Fourvière throughout history
From the earliest Antiquity, the hill of Fourvière – the praying hill – is the centre of the spiritual and cultural life in Lyons.
It is in Fourvière that the early Christians expressed their faith – Saint Pothin was martyred there –, placing themselves under the protection of Mary from the beginning.
In the Middle Ages (1192) a church was erected on top of the hill in honour of the Virgin Mary and St Thomas of Canterbury.
Ruined during the religious wars, the chapel was rebuilt in 1586.
It is mainly through vows and prayers made to Mary that a special bond between the city and the hill was created.
While a serious epidemic of scurvy was affecting the children in the city and nothing seemed to be able to stop it, people decided to go on procession to Fourvière. The sickness then gradually disappeared and never came back.
The plague was devastating Europe. The aldermen (municipal councillors) promised to go up to Fourvière, to offer a crown and a votive candle every year if Lyons was spared. The tradition continues on 8th September every year.
The neighbouring departments were hit by the cholera which threatened the city of Lyons. The archbishop commanded that public prayers were made. Once more spared by the scourge, the Lyonnais thanked the Virgin Mary by painting a huge painting (le « tableau d’Orsel »), that you can now see at the back of the Basilica.
The bell tower of the Chapel of Our Lady was crowned by a statue made in golden bronze to thank God for her motherly protection. The inauguration, postponed from 8th September to 8th December because of the floods, was impeded by a violent storm: the fireworks organised for the occasion were flooded and had to be cancelled. However, after the weather eased, the Lyonnais lit up the city spontaneously by putting lanterns on their windowsills. This improvised celebration took on a special radiance two years later, when the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed. To this day, a big procession from St John’s Cathedral to Fourvière takes place every year on 8th December and, at nightfall, Catholics light up their windows with small candles. For a few years, the city of Lyons has been organising the event “fête des lumières” (feast of lights) which attracts 4 million people during four days.
The war was raging. The Prussians were threatening to invade the city. The Lyonnais promised to erect a big church dedicated to Mary if Lyons was spared by the war. Construction began in 1872. The church would be consecrated on 16th June 1896 and raised to a basilica on 16th March 1897.
More than two million people “climb up” to Fourvière every year, from where they can admire a unique view extending to the Mont Blanc. It is one of the most visited sanctuaries and tourist attractions in France. The basilica is included in the area of Lyons listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a listed historical monument.
The basilica of Fourvière is under the ownership of the Fourvière Foundation, recognised as promoting the public interest, which is in charge of its management, maintenance and development. Among the members of the Board are the archbishop of Lyons, the mayor of the city, the president of the Rhône departmental council and the prefect of the Rhône-Alpes region.
The Basilica of Fourvière is not only a sanctuary and place of pilgrimage but also a cultural place.
Concerts of sacred and classical music are given every year in the crypt of Fourvière.
Conferences on spiritual as well as cultural or historical themes are also proposed in Fourvière and open to a large audience.