Lisieux: Basilica of Sainte Thérèse!

Ok so one city is not enough on a nice road warrior trip. After doing my reverence to Honfleur, and knowing not far from this wonderful place that I have given much attention until now, knowing full well what is there but always just passing by well…Now read the wonderful story of Sainte Thérèse of Lisieux.


The Sainte-Thérèse Basilica is located in Lisieux, in Calvados dept 14 of Normandie. It was brought up in honor of Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus shortly after her canonization. An imposing neo-Byzantine style basilica inspired by the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre, its construction, on a height at the edge of the city, began in 1929 and its consecration took place in 1954. The city of Lisieux being the second place of pilgrimage in France after Lourdes with the third near me at Sainte Anne d’Auray.


Sainte Thérèse of Lisieux was beatified on April 29, 1923 and canonized on May 17, 1925 while four of her sisters, all nuns, were still alive. Devotion to the new saint, already manifested by the poilus or hairy (as the young French men were called) during the Great War or WWI, gained momentum from the year following her canonization. Faced with the growing number of pilgrims, it seems necessary to build a large basilica dedicated to pilgrimage in the city where she lived and where she died. Work began on September 30, 1929, the first stone being laid by Cardinal Charost, papal legate. The crypt was inaugurated in 1932. The basilica was solemnly blessed on July 11, 1937 at the end of the 11th National Eucharistic Congress by Cardinal Pacelli , papal legate and future Pius XII. On July 11, 1939, the monolithic cross was installed at the top of the dome. Work continued in slow motion between 1939 and 1944 because of WWII. The basic structure, which was completed before the war, suffered little damage during the bombings of June 1944 which destroyed two-thirds of Lisieux. It was probably spared thanks to its position on the edge of the town. After the war, the damage done to the basilica was repaired. The basilica was consecrated on July 11, 1954 by the Archbishop of Rouen and Primate of Normandy, Mgr Martin in the presence of the papal legate, the Archbishop of Paris Mgr Feltin.

The Sainte-Thérèse Basilica is preceded by a large square which leaves a free space of 76 meters wide in front of the staircase leading to its main entrance, the monument is on a hill, on the edge of the city which it dominates with its imposing mass. It is one of the largest churches built in the 20C. The entire sanctuary includes the actual basilica raised above a large underground crypt, the square dominated by a campanile separate from the church, a way of the cross established behind the apse and the service buildings linked to the pilgrimage.

It is a composite in style known as Romano-Byzantine, the architecture of the basilica is strongly inspired by that of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris. Given the nature of the soil, which is clayey to a thickness of 30 meters and its location on the slope of a hill, the foundations of the building rest on 130 cylindrical pillars of various diameters (from 1.4 m to 5 meters) reaching the level of the underlying limestone layer in order to establish its stability The basilica is in the shape of a Latin cross, with nave, chancel and a draft of a shallow transept. Above the crossing separating the nave from the choir rises the circular lantern tower resting on pendants and terminated by an imposing dome. Its elevation comprises a cylindrical drum, comprising a gallery and a row of windows furnished with stained glass, and the spherical dome. The drum is divided into eight sectors, each of which has three gallery arches and three tall windows. On either side of the main facade extend the two rectilinear wings in the form of cloister alleys, terminated at their end by two buildings surmounted by small domes. The one on the right houses a small oratory.

The interior volume is in one piece, without side aisles or ambulatory: due to the absence of columns, all the faithful who attend services have an unobstructed view. Most of the interior of the Sainte Thérèse Basilica is covered with mosaics. In the south transept, a monumental ciborium houses the reliquary offered by Pope Pius XI to the basilica. Located on a high plinth, the reliquary is separated from the public by a grid that isolates it. The glass walls open on each side of the chest reveal two bones of Thérèse’s right arm .



Above the domed vaulted apse is a large mosaic representing Christ as the Good Shepherd of a flock of sheep, surrounded on the left by the Virgin Mary crowned with stars and on the right by Sainte Thérèse kneeling. The two saints parted the sides of Christ’s mantle to allow the sheep to take shelter there. A triumphal arch marks the entrance to the choir. In the center appears the Eternal Father, his arms open in welcome. His figure is framed,   on the left by the Virgin and Child at the top of the tree of Jesse and on the right, Moses walking at the head of his people out of Egypt. On the vertical sides are depicted various scenes from the Old Testament in which angels come to bring divine help. The dome represents Sainte Thérèse crowned by Christ and her Holy mother, under the symbol of the Trinity. Below, eight angels support a garland of roses rained down by the saint. Between the level of the high windows and the circulation gallery, a frieze represents the Beatitudes, symbolized by saints who have personified them in an eminent way.

