Rendez-vous In The Most Important Spiritual Sites In France
Contrary to what most people would think, religious tourism is rapidly booming recently especially among "non-believers" or non-active Catholic churchgoers. They simply "love historical sites, far removed from the consumerist pressures of daily life ideal for meetings and exchanges" according to Géraldine Ballot, President of the Association of Shrine Towns in France during the Bishops Conference in March 2012. "There is definitely a strong upward trend in spiritual tourism," an enthusiasm which far exceeds religious practice.
Today, shrines are increasing access points and customised proposals to be able to respond to diverse expectations. They are developing their multimedia products, to inform and guide visitors. "We observe that shrines are the first point of exposure for many people; they come as visitors, it is up to us to help them leave as pilgrims if they wish" says Rev. Fr. André Fournier, rector of Mont Saint-Michel.
France is the number one tourism destination in the world, with 88 million visitors in 2017 and the figure is estimated to have reached about 90 million in 2018. The tourism industry is a significant economic sector in France, as it contributes to 8 per cent of the country’s GDP and helps create over 2 million jobs.
In an effort to increase the number of Filipino tourists in France, the French Embassy in Manila implemented the delivery of visas within 48 hours after submitting to VFS Global (France), which has been the external service provider since 2017. This policy helped increase the number of visas issued by the consular section of the French Embassy in Manila by 50 per cent.
From sandy beaches with Azur-blue sea to snow-covered mountains and vast expanses of countryside, France has a wide variety of destinations to offer. It is also home to some of the most important and well-known monuments in the world. Not to forget French Gastronomy which is listed in UNESCO Cultural Heritage.
"This mission will highlight the beauty and diversity of the religious sites in France," Ambassador of France to the Philippines Nicolas Galey says. "Many are UNESCO world heritage landmarks and are very dear to Filipinos, as have shown the numerous heartfelt messages we received at the embassy after the tragic fire that engulfed parts of the iconic 850-year old Notre-Dame Cathedral, for which we are very grateful."
Focusing on spiritual destinations, France offers several major sites besides the iconic cathedral. Here's a short guide of what to see and experience in each of France's corner.
From the Champs-Elysées to the Sacré Coeur Basilica via the Louvre, from Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral to the Eiffel Tower, Paris City of Light, art and culture are to be found at every street corner.
Heading west is Normandy, a region where there is something for everyone: lovers of impressionism, culture, nature, gastronomy. Lisieux, situated at the heart of Normandy and the Pays d'Auge, is the town of Saint Therese. The Basilica built for her commemoration is one of the largest churches built in the 20th Century and has been classified as Monument Historique since 2011. There is also Mont Saint-Michel, which has a UNESCO world heritage status because of the uniqueness of its location and the beauty of its architecture. Another town to visit is Alençon where you can see the unique art masterpieces in Musée des Beaux-Arts et de la Dentelle.
Cross the Normandy region for another magnificent region surrounded by little towns full of character, myths and legends, gastronomy, and festivities. Explore Sainte-Anne-d'Auray in Brittany, and experience an authentic Christmas by joining in the extraordinary display of a living nativity. Meanwhile, Chartres is world-famous for its cathedral, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site. At nightfall, every evening from April to October, watch the "Chartres Light Show". Further south is the town of Saint Martin, Tours, which is the gateway to the Loire Valley and its famous Renaissance castles. Tours is an important crossroads at the centre of France, making it at the heart of European network and welcomes pilgrims in the footsteps of St. Martin. One of its must-see attractions is the Saint Gatien cathedral where you can admire the 13th-Century stained glass windows depicting the life of the saint.
Continuing westward, in Poitiers you can follow in the footsteps of illustrious characters such as Eleanor of Aquitaine or Joan of Arc. Must-see sights in Poitiers include Notre Dame La Grande church for its Romanesque art, the Saint-Jean Baptistery that is one of the oldest Christian monuments in Europe, and the Saint Hilaire le Grand church that leads to the Santiago de Compostela routes.
To the south-east of Paris, check out Guebwiller, a region situated at the crossroads of three tourist routes in Alsace and bursting with architectural treasures, such as Murbach Abbey, the Collégiale de Lautenbach church, the church of St. Léger de Guebwiller, and more. Another nearby town is Metz, which is already 3,000 years old. From the Roman amphitheatre to the Pompidou centre, the vicissitudes of history have produced a fusion of its Roman and Germanic features. Explore must-see sights and wonders like the Church of Sillegny, Museum La Cour d'Or, St. Maximin Church, and the Basilica of Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains.
