Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere

The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière is a minor basilica in Lyon. It was built with private funds between 1872 and 1896 in a dominating position in the city, as a mark of the triumph of Christian values over the socialists of the Lyon commune of 1870, like the similarly inspired Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, Paris. Its design, by Pierre Bossan, draws from both Romanesque and Byzantine architecture, two non-Gothic models that were unusual choices at the time. It features fine mosaics, superb stained glass, and a crypt of Saint Joseph. The basilica, which offers guided tours and contains a Museum of Sacred Art, receives 1.5 million visitors annually.

Bossan’s first sketches for the basilica seem to date from 1846, following the bi-centennial in 1843 of the plague event. At the time he was in Palermo. The site it occupies was once the Roman forum of Trajan, the forum vetus, thus its name. Perched on top of the Fourvière hill, the basilica looms impressively over the city of Lyon, where it can be seen from many vantage points; not unintentionally, the basilica of Fourvière has become a symbol of the city of Lyon. The basilica has four main towers, and a belltower. It is topped with a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary. At certain times, members of the public may access the basilica’s north tower for a spectacular 180-degree view of Lyon and its suburbs. Fourvière actually contains two churches, one on top of the other. The upper sanctuary is very ornate, while the lower is a much simpler design. Fourvière is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who is said to have saved the city of Lyon from the plague in 1643. A small church was erected in gratitude, to which the gilded statue of the Virgin was added in the mid-nineteenth century, to mark its bicentennial. Each year in early December (December 8., day of the Immaculate Conception), Lyon thanks the Virgin for saving the city by lighting candles throughout the city, in what is called the Fête des Lumières. During the Franco-Prussian War, Prussian forces, having taken Paris, were progressing south towards Lyon. Their halt and retreat were attributed by the Church to the intercession of the Virgin Mary once more. Work on the triumphant basilica was begun in 1872 and finished in 1884. Finishing touches in the interior were not completed until 1964. Since 1982 the antennas of Radio Fourvière, the predecessor of Radios chrétiennes francophones, have been located in the tower. Notre-Dame de Fourvière was included when the whole historic center of Lyon was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.

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