The high places of pilgrimage in France!

And why not this piece after all , it is said by one well known personality of France’s heritage Stéphane Bern that the 92 million visitors (on a running year to October) coming to France are here to see the accomplishements of the previous Monarchies and one particular part of this tradition is the Christian faith. I am a subscriber to M. BERN magazine and participate on his efforts to safeguard these monuments. I have, also, met him in person in Paris. You can read more on the magazine he heads Secrets d’Histoire (subscription gift of my dear late wife Martine) at Official Secrets d’Histoire webpage

Without going into thesis and validation, and concentrating only on the main sites of visitors/pilgrims here, let me give you a run down. Worth visiting all of them of course. And remember the poilus of WWI, tomorrow is their big day to give Thanks. Fitting to post this now.

Lourdes, Hautes-Pyrénées : When between 11 Feb and 18 jul 1858 Bernadette Soubirous see 18 apparitions in the grotto of Massabielle along the pau river and 160 years later this site has become the first Catholic pilgrimage in France with each year receiving between 3-4 million visitors. See the Basilica Notre Dame du Rosaire and above the esplanade the Basilica of the Immaculate ConceptionLourdes

Rocamadour, Lot: On the valley of the Alzou since the Middle Ages pilgrims after climbing 216 steps to the sanctuary to cultivate the Black Virgin. The sources unknown as well as that of the hermit Amadour of which body was found intact in 1166 in front of the Chapel of the Virgin Mary. The pilgrims come by way of Puy-en-Velay or the one leaving from Bénévent-l’Abbaye (Creuse). Rocamadour

Mont Sainte Odile Bas-Rhin: The pilgrims come to venerate the Patron Saint of Alsace born blind in the 12C. She was given vision by the baptismal waters from which comes her name Odile means the daughter of light, and she became the abbesse of the convent that was raised here by her father, Duke of Alsace , Etichon-Adalric . The route of pilgrims takes you from Ottrott, the climb is difficult but with a beautiful panorama of the plains of Alsace, the Rhine river, the Black Forest as well as the chain of the Vosges mountains. Mont Sainte Odile

Chartres, Eure-et-Eure: The Cathedral of Chartres more than any other sanctuary invites you to arrive on foot ; you can come on the itinerary created by Charles Péguy in 1912-13. You can see the belltower from the plains at a great distance. You need an entire day to see the 9 gates decorated with more than 2500 statues! On the interior the stained glass is wonderfully beautiful, and the medieval enclosure of the choir, the great organs, and kneel before the relic scarf of the Virgin, statue of Notre Dame du Pilier as well as in the crypt like the one of Notre Dame-de-Sous-Terre. In the nave, the labyrenth done on Fridays from careme to all saints day. Chartres

La Saint-Baume Var: Pilgrims comes by the the way of Kings because it was taken by at least 40 monarchs since Saint Louis in 1254 to Louis XIV in 1660. The way starts at the Basilica of Saint-Maximin about 15km away where the skull of Marie Magdalene is exposed. However, it is only guided coming from Nans-le-Pins halfway here; and most pilgrims only do the last couple of km from Trois Chênes. Once arrived you see a sumptuous panorama looking at the Sainte Victoire and on cliffs you see the grotto where Mary Magdalene spent her last 30 years. It is said that seven times per day she was raised by the angels of Saint-Pilon where today lies a Chapel, the strongest pilgrims do this route when not too much wind and rain. You can then go down by the road chemin du Canapé and reach the hotel where the Dominicans guard the sanctuary since 1295 and host the pilgrims. Sainte Baume

Vézelay, Yonne: This is the inspired hill as this hill the spirit blows harder. The Basilica is dedicated to Mary Magdaleine where some of the assumed relics are kept in the crypt. Here the pilgrim will be astounded by the beauty of Roman art where the land and the heavens speaks along a game of lights to see the soltice. You can hear the chants of the monks that rhyme with the hours of the day. Vézelay

Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Bouches du Rhône: The story here begins at the beginning of Christianity when the Christians were persecuted in the year 45AD It was here where the Rhine meets with the Mediterranean that were appear the three Marys’s (Mary Solomé mother of St James, Mary Magdaleine, and Mary Jacobian ) accompanied by Lazarus, Martha, Maximin ,their servant Sara and a few others. The pilgrimage of travelled people is the most known here in the month of May, a huge crowd accompanied the gypsies towards the sea escorted by provençal guardians on horseback. Saintes Maries de la Mer

Lisieux, Calvados:  The Basilica of Lisieux built in 1954 is the second largest pilgrimage site in France after Lourdes. Here we venerates the relics of one of the biggest Saint of the 19C, Theresa Martin that entered the Carmelites and took the name of Theresa of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. She was also known as the little Theresa as she trace a spiritual life of childhood that has given her the title of Doctor of the Church and secondary Patron Saint of France. There are over a million visitors each year here, making the 3rd most visited place after the Landing Beaches of Normandy ,and Mont Saint Michel. Lisieux

Sainte Anne d’Auray , Morbihan: This one is very close to me (12 km) and all true on the expectations and crowds. It was a humble laborer of the land Yves Nicolazic that the Mother Virgin Mary appeared from 1623 to 1625 asking to built a Chapel that was promise in the 6C. At the spot , Yves digs a hole and finds a small wooden Virgin figure on the spot called Ker Anna or the village of Anna in Breton. Too small to welcome the crowds of the faithful it was replaced in the 16C by a Basilica of Sainte Anne d’Auray. Each year as much as 500K persons come here by July 25-26; the procession is huge with Breton songs and costumes   bagpipe bands and banners. It is the Patron Saint of Brittany and call the Mamm Gozh ar Vretoned or the grandmother of the Bretons. The Bible tells us she is the mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus. Sainte Anne d’Auray

The Mont Saint Michel, Manche: The pilgrims arrived by the northern flank and crossed the Bay with the help of guides. The crossing in moving sand is to show the troubles of life and to overcome it. You ,then climb the rock and visit the Church of St Peter and keep climbing until the arrow steep on the western terrace with a great view of the Bay. The songs of the monks incite you to walk on the abbey Church and discovered the Chapel of Notre Dame-Sous-Terre that replaced the sanctuary done first in 708AD by Saint Aubert . The site covers 13 centuries of history, and the spirit of the angel St Michael is here. Mont Saint Michel

Le Puy-en-Velay , Haute-Loire: The Cathedral de l’Annociation is together with Chartres the oldest Marian sanctuary in the Christian Gaul. The Virgin appeared in the 5C helping a suffering women to laid for rest on a stone flatbed, this stone call the Stone of Fevers is today inside the Cathedral. The pilgrims came to see the Black Virgin a statue from the 17C that replaced the original medieval statue; It is in this town, a departing point for the Route of St James. However, before doing the walk the pilgrims followed three ascentions. One the rock of Corneille where since 1860 lies the statue of Notre Dame de France; the rock of St Michel d’Aiguilhe that takes you to a roman Chapel dedicated to the Archangel. Finally, in the upper town you take the rue des Tables that leads you to the Cathedral where you will received benediction. From here the road of Puy-en-Velay awaits you for the trip to Santiago , St James 1600 km farther. Le Puy en Velay

These are the most popular places of pilgrimage in France, and folks from around the world do come. There is no better way to know the history, traditions, architecture, and customs of France then by visiting these high places. Enjoy them all!

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

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