Earlier this week, many commemorated the anniversary of D-Day, considered to be a turning point of World War II. Centered on the coast of France, numerous historical sites are visited by thousands each year. A number of our pilgrimages to France have included visits to these same sites – to pay respect to our fallen and pray for all those affected by war and violence.
France is also known for its many tourist sites, and also for a number of religious shrines, churches, and places of apparitions. Catholicism’s deep roots in France began even before King Clovis was baptized in 496. However, it was with this baptism, wherein the Frankish king was denoted “eldest son of the Church,” that this unique nickname began to be tied with France as a whole.
Now known as the “eldest daughter of the Church,” France as a whole has been home to numerous saints throughout the centuries. When designing a pilgrimage through France, it can be hard to only choose a few to visit and venerate!
Tradition holds that the earliest Christians in France were none other than close followers of Our Lord, himself. St. Mary Magdalene, along with Sts. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, are said to have sailed to the southern coast of what is now France. They brought with them the remains of St. Anne, the mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus, for safekeeping in what is now the city of Apt.
St Irenaeus was another early Christian to evangelize what was then known as Gaul. Living in the 2nd and 3rd century, he eventually became bishop of Lyon. In 2022, he became the most recent Doctor of the Church, and is known as Doctor unitatis (Doctor of Unity) for his life as a bridge between Eastern and Western Christians. He is buried under the church which bears his name in Lyon.
From these earliest saints to the 20th century, France ranks fourth in terms of sheer number of saints per country. Even though the borders have changed, and the monarchy is no longer, France has been a fertile ground for holiness throughout the centuries.
St. Charles de Foucauld became the most recently canonized French saint. In October, 2022, in the first canonization ceremony in over three years, St. Charles and 9 others were recognized for their holiness and faithfulness to God. St. Charles de Foucauld was a French soldier and explorer who became a missionary and a Trappist monk. He served and witnessed to Muslims in Algeria and was killed in 1916.
Other French saints include married couples, founders of religious orders, missionaries, priests, nuns, preachers, reformers, lay people, visionaries, and more.
Unique shines in France include those dedicated to the Blessed Mother, one claiming to house the reliquary which once held the head of John the Baptist, a chapel containing relics of the crown of thorns, and the palace where popes lived during the Avignon papacy.
On a pilgrimage to France, one can seemingly walk on water during low tide to visit Mont St. Michel or wash in the miraculous waters of Lourdes. You can see where the Miraculous Medal was created, and where devotion to the Sacred Heart began. Drink wine produced by monks or try the brightly-colored Chartreuse – produced under a closely-guarded secret recipe containing 130 herbs.
No matter the itinerary, a pilgrimage to France will be rich with culture, history, tradition, and faith.