The History of Fourvière
Origin of the Name
Fourvière Hill, overlooking the French city of Lyon, was originally the location of the old Roman Forum, or ‘Forum Vetus’. As early as 1168, a Christian chapel was built on the hill, which had already become a Marian shrine. Fourvière has been called ‘the hill that prays’ (‘la colline qui prie’), or ‘the mystical hill’, because of the churches and religious communities that are present there.
The first Christian community of the Gauls was established in Lyon, where the proto-martyrs of the French Church were put to death. Among them were Saint Pothin, first bishop of Lyon, and his companions. His successor was Saint Irenaeus, disciple of Saint Polycarp, who was a disciple of St John the Evangelist.
The Shrine of Fourvière
The original church of Our Lady of Fourvière, built in 1170, was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and to the medieval English Saint, Thomas Becket, who had lived in exile in the region and was martyred at Canterbury in 1170. The golden statue on top of the church was inaugurated on the 8th of December 1852, two years before the promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The ceremony was postponed because of rain, so the locals placed candles in their windows instead. Since then the tradition of lighting candles on the 8th December has continued. Thousands descend upon Lyon each year for what is now called the La Fête des Lumières, the Festival of Lights.
The Fourvière Pledge
Courveille, Champagnat and Colin, the founding fathers of the Society of Mary, were ordained in Lyon on the 22nd of July 1816. The next day they and nine other companions climbed Fourvière hill to the shrine, where Courveille celebrated his first mass. There they promised to found a congregation that would belong to Mary and be named for her. Their written pledge was placed on the altar during the Mass and after communion the twelve read out their promise, which became known as the Fourvière Pledge. 2016 marks the bicentenary of this event.
The Oceania Mission
Twenty years after the founding of the Marist order, in October 1836, Bishop Pompallier had a novena of Masses offered in the same church before the departure of the first missionaries for Oceania. On the last day of the novena, Fr Peter Chanel SM, the future proto-martyr of Oceania, hung a heart-shaped pendant on the Statue of Our Lady containing the names of the departing missionaries.
Suzanne Aubert was another missionary to New Zealand whose spiritual home was the sanctuary of Fourvière. Her mother, Clarice, had been diagnosed with cancer in 1845 and was miraculously cured at the shrine of Fourvière.
Fourvière, then, is the cradle of the Oceania mission, a mission that the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fourvière in Leithfield, New Zealand is set to continue.