On the back of the western facade, above the portals, three large mosaic panels evoke the universality of the Teresian message. The central panel, the largest, represents Sainte Thérèse, whose glory shines on the Catholic Church symbolized by Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome; she is surrounded by four popes who honored her in a particular way: Pius X had designated Thérèse as “the greatest saint of modern times” and accelerated the introduction of the cause of her beatification, a cause opened on June 10, 1914. Long before his death; Benedict XV gave a remarkable speech on August 14, 1921, an authoritative exposition of Thérèse’s spiritual childhood path; Pius XI had great devotion to her and considered Thérèse to be “the star of her pontificate”; he proceeded to her beatification (April 29, 1923) then to his canonization (May 17, 1925) and proclaimed her patroness of the Missions (December 14, 1927); Pius XII declared her secondary patron of France on May 3, 1944. The left panel shows the faithful from the different provinces of France, with Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral (Thérèse is patron Saint of France). The right panel depicts faithful converts from the most distant countries (Thérèse is patroness of the Missions).

Lisieux basilica sainte thérèse arriving aug20

After the war, the rector of the basilica found an organ from the Cavaillé-Coll house which had been built in the 1930s and presented at the Universal Exhibition in Brussels in 1935. The places that could be used to install it were two stands located on both sides of the choir.


Lisieux basilica sainte thérèse arriving aug20

You can access the Crypt on either side of the large steps by stairs located under the side cloisters. Completed in 1932, it evokes the secret of Thérèse’s spiritual life. 50 meters long and 30 meters wide, it is decorated with marble and mosaics, in the style of the Decorative Arts Exhibition of 1925. In 1958, scenes representing the important moments in the life of Sainte Thérèse completed the mosaics: baptism, first communion, miraculous healing, commitment to religious life, death. Since 2008, the basilica’s crypt has held the reliquary of Saints Louis and Zelie Martin, parents of Sainte Thérèse.




Erected in the 1960s, the campanile was completed and inaugurated in 1975. It is separate from the main basilica and located at the southern end of the square. To rise to 95 meters and be surmounted by a lighthouse reduced to 40 meters and was never completely finished, priority having been given to charities, in particular to the construction of the Foyer des Malades (home of the sick), dedicated to the memory of Thérèse’s parents. It ends with a terrace surrounded by a balustrade and houses the 51 bells of the carillon. The flight bell is made up of 6 bells, the largest of which, the drone of about 9 tons, bears its bronze motto: “I sound the peoples’ call for unity in Love”. This carillon is of great sound quality. The campanile was offered by Belgium and the Netherlands as an ex-voto to Sainte Thérèse.


In the enclosure of the Stations of the Cross, two tombs frame the statue of Sainte Thérèse. They are those of the parents of the saint, Louis and Zélie Martin, who were exhumed on October 13, 1958 from the cemetery of Lisieux to be transferred to this place, on the occasion of their cause of beatification. Since September 2008, their remains have been transferred to a reliquary placed in the crypt of the basilica. Their graves nevertheless remain a place of meditation, especially since they were canonized on October 18, 2015.

Built in 2000, the Chapel of the Adoration, offered by Ireland as an ex-voto to Sainte Thérèse, is a privileged place of silent prayer. It is accessed through the crypt, the granite arches of which are found on the right wall of the chapel. The benches are those that were once known in the Carmelite chapel. The altar tabernacle is surmounted by the icon of the Trinity represented by three winged figures, according to Byzantine graphic tradition.

There is a Chapel ex-voto from the Catholic Dioscese of the United States as a thank you to Sainte Thérèse as well as a small museum of her life right next to the Crypt underneath.



Some webpages to help you plan your trip here and it is a must are

The city of Lisieux with its emblematic heritage: City of Lisieux main things to see

Official Catholic site for Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux: Basilica Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux

The tourist office of dept 14 Calvados on the Basilica Sainte Thérèse de LisieuxTourist office of dept 14 Calvados on the Basilica Sainte Thérèse

There you go folks, another wonderful huge monument of my belle France. It is a must to visit as the grandeur of the place alone will take you back! And of course, if you are a believer like me , than it is huge, wonderful experience as a second baptism! The Basilica of Sainte Thérèse of Lisieux! Hope you enjoy it as we did.

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

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