To a sanctuary dedicated to Mary

In 1168, Olivier de Chavannes, Dean of the cathedral chapter, oversaw building of the first chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary, built on the hill of Fourvière. A second chapel was dedicated to Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, an English martyr who stayed in France during his exile.

In 1562, the chapels were destroyed because the city was captured by the Protestant armies of the Baron des Adrets. Apart from two capitals there is nothing left of the medieval sanctuary.  

The entire edifice was constructed again at the end of the 16th century. At this time Lyon had entered its second Golden Age, ushering economic prosperity. The chapels were of the utmost importance in Lyon’s religious life and soon extension works were necessary.

In 1623: Fourvière is so popular that more than 25 masses are celebrated every day.

The origin of the basilica: the 3 vows of Fourvière

1638: Vow of the general charity

When a serious scurvy epidemic affected the city’s children, nothing could stop the disease. The hospital administrators decided to walk in a procession to Fourvière. The disease decreased, disappeared, and never came back to Lyon again.

1643: The Aldermen’s vow

In 1643 when Black Death, also known as the Great Plague, raged in Europe, Lyon was threatened by this curse. The notables decided to place the city under the protection of Mary. So, on the 8th September 1643, day of the nativity of the Virgin Mary, the Provost of the Merchants (equivalent of our mayor) and his four Aldermen (deputy mayors) followed by a crowd of inhabitants of Lyon walk in procession to the hill of Fourvière.

In the Chapel of the Virgin they made the vow to go up every 8th September to listen to the mass and to offer the archbishop seven pounds of wax and candles and a gold crown if their wishes were fulfilled.

The city was spared so the tradition is carried on even today, displaying affection from the people of Lyon to the Virgin Mary who protects their city.

  • The Aldermen’s vow: a stained-glass window depicting The Aldermen’s vow, made by Lucien Bégule in 1882 is visible in the Chapel of the Virgin.

1832: The cholera epidemic

Cholera affected the areas around Lyon and threatened the city: the archbishop recommended public prayers. Once again Lyon was spared from a curse and the people of Lyon thanked the Virgin Mary by asking the painter Victor Orsel to make a huge painting. Today it can be seen in the back of the basilica. It is an allegory of the defeat of this epidemic. It was begun in 1833 by the Lyonese painter Victor Orsel and finished by his student after his death. It is 6.75 meters high and 5 meters wide.

Important  features