Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Basilique Notre-Dame des Victoires, Paris

The Basilica (sometimes called Église or Church) of Our Lady of Victories is located in Paris, in the 2nd arrondissement near the Stock Exchange (Rue Notre-Dame des Victoires; the nearest métro is Bourse).

Augustinian monks (sometimes then known as Les Petits Pères, the Little Fathers) had purchased the property in order to build a convent and place of worship.  Almost immediately after dedicating the grounds, Louis XIII agreed to finance the church if it were dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to whom he credited his recent important military victory over the Protestants in the lengthy siege of La Rochelle (September 10, 1627-October 28, 1628).  Construction began in 1629, but a serious lack of royal funds stopped all work until about 1656.  The incomplete church was dedicated in 1666 and the basilica was finally completed in 1737.  Ironically, shortly after the Revolution (50 years later), the basilica which was built in honour of Catholicism's victory over Protestants was then emptied of Catholics in order to house the national lottery and stock exchange.  However, under the First Empire (10 years later), it reverted to being a place of worship for the local parish.

As you walk through this basilica, you are immediately struck by all the white marble plaques thousands of individuals, most of whom donated a plaque in thanksgiving for the Virgin's help during their military service in various wars, local and foreign, particularly during the 1800s.  Entire walls and even a few arches are now covered with more than 36,000 plaques.  Some are explicit and dated, others only allude to having been helped by Mary.

I recalled two salient things when observing and enjoying this church:  (1) Although I am a practicing Protestant, there I was, photographing a church built in thanksgiving for the defeat of  some Protestants, and (2) although I, like so many of my ancestors, am a pacifist, there I stood, looking in amazement at 36,000 expressions of thanks, many of which concern the granting of personal safety while being hired (or conscripted) to kill others.  As these two ironies sank into my thinking, I stopped to offer a special prayer that all Christians will seek to be more Christlike, and that all wars will cease.