I suppose I can describe in words some of what I saw during the tour, but it really is the kind of place that was designed to be a visible testimony to Chevalier’s vision, so to be in and around the basilica is to understand how profound it was and how different to a great deal of the spirituality of the time.

From the beginning, I had assumed that the incarnational aspect of the charism could be separated from the Marian aspect, but it pretty soon became obvious that I was going to lose that one. Chevalier was pretty clear about what it meant, and his trajectory was not the glorified titles and ideas like co-mediatrix which cause me heartburn. After looking at the iconography and hearing his understanding of the title of Notre Dame de Sacre-Coeur, you realised that here was some pretty sophisticated theology distilled into some simple prayers and a clear image. But, Lordy, when you walk into the basilica, the MSC are not letting you squib on this part of the message!

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I don’t really want to give a guided tour, but its worth listing some facts about the place and how it tells the story. Of course, like all of these holy places, it has its special spots, but the great mystery of journey is discovery the place. I guess that is a definition of a pilgrimage: walking in the footsteps of our forebears and finding their places. In our minds, we can see them walking with us and come to a deeper understanding of their life and message.

The first place is the place in the courtyard where the community first named Mary under the title of Notre Dame de Sacre-Coeur. There is a nice modern statue there and candles always seem to be burning in the sheltered prickets (what else do you call them?).

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The MSC community have been here since the beginning, first in a small farmhouse which stood in the site now occupied by the extension to the quadrangle on the right, and later in various parts of the quadrangle, which has contained all sorts of works, including the Apostolic School and the secondary school, but which has always been bigger than the needs of just the community. Chevalier intended it to be big enough to cater for the needs of the lay community and priest associates and it still only really fills when the pilgrimages are on.

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The stained glass is really something to be hold. Architecturally, this minor basilica is not much different from many others built at the time, but the glass is used with great intelligence, Chevalier insisting on blue for the lower windows and red for the upper windows, with obvious symbolic intent. The colours themselves are a catechism, and the biblical origins of the images and the styles of she windows, fifties for the clerestory windows and sixties for the upper windows, given the place an extraordinary and unique atmosphere. I wonder if Chevalier was inspired by the windows of Brouges cathedral?

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The basilica itself the work of an amazing man. Chevalier was at once a builder, priest, writer, spiritual director, fundraiser and superior. Hw he did it all is inde a mystery, but the choir was completed by 1863 (after the barn became unsafe) and the nave in 1868. This was before the clerical persecution, to be sure, but getting the money when the movement was still in its infancy was an incredible undertaking.

The chapel was completed in 1867 and has the famous statue, crowned at the Pope’s instigation, but the chapel itself is something of a memorial to the war of 1870-71, when the Prussians were halted just outside Issoudun. Many of the people in this part of France associated the end of the invasion with the intervention of NDSC, so the chapel has many references to Father Chevalier’s response to the war, including the appeal for the Alsatian refugees.

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I need to at least mention the ex votos, the dedications to OLSH that cover every square inch of the walls and continue into the park. While they are no longer part of the devotion, the lady chapel has ex voto lights which are lit at the request of members of the con fraternity or by pilgrims, in prayer or thanksgiving. There are ex votos everywhere, for every possible reason.

The crypt contains the remains of the six earliest followers and Mother Marie Louise Harzer (founder of the fdndsc).

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It’s incredible to think that Chevalier accomplished all this while also have many other responsibilities, including being parish priest of Saint-Cyr — and while he was there, he rebuilt half of that church, too!
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There is more to say about that part of the story and this amazing town tomorrow!

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