Notre Dame des Victoires
As you will know, two days a week I work at the diocesan archives, which are located behind the church of Our Lady of Victories, Kensington (known as 'OLV'). Earlier this week I was in Paris for the day and took the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the little Basilica of Notre Dame des Victoires on the Place des Petits-Pères (near the Palais Royal).
There are statues of 'OLV' in the surrounding street:
The church was completed in 1629 and financed by Louis XIII, who called it 'Our Lady of Victories' in gratitude for his recent victories on the battlefield. It was placed under the care of the Augustinians (or Petits Pères), who won themselves further favour with the King when one Br Fiacre obtained by his prayers to Our Lady, 'Refuge of Sinners' the birth of the long-awaited Dauphin, who would one day reign as Louis XIV. Br Fiacre had been visited by the Blessed Virgin on 3 November 1637 and undertook, on the royal couple's behalf, a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Grace at Cotignac, Provence. On his return, the Queen was discovered to be pregnant.
Two centuries later, in 1836, the curé , Fr Charles Eléonore Dufriche Desgenettes, increasingly concerned by the low numbers of practising parishioners (due to the fall-out of the Revolution), decided to consecrate the parish to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He also founded an Archconfraternity of Our Lady of Victories (approved by Gregory XVI two years later). This bore much fruit for the spiritual life of the parish and city and soon pilgrims began to flock to the church, as are testified by the 37,000 ex votos on the walls of the church. Here is a picture of an archway covered in these tablets (the bust, by the way, shows the great composer Lully, who is buried in the basilica):
There are even ex votos at the side of the confessional:
The most famous pilgrim was St Therese. In 1883 she was cured of a serious illness after a novena of Masses was celebrated at Our Lady of Victories. 'A miracle was necessary,' she later wrote, 'and it was Our Lady of Victories who worked it.' When she visited Paris en route to Rome in 1887, she confessed that only one of the city's sights filled her with pleasure: Our Lady of Victories -
The Blessed Virgin made me feel it was really herself who smiled on me and brought about my cure. I understood she was watching over me, that I was her child.
Other saintly pilgrims to the church include St Théophane Vénard, St John Bosco, St Peter Julian Eymard and Bl Elizabeth of the Trinity.
The church only had a handful of devotees when I visited, but it was clear from the lit candles and advertised events that the basilica remains one of the spiritual hearts of Paris. In the shop opposite I purchased a statue of Our Lady of Victories - seen here 'on location' in my study:
Prayer to Our Lady of Victories: O Victorious Lady, Thou who has ever such powerful influence with Thy Divine Son, in conquering the hardest of hearts, intercede for those for whom we pray, that their hearts being softened by the rays of Divine Grace, they may return to the unity of the true Faith, through Christ, our Lord. Amen. (Fr Nelson Baker)