The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere

Middle age

The symbol of Lyon's religious history
The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière was built between 1872 and 1884 to thank the Virgin Mary for having spared the city from invasion during the Franco-Prussian war. It has become one of the major symbols of Lyon, in part thanks to its dominant location on a hill overlooking the city. It is one testament of the great influence that Christianity has had on the city over the centuries.
The Façade
The basilica was designed by the Lyonnais architect Pierre Bossan. Its façade of the basilica is rich in symbolism and ornamentation integrating elements from both Romanesque and Byzantine architecture. The basilica was an object of much criticism during its construction, with some labelling it “the upside-down elephant.” See if you can understand why!

The Towers

The four towers of the basilica represent the four cardinal values – fortitude, justice, prudence and temperance. Their particularity lies in their octagonal shape and their decoration with stylized floral engravings.

The Gallery of Caryatid Angels

Here in this upper gallery the columns take the form of caryatids, or sculpted angels. Swords in hand, these deities reinforce the defensive aspect of the basilica, as if a veritable fortress.

The Lion

This winged lion statue guards the entrance to the crypt, which is dedicated to St. Joseph. In addition to being an allegorical figure of the city of Lyon, the lion is a common emblem of the Jewish tribe of Judah, of which St. Joseph is a descendant.

The Crypt of St. Joseph   
The basilica is actually made up of two churches – the main church on top and the crypt down underground. The crypt is dedicated to St. Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary, as the architect Bossan believed that pilgrims had to reach Mary through Joseph, passing from the darkness of the crypt into the light of the main church.

The Crypt

The crypt is more than just the foundation of the upper church – it is also a church in its own right, with its own altar. The choir is covered in elaborate mosaics with statues of angels celebrating the virtues of St. Joseph.

The Virgins of the Chapels

The entire crypt is lined with chapels such as this one, which are dedicated to a version of the Virgin Mary from different pilgrimage sites. These include Portugal, Poland, Hungary, India, the Philippines, Lebanon, Guadeloupe and China, among others.

The Ex-votos

The walls are covered with marble plaques known as “ex-votos.” These are offerings to give thanks to a saint for having fulfilled a special request, such as healing a sick loved one. Ex-votos are a common feature of pilgrimage sites.

The Central Nave
The central nave of the basilica is richly decorated with a variety of ornaments and gilded features, and most particularly mosaics which cover the church from floor to ceiling. The architect Bossan drew inspiration from the mosaics that lined the churches he visited during his stays in Sicily.

The Cupolas

The three cupolas above represent the links between the Virgin Mary and the three members of the Holy Trinity, as she is the daughter of the Father, the spouse of the Holy Spirit and the mother of Christ.

The Floor

The floor is meticulously decorated with mosaics using different types of marble and hard stone. They form geometric and floral patterns which become even more extravagant as one moves toward the choir.

Mosaic of the Battle of Lepanto

This mosaic depicts the 1571 Battle of Lepanto, during which Pope Pius V implored the intercession of the Virgin Mary to bring victory to the Christian sailors against the Turkish fleet of Selim II.

Joan of Arc’s Triumphant Arrival in Orleans

This mosaic focuses on the triumphant arrival of Joan of Arc in Orleans, but the five key moments of her life are also featured – the voices, the victory at Patay, the coronation in Reims, the capture and the burning at the stake.

The Choir 
All the decorations in the basilica are dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and the symbolism only increases the closer you get to the heart of the church: the choral gallery, or choir. This area is considered holy, and the decorations used here reflect the Immaculate Conception, or Mary’s divine motherhood.

Mosaic: The Donation from Louis XIII

Here, King Louis XIII of France and his wife, Anne of Austria, offer a crown, symbolizing France, to the Virgin Mary so that she may give them an heir to the throne. This heir would become the future King Louis XIV.

The Virgin Mary

The statue is the focal point of the altar. Mary watches over the congregation, holding the baby Jesus whose fingers are raised in blessing. Sculpted in Carrara marble, the statue is covered with a veil as a sign of purity.

The Choir Vault

The ribs and shell of the choir vault are richly decorated in jewels, roses and foliage, and they are surrounded by cherubs. The keystone is six meters wide, and the dove of the Holy Spirit sits at the very center.

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