February 20: Our Lady of Boulogne Sur Mer
In the year 636, a small group of people standing on the seashore witnessed a ship without oars or sails came into the harbor of Boulogne. It finally came to rest in the estuary, seemingly of its own accord. One of the witnesses boarded the boat and confirmed that there was no one aboard, and that the vessel had no rudder, oars or sails.
The ship, however, bore a luminous statue of Our Lady. Taking hold of it to bring it to land, a voice was heard saying, "I choose your city as a place of grace." The citizens welcomed Mary to their city by erecting to her a shrine which reached its height of glory in the 12th Century.
King Henry VIII is reported to have stolen the statue of Our Lady of Boulogne and taken it to England. After many negotiations, the French managed to get it back. The image had been stolen and hidden many other times, but always saved and returned.
World War II almost completely destroyed the statue. In modern times, four exact replicas of Our Lady of Boulogne toured France for more than seven years as a symbol of French devotion to Mary. One of these was taken to Walsingham, England, in 1948, and carried in procession by the “Cross-bearing pilgrimate” when many other statues and images of the Virgin visited England.
Bologne was one of the most important Lady shrines of medieval France; among its noted pilgrims have been: Henry III, Edward II, the Black Prince, John of Gaunt.
Marian Feast Day, July 10th: The dedication of a new church built in honor of Our Lady of Boulogne was consecrated in the year 1469 by Bishop Chartier of Paris. The confraternity of Our Lady of Boulogne was so celebrated, that six French kings have chosen to belong to it.
At the French Revolution, the statue was burnt to ashes and the church pulled down. A new statue was made in 1803 and pilgrimages began again. The image represents the Mother with the Child in her arms, standing in a boat, with an angel on either side. At the Marian Congress in Bolougne in 1938, a custom began to take replicas of this statue “on turn” in France and abroad. A branch of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Compassion at Bolougne has been established for the reconciliation of the Church of England.
The sanctuary church at Bolougne was badly damaged during World War II, and Mary’s image smashed; but the return, the “Great Return” of one of the copies of the statue which had been sheltered at Lourdes, took place in 1943, and the occasion will long be remembered by lovers of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is an ancient offshoot of this shrine at Boulogne-sur-Seine.
*from The Woman in Orbit and other sources
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