At the beginning of the 12th century, returning safe from the Holy Land, Crusader Géraud de Graves built an oratory dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lady in the deep forest close to Saint-Macaire ( near Bordeaux ). He lived there as a hermit with a few companions.
In 1160, after the death of Géraud, the lands around were bought by the monks of Grandmont who built a sanctuary to shelter a statue of the Blessed Virgin and a monastery. The monks helped the peasants and worked hard to develop local agriculture.
In 1185 a first miracle occured ( a peasant recovered from blindness ) and pilgrimages began. One of the pilgrims was famous : King Richard the Lionheart, Duke of Aquitaine, in 1190.
During the 14th Century, misery, famine and plague devastated the Duchy, and moreover the war between the king of France and the king of England was endless. So the sanctuary was ruined...
Around 1390 the young and devout Countess Isabelle de Foix, riding in the forest, found under the hoof of her mule the statue of Our Lady ( a copy made in 1300 ) who had been buried by the peasants during the assaults of French troops. Enthusiastic, she decided to reconstruct the chapel and to help the monks. At the entrance of the chapel an inscription was written : " Sic datur electis ad caeli gaudia vinctis gloria pax requies perpetuusque dies ".
In 1462, King of France Louis XI came to pray " the glorious Virgin Mary ". It was a period of peace. But soon the civil war between Catholics and Protestants would began. The church was destroyed in 1562 by Huguenots, and the monks were expelled...
In 1583 the war ended. Cardinal François de Sourdis in 1609 founded a confraternity to restore the church, and in 1627 welcomed the austere Order of the Celestines ( founded in 1254 by Pope Celestine V ) to keep the sanctuary. The new church was only achieved in 1666.
Louis XIV came there with his mother in 1650 to pray for the kingdom, at the end of the Fronde.
Notre Dame de Verdelais was then the most important pilgrimage sanctuary to Our Lady in Aquitaine. Miracles occured and masses of people came to be protected against desease and frost. Sailors also came to thank Mary. But after the middle of the 18th Century, the ideas of the so-called Enlightments challenged the devotion to the Virgin, the monks had difficulties to recruit. The Celestine Order was suppressed by Pope Pius VI and the monastery closed in 1779.
When the Revolution blustered, only one priest was in charge of Verdelais...
In July 1790, because of the civil constitution of the clergy, the priest fled away, and a schismatic priest was appointed. The monastery was sold in January 1792. Fortunately the statue was kept by Jean Michel, the ex-sacrist !
Terror began in 1793 : even the schismatic priest had to run away...
The church would open again in 1795, but the buildings of the monastery would be bought by Archbishop d' Aviau, only in 1821.
The pilgrimage got moving again. In 1838, the new archbishop, Mgr Donnet, called at Verdelais the Fathers of the Society of Mary ( the Marists, founded in 1816 by Father Colin ). It will be a blossoming time for Verdelais. Dozen of miraculous recoveries occured, as it happened to blessed Guillaume-Joseph Chaminade ( 1761-1850 ) during his youth. Famous Father Lacordaire, op, came to preach ; confraternities were founded to restore the church and relaunch the pilgrimage. A new bell-tower was erected in 1854 with a huge ( 3,75m ) statue of the Virgin at its top in 1856 and Cardinal Donnet crowned Our Lady of Verdelais.
But with the laicist regime of the third Republic, the situation of catholicism worsened in France...Between 1901 and 1905 the teaching nuns were expelled from Verdelais, and between 1906 and 1910 the region was troubled by the secularization of Church's buildings and the exile of hundreds of nuns and monks. The buildings of the Marists were bought in 1910 by Father Giraudin, rector of the Bordeaux Seminary.
Nevertheless pilgimages never ceased, among pilgrims was author François Mauriac ( 1885-1970, Nobel prize in Literature in 1952 ).
In 1924 ( after the reconciliation in 1921 between Rome and France ), Pope Pius XI elevated Verdelais - sanctuary of Our Lady Consolatrix Afflictorum - to the honour of Minor Basilica.
In the 80's the Marists left Verdelais. They were replaced in1990 by the Passionists to renew the pilgrimage.
French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec ( 1864-1901 ) is buried in the Verdelais cemetery.
Lire : Philippe de Bercegol " Notre Dame de Verdelais, légendes et réalités ", Editions les Dossiers d' Aquitaine, 2006.
Liens sur le Cardinal de Sourdis : http://ut-pupillam-oculi.over-blog.com/article-12828183.html
et sur l' Ordre de Grandmont : http://ut-pupillam-oculi.over-blog.com/article-5570477.html
( article du 08/02/07 ).