Here is another travel diary entry from my trip in January. The day after I went to Ars, I went to Paray-le-Monial. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart there was originally built for a Cluniac monastery. A block or two away is the Visitandine Monastery where St. Marguerite Marie Alacoque lived. Her apparitions of Jesus' Sacred Heart draw many pilgrims to Paray-le-Monial each year. In January, both the Basilica and the Visitandine Monastery's Chapel of the Apparitions were quiet. Here is the day's travel diary:
- St. Bernard of Clairvaux, On Humility and Pride
On a Tuesday morning, mid-January, I was concerned about the weather for the drive from Lyon to Paray-le-Monial, which goes through hills at a higher altitude further from the city than the previous day's drive to Ars-sur-Forman. Three different weather reports agreed it would rain. One of them warned that fog was likely and mentioned a "minimal" chance of heavy snow.
What none of them mentioned was a chance of a beautiful, sunny day. The air was cool and crisp, but not terribly cold, and the drive was scenic and otherwise uneventful. I didn't see clouds begin to gather until on my way back to Lyon late that afternoon.
Along the way, I passed the turnoff to Cluny, where the original monastery once was for the Cluniac reform in the Benedictine Order. However, that monastery has been rebuilt over the years, unlike the church from the Cluniac monastery at Paray-le-Monial, which still stands nearly a millineum after it was built. Only the church remains from the original monastery, and it is massive. The monastery was built in the 10th or 11th century, and the church was built in the 12th century, around the same time when the Cistercian St. Bernard wrote his book quoted above. The large church, built on the initiative of abbot St. Hugh of Cluny, is now called the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and it is part of a Catholic retreat center operated by the Emmanuel Community.
The Catholic Encyclopedia says of Paray-le-Monial that "The Cluny monks were, 999-1789, lords of the town." In 1678, the Visitandine nuns arrived in the town. In the nearby Chapel of the Visitation, part of the Visitandine Monastery, St. Marguerite Marie Alacoque lived in the late 17th century. She spoke to Jesus who frequently appeared to her as her Director, and who confided to her the mission to establish the devotion to His Sacred Heart. Since 1873, Paray-le-Monial has drawn increasing numbers of pilgrims each year, now numbering around 400,000, largely made up of people with a devotion to the Sacred Heart. On the day when I was there in January, there were only a few.
I thought about St. Bernard's words while I was there. I had a strong sense there of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and thought about the lives of the monks, unknown, their names not remembered, who lived their lives there over the centuries, chanting the hours in that place where the slightest sound resonates so loudly that they would have to have kept very still in times of prayer to maintain silence. The basilica is also known for its "mystical light", created by architectural design.
There must have been unknown saints there through the centuries, the kind remembered on the Feast of All Saints. What they did that affects us today is what they accomplished by their lives of prayer and not action, and what they accomplished in building and maintaining the basilica over the centuries, probably maintenance done in boring manual labor while in meditation.
I looked all around the inside of the basilica and then sat down in a chapel with the reserved host. The crisp air smelled and felt so good that I breathed it in deeply a number of times, clean and crisp, like the cool sunny day, and somehow quietly healing. After a while, I walked through the basilica again and took pictures. There were only a few other people around, so that there was a lot of solitude there, and it was very quiet.
From there, I walked over to the Chapel of the Visitation. A young couple were there for a while, looking at the place where St. Marguerite Marie Alacoque's body rests in the chapel. Later, a nun came in alone and sat down a few rows behind me. I don't know from which order. The Visitandine nuns who live there came into their choir near the chapel, where we could see them, and chanted the office mid-afternoon.
I left around 3:00 p.m. and went and walked through the garden by the basilica before heading back to my car. I looked around for somewhere to have lunch but found nothing open that late in the afternoon, so I headed back to Lyon to return my rental car.
Picture: Statue of St. Marguerite Marie Alacoque in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Paray-le-Monial.