality, makes the cathedral one of Christianity's sacred places.
The Lights of Chartres is an event that occurs every year from April 18 to September 19. Every night more than twenty monuments, including Chartres Cathedral, are illuminated with colored lights to a musical accompaniment. The event ends with the Festival of Lights, the highlight of the season, September 18th and 19th.
Therese of Lisieux has endeared herself to Catholics around the world. Many learned about her holiness through her spiritual autobiography, The Story of a Soul, which has been translated into 60 languages. It is a testament to the love of God that guides each person on the path to saintliness.
St. Therese entered the Carmelite convent at age 15 and died at 24. She was canonized in 1925 and in 1997 Pope John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church.
Today, aside from the Carmelite Convent where she lived as a nun and the basilica built in her honor after her death, pilgrims can visit her family home in nearby Alencon, the birthplace of St. Therese. She was born on January 2, 1873, at 50, rue Saint-Blaise. This home is dedicated to her memory and filled with belongings of her parents. Pilgrims can see the room where St. Therese was born, where she played with her sisters and the room where her mother passed away. There is also a chapel built in 1925 after her canonization and the nearby church where she was baptized.
Rouen, the capital of upper Normandy, is the city known for St. Joan of Arc, patron saint of France, who was burned at the stake there in 1431. Visitors can pray in the Church of St. Joan of Arc built in 1979 on the Old Market Square where Joan was martyred on May 30, 1431. In 2015 a museum opened in her honor in the Archbishop’s Palace where she was tried.
The city is also home to the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral, built on a site which has held a church since the 4th century. Between 1892 and 1894, impressionist artist Claude Monet painted the cathedral more than 30 times.
Mont Saint-Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a pilgrimage destination devoted to St. Michael the Archangel for more than a millennium. It is located on the Island of Mont-Tombe and connected to shore by a two-mile causeway. It lies in the middle of a huge bay, which has some of the highest tides in Europe. It is a not only a place of great beauty, but also a place of historical significance. Since 2001, the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem, a community of monks and nuns, have lived in the Abbey and ensure that the church is a source of perpetual prayer. After visiting the Abbey, magnificent views can be admired over the bay.
In Pontmain, on January 17, 1871, four children saw a vision of the Virgin Mary. She appeared in the sky in a blue robe scattered with stars, a black veil and a gold crown. She smiled at the children as she delivered her message: " But pray, my children; God will soon answer your prayers. My Son allows Himself to be moved."
Mary then showed the children a large red cross and then everything disappeared. The apparition was recognized by the Church on February 2, 1872. Today, more than 200,000 people visit every year to pray to Mary, the Mother of Hope and Mother of Prayer. Visitors can pray in a magnificent basilica built by The Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Since the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1996, over 600,00 pilgrims have visited the Basilica of Sainte-Anne D'Auray each year. The shrine dates back to the 17th century when a "majestic lady" appeared to Yves Nicolazic, a devout laborer in the village of Ker Anna. The woman was St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary. She asked Yves to rebuild a chapel that had been dedicated to her in the sixth century. After much investigating, it was confirmed that a 6th century chapel had indeed existed and a new chapel was built. News spread and many pilgrims visited the chapel. During the 19th century, the crowds became so big that the chapel could no longer accommodate them, and so between 1865 and 1872 the basilica was built.
Located in the Burgundy region of France, the town of Vezelay is designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is best known for the Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene, a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture. With its claimed relics of Mary Magdalene, in the 11th century Vezelay became an important place in the Christian world and a departure point for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
Born in Lourdes in 1844, Bernadette Soubirous was 14 when the Virgin Mary appeared to her. Bernadette developed a desire for the religious life and in 1866 entered the convent of the Sisters of Charity at Nevers. Bernadette remained at the convent for 13 years, devoted entirely to God and service of others. When she died, her body was entombed in a chapel in the garden. It was exhumed intact in 1909; and since 1925, it has rested in a shrine in the chapel dedicated to her memory. Many pilgrims from all nations come to visit St. Bernadette.
Paray-Le-Monial is located in Burgundy. There Christ appeared three time to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a young nun from the Convent of the Visitation. He bared His heart to her and asked her to spread His message, "This is the Heart which has so loved mankind."
Pilgrims can visit the Chapel of the Visitation where Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, constructed in the 11th century. The chapels at this holy site hold relics of the saint and her spiritual director, St. Claude La Colombiere.
Ars is the place where St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, served as a priest from 1818 until his death in 1859. He became well known for the many hours he spent in the confessional and people came from all over France to seek his spiritual guidance. Today, pilgrims can walk through his house and see many articles related to his life including his breviary, rosary and bed. His small library and the old chapel where he used to preach and hear confessions can also be visited. The saint's heart is displayed in a reliquary in the nearby Chapel of the Sacred Heart and the basilica holds his perfectly preserved body.
The Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette, built between 1922 and 1933 on a hill overlooking the city of Annecy, came about as a result of a Marian apparition to two young shepherd children in 1846. Similar to the message at Fatima, the Virgin Mary delivered a message of prayer, penance and conversion.
The Basilica of the Visitation contains the relics of St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) and St. Jane Francis de Chantal (1572-16410) who founded the order of the Visitation of Holy Mary. Visitation nuns live in the adjacent monastery.
The abbey of Boscodon, surrounded by the Hautes-Alpes Mountains, is a 12th century monument with a Romanesque style. It is a masterpiece of monastic religious art. Today, a community of monks and nuns from various religious orders live at the Abbey and open its doors to the public to share in their prayers and works.
A shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary was built in Le Puy - En - Velay very early in the Middle Ages. The Shrine of the Black Virgin became well known throughout Europe. It is one of the starting points on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela since the 10th century and attracts more than 700,000 pilgrims each year.
NOTRE-DAME DU LAUS
In May, 1664, above the village of Sainte-Etienne-le-Laus, the Virgin Mary appeared to a 17-year-old shepherdess named Benoite Rencure every day for four months. She asked Benoite to build a church with a living place attached for priests. The aim was to attract Christians to conversion, primarily through the Sacrament of Penance. . On May 4, 2008, the apparitions of Our Lady of Le Laus were officially recognized by the Church.
The city of Rocamadour has been a holy place for Christians since the Middle Ages. The city hangs from a cliff with a castle at its top and descends 150 meters to the river Alzou below. As part of the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, it is designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. St. Amadour Basilica and crypt can be visited by those who climb the 216 steps of the pilgrims' stairs. The Black Madonna, revered by pilgrims for over 1,000 years is kept in Notre-Dame chapel, one of seven other chapels built into the rock.