To the south, while travelling through this astonishingly rich region, you will discover a remarkable historical heritage set in the midst of luxuriant natural surroundings. Vezélay, the starting point for going to Santiago de Compostella, is a medieval village situated in the heart of the Burgundy region. The "eternal hill" of Vézelay and the basilica of Saint Marie-Madelaine, are both classified as World Heritage sites by UNESCO.
Nearby is the town of Nevers where the 23-year-old St. Bernadette Soubirous took the veil and for 13 years lived a simple and ordinary life dedicated to God and others. Her incorruptible body rests in the chapel, in a glass reliquary. Designated as a town of art and history, Nevers attracts several hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. Visit the Nevers museum of porcelain and fine art and see about 1500 pieces of porcelain of Nevers, 2500 ceramic pieces and a collection of rolled glasses unique in Europe.
On the circuit of Roman churches, in the heart of Burgundy, lies Paray-le-Monial, one of the richest and the most beautiful patrimony in the whole of Burgundy. Must-see sights include the Sacred Heart Basilica, a masterpiece of Roman art and an important place of pilgrimage, and the museum of Hiéron, which covers two thousand years of Christian history. Moreover, it is the ideal starting point to explore more than a hundred Roman churches within 45 kms.
One hour from Nevers and Paray-le-Monial is Souvigny is the spiritual capital of the Dukes of Bourbon. Enter the Souvigny Museum and see the Zodiac column, a Romanesque pillar unique in the 12th Century world. Meanwhile, in the priory church of Souvigny lies the 4th and 5th abbots of Cluny, Saint Mayeul and Saint Odilon, surrounded by five centuries of architecture.
In the Alps to the south of Grenoble, lies the shrine of the Our Lady of La Salette, which is one of the most popular shrines in France. Perched at an altitude of nearly 1800 metres, at the edge of the Ecrins National Park, the shrine was erected after a Marian apparition. The surroundings offer an ideal setting for spiritiual renewal and meditation. Less than an hour from Lyon, visit Ars-sur-Formans, a village renowned for being the home of the Saint Curé d'Ars, patron saint of all priests in the world. Thousands of pilgrims from around the world every year come to this place to honour St. John Vianney, particularly in Musée Grevin.
Further south lies Puy-en-Velay, a starting point for the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route. Four kilometres from Le Puy-en-Velay is the Polignac Fortress, an impenetrable medieval fortress with a round tower and a unique defence system rises up on a basalt platform. Its dungeon offers an exceptional panoramic view.
Head south to the Camargue and admire the old Abbey of Saint-Gilles in Gard, a UNESCO World Heritage lister that is part of the way to Santiago de Compostela. Its façade depicts scenes of the Old and the New Testament, a frieze tells the Passion of Christ, and numerous animals. Its cryot houses Saint Giles' grave and his famous spiral staircase.
Further east, Provence awaits pilgrims where you must see Saint Maximin Basilica, the largest Gothic building in Provence, home to the relics of St. Mary Magdalene, and the third most important tomb in Christianity. Visit as well the grotto of Saint Baume, where St. Mary Magdalene was believed to have taken refuge in the last 30 years of her life, and the Notre Dame de Grâces in Cotignac, the only place in the world to witness the appearance of the Holy Family.
And lastly, Avignon, the city which has inherited an extraordinary heritage, including the Palace of the Popes (residence of the popes in the 14th Century) and the Bridge of Avignon, both listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, and a dozen museums with a wide variatey of collections.
The south-west region is the "alternative" south of France, with unspoilt countryside and wide-open spaces, picturesque villages and historic sites, rivers and canals, vineyards, and renowned cuisine. An important Christian centre since the Middle Ages and an officially recognised "Grand Site", the town of Rocamadour clings to the cliff in a true feat of gravity. It attracts 1.5 million visitors and pilgrims each year. This sacred city clinging to a cliff is a magnificent superposition of brown roofs, houses, and churches. Being part of the Santiago de Compostela route, get a view of the basilica and the Saint-Amadour crypt, once you climb the 216 steps of the stairway. The miraculous chapel, built in the hollow of a rock, shelters the Black Virgin Mary worshipped for over a millennium.
In 1858, the Virgin Mary appeared 18 times to St. Bernadette Soubirous, a young girl of Lourdes, aged only 14. Since then, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes has become one of the greatest sites of spirituality in the world, welcoming millions of visitors and pilgrims each year from around the world. In 2019, Lourdes is celebrating the 175th anniversary of Saint Bernadette's birth and the 140th anniversary of her death. From July 1 to November 2019, watch the "Bernadette de Lourdes" musical, which tells the origin of the devotion to the Our Lady of Lourdes, with music composed by renowned singer Grégoire.
For more information, contact the French Tourism Agency: http://www.atout-france.fr/
- Images Wikimedia Commons
- Words Franz Sorilla IV