Monday, 6 August 2012

A Day out in Paray-le-Monial

The week before last, we went to Paray-le-Monial for the day. I don’t know why we went, we just fancied a day out and even though our plans were completely different when we left home, we ended up there anyway. We both really like the town, it has a nice “feel” about it. The Basilica is a wonder and a small version of the now destroyed abbey church in Cluny. When you walk around outside, you can really imagine how impressive Cluny III must have been, as this is just a baby version of it.

I have mentioned before that Paray-le-Monial is a pilgrimage destination and hundreds of thousands of people visit it every year. I knew that Marguerite-Marie Alacoque had had “visions”, but really how significant she was or why so many people come to visit, I had no idea.

We went into the pilgrim gardens and visited what they cutely call a diorama, which was a slightly kitsch series of little tableaux depicting the life of the famous Marguerite-Marie. There was a computer silently lurking near the doorway and after pressing all the buttons we could find on it, we managed to get the diorama to start up. We were treated to the story of her life. The whole thing was painfully long and very boring, but it did enlighten us to who she actually was and I was rather surprised.

Not being a Catholic I am not too au-fait with saints, I know all Anglican churches have saints’ names but I always considered who they were and what they did, as being totally irrelevant. In France you cannot escape the massive influence saints have on the population, for many of whom their worship borders on idolatry. The Sacred Heart is another Catholic invention that I have never understood, other than the fact that you see a picture of Jesus with his heart hanging out in Catholic houses and I must admit I find the pictures a bit ghoulish.

Well it turns out that our Sainte Marguerite-Marie was in fact very big in popularising the Sacred Heart. She was the first person to make an image of it and to pass on messages from Jesus about sharing the heart with the world. I also discovered that the Sacred Heart is not actually a body part at all, it is an image or a symbol of God’s love for us.

All our previous visits to Paray-le-Monial have been in the autumn, winter or spring and so we have missed the crucial summer “pilgrim period”. When we actually saw just how many people there were, attending the international pilgrim convention, that was underway when we arrived, I started to realise just how “big” this thing is. And despite it being a little too much hocus-pocus for me to get my head around, there are thousands of visitors who obviously do not share that opinion. In any case, I can now understand why Pope John-Paul II visited Paray in 1986 and why it appears that Pope Benedict XVI is planning a pilgrimage himself in the near future.

La Tuilerie Website

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