Our Lady of Lyons

April 19: Our Lady of Lyons, France (1643)

Saint Pothinus, the Apostle of Gaul and first bishop of Lyon, is said to have enshrined a picture of Our Lady in an underground chapel which is now beneath the church of Saint Nazaire, or Nizier, in Lyons where many Christians suffered death in the Old Forum on the Hill of Blood.

According to tradition, there was once a temple to Attis on the site, whose followers precipitated a persecution against the Christians in about the year 177 AD. Later, in the 5th century, a basilica was built on the site, and the remains of many Christian martyrs from that persecution were buried there, as well as the bishops of Lyon. The church takes its name from Nicetius of Lyon, who was the 28th bishop there in the 6th century, due to the numerous miracles that occurred there after his burial.

In 1186 the Canons of the Cathedral started building a larger church over the shrine. In thanksgiving for the cure of his son by this Saint, King Louis VII of France made a pilgrimage to Lyons, where he had an ex-voto tablet set up before the shrine of Our Lady. In 1466 King Louis XI founded a daily Mass in perpetuity, to be followed always by the Salve Regina, solemnly sung.

(Our Lady of Lyons, cont.)

Vast Pilgrimages came to seek Mary’s aid especially in time of famine and plague. During the plague of 1643, it was decided to dedicate the city to Our Lady. Instantly all traces of the plague vanished and, until 1792, twenty-five Masses were said daily in thanksgiving.

During the years of the French Revolution the sanctuary was profaned and the church used as a warehouse. Sometimes pilgrims would still come to visit the shrine at night under peril of their lives. In 1805 Pius VII himself presided at the opening or re-opening of the shrine. Shortly before the battle of Waterloo, the shrine was threatened with destruction when Napoleon wanted the hillside fortified. The Marshall was to give the order to demolish the shrine but refused to do so.

Because the city was spared many vicissitudes during the revolutions of 1830 and 1848, the people of Lyons decided to show their gratitude by adding a tall tower to the church surmounted by a great bronze figure of Our Lady.

After the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, a vast basilica to Our Lady was built next to the old shrine, which remained almost untouched. The crypt of Saint Pothinus, under the choir of the church of St. Nazaire, was completely destroyed in 1884.

Our Lady of Lyons

*from The Woman in Orbit and other sources. Photo courtesy Matt Neale, UK

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