The devotion to Mary throughout the centuries is expressed beyond the architectural masterpieces. Visitors will see many sacred art items dedicated to liturgy.
The museum of Fourvière displays the Treasury of the Basilica, which is very representative of the 19th and 20th century goldsmith’s art, with pieces from Parisian (Froment-Meurice) or Lyonnais (Armand-Calliat) artists.
The largest part of the Treasury dates back to the construction of the Basilica at the end of 19th century. Many families from Lyons, sometimes very modest ones, would bring to the Commission of Fourvière a contribution to the construction of the votive church: money but also plate, gemstones, gold embroidery, etc.
This tradition still goes on today as a thank you for a granted prayer, a healing or a “miracle”. Important political or church people have also enriched the Treasury: Cardinal Fesch, Napoleon Bonaparte’s uncle and archbishop of Lyons, as well as Napoleon III are among the most famous ones. The great variety of donors gives the Treasury its priceless character which goes far beyond its book value.
To honour these gifts and not denature their purpose, they are used regularly for liturgical celebrations and for the great ceremonies of the year. Every 8th September, for example, when the Lyonnais commemorate the aldermen’s vow, the archbishop of Lyons blesses the city with the monstrance of Fourvière, the goldsmith Armand-Calliat’s major masterpiece.
A big name of the 19th century goldsmith’s art: Armand-Calliat
Among the many goldsmiths of the 19th century whose names appear in the Treasury, Armand-Calliat is one of the most important ones in the history of Fourvière. This goldsmith from Lyons met Pierre Bossan, architect of the Basilica, in 1867. Their friendship gave way to a unique artistic approach aiming at liberating itself from the neo-Gothic patterns of the time where the work of art was seen as the expression of a religious idea.
Through their creations, they express a theological idea and make an act of faith. The monstrance of Fourvière is one of the most obvious examples of this ideal. The decoration of the monstrance, the purpose of which is to contain a host and to show it to the faithful so they can adore Christ present among them, highlights the reality of his coming. The monstrance is an ode to the Epiphany, to God’s manifestation. On its leg, the three Kings and a shepherd represent all men coming to adore God made man.
They are preceded by the four evangelists proclaiming the Good News. In the centre, Mary presents her son to the world. She supports the host, surrounded by the choirs of angels in the cosmos singing God’s glory eternally.