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Outils personnels

Cathédrale Notre-Dame du Puy-en-Velay

History of the Cathedral

The Cathedral of Le Puy – Symbolism in the service of faith

The Cathedral merits its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Pilgrim Routes to Santiago de Compostela category) on several counts:

  • Overhanging, seemingly miraculously, the rock on which it is built, the Cathedral resembles a ship, sailing out to greet the pilgrims whom it invites to rest a while, after they have climbed many steps, which, following the contours of the rock, pass under the nave to resurface in front of the choir.
  • Though built in the Gothic Age, this Romanesque cathedral is a harmonious blend of Baroque elements especially in that part of the building known as the choir, which is dedicated to Our Lady. The Cathedral is enriched by several influences: byzantine, italian, mozarabic and yet it exudes a sense of harmony that is at once soothing and comforting.
  • One of the chief Marian shrines in Europe in the Middle Ages, and planned as an immense reliquary, it is the sanctuary of the Black Virgin. Her very well-known statue, in the "Ethiopian" style, was, according to legend, donated by St. Louis, then burnt during the French Revolution and replaced by the present statue dating back to the XVII century.
  • The original sanctuary, replaced by the Romanesque cathedral, was built at the request of the Virgin Mary, who appeared to a sick woman and cured her when the woman had laid down to pray for recovery on a dolmen stone, which henceforth would be called "the fever stone". It is to be found in a little chapel next to the Marian choir. The bishop of Le Puy, St. Vosy, aided by the architect, St. Scutaire (also a bishop), then erected the sanctuary, housing the dolmen, on the ruins of a former pagan temple.


 The Jubilee of Notre Dame du Puy will be celebrated in 2016 and then in 2157


The Jubilee of Notre Dame du Puy has been celebrated since the X century, when the 25th March, the solemnity of the Annunciation to Mary, the day when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, coincides with Good Friday, the day when Christ died on the cross. This event, which brings in crowds, henceforth extended from the 25th March until the 15th August, will be celebrated in 2016 and then in 2157. Every year on the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin, a large procession brings about 10,000 people onto the streets of Le Puy.



The Cathedral of Notre Dame du Puy is one of the oldest Marian sanctuaries in Europe, since pilgrims have been coming here since the V century. The Black Virgin is venerated here especially on the 25th. March, the day of the Annunciation, and on the 15th. August, feast of the Assumption, when her statue is carried in procession by local inhabitants through the streets of Le Puy.

The sanctuary is also the starting point of the most popular of the pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela, the Via Podiensis. In the morning, after the 7 a.m. Mass, the pilgrims gather round the statue of their patron saint, St. James (which you catch sight of just after you have gone up the « womb stairs [1] »), and they introduce themselves, saying briefly where they come from and how far they think they will be going, if they know! After the blessing, they receive the créanciale, the Pilgrim's Passport, from a nun, and they may accept prayer intentions from another pilgrim or a passing tourist. It's not a question of taking the request for prayers all the way to Santiago, but - and this is sometimes more difficult - of taking it to one's heart and passing it on to God's heart. In other words, God never ceases to communicate with man at the level of the heart, the seat of the emotions; "heart speaks to heart" was the motto of  Cardinal J.H. Newman. This is what we call the "communion of saints".

[1] This strange expression refers to the central stairs - 134 steps which lead directly into the interior of the Cathedral. Fr. Emmanuel Gobilliard puts it thus:"On entering the Cathedral, you have the impression that you are being welcomed by a mother. For Christians, the Church is a mother and this church is built in such a way that you feel you are entering her womb and she holds out her arms to take us in; if such is our desire, we must take the stairs called "the stairs of the womb"; it is as if we had become little children again in our own mother's womb. Whether we are believers or not, we all experience a strong sense of nostalgia and yearning for this relationship with our mother.