Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The bright lights of Lyon

by Kathryn Hadley

Today, Tuesday December 8th, is the last day of the annual Festival of Lights, ‘Fete des Lumières’, in Lyon, where I spent the weekend. Over the past four days and nights, sound and light displays, processions and special church services were organised to mark the event. The ‘Fete des Lumières’ was originally a religious festival and was first celebrated 157 years ago, in 1852.

The festival is a tribute to the Virgin Mary, the origins of which date back to the 17th century. In 1643, there was an outbreak of plague in Europe and the magistrates of the town of Lyon appealed to the archbishop for the protection of the Virgin Mary. In return, they agreed, every year, on September 8th, to climb the colline de Fourvière, a small hill to the west of the town and the site of a 12th-century chapel devoted to Mary, to pay homage to the virgin.

In 1852, a bronze statue of the Virgin Mary was due to be inaugurated, on September 8th, at the top of the chapel’s bell tower. That year, however, the river Soane burst its banks and the foundry where the statue was being sculpted was flooded. The inauguration was postponed until December 8th, the day of the Festival of the Immaculate Conception. When the planned celebrations could not take place, once again, due to bad weather, the inhabitants nevertheless all lit lanterns in the windows of their homes to mark the event. Church leaders also lit up the Chapel of Fourvière. From that year on, the inhabitants lit candles and the town was illuminated, every year.

The Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, which replaced the original medieval chapel, was built in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War. In 1870, threatened by the advance of the Prussian troops in eastern France, the inhabitants of Lyon appealed to the archbishop, once more, and vowed to extend the existing church if Lyon was spared.

For further information on the festival, visit www.lumieres.lyon.fr/lumieres/sections/en
For further information on the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, visit http://www.fourviere.org/

- the opera of Lyon
- view of the Lyon from the colline de Fourvière

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