The town of Lisieux has no shortage of buildings with a religious vocation, as you will see below, that is why when Monseigneur Lemonnier put forward the idea of building a Basilica in Lisieux for the very recently canonized (1925) Ste-Therese of the Child Jesus, the idea did not receive a favorable reception at first sight.

 

Saint-Pierre cathedral, place François Mitterrand,

The hospital chapel, 10 avenue du Marechal Lyautey,

The chapel of the Fondation d'Auteuil, on a place called La Colline (private),

The Chapel of the Sisters of Providence, chemin de Rocques (private),

Carmel Chapel, 35-37 Carmel street (private),

The chapel of Our Lady of Charity, 10 Paul Banastou street (private),

Notre-Dame du Sourire chapel or Hermitage chapel, 23 Carmel street (private),

Our Lady of Lourdes chapel, 67 Paris Street,

The Evangelical Church, 28 rue du Camp Franc (private),

Saint-Desir church, 37 avenue du Six-Juin,

St-François-Xavier church, 162 boulevard de Lattre de Tassigny,

St-Jacques church, rue au char,

St-Jean Bosco church, 15 rue de la Touques,

Saint-Joseph church, 58 rue Fournet,

As well as a Protestant temple on Ramon Street.

 

 

Which makes a total of 14 buildings plus the temple. Of these 14 buildings, 9 are public, that is to say, since the French Revolution, at the expense of the French State or its municipalities. Total population of Lisieux at the last census ?

20,881 inhabitants in 2014. The next census is therefore for 2021. With a national average of 2.5 religious buildings per municipality, we therefore see that Lisieux explodes national statistics. And therefore explains a mixed reception for a sixteenth religious building at the time.

 

Sainte-Therese basilica of Lisieux, in Normandy

 

 

 

Sainte-Therese was canonised in 1925

Photo : Nono vlf in respect of

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After an initial architectural project deemed "too small" compared to the notoriety of Sainte-Therese at the time, both in France and abroad, but especially abroad, proof that the notoriety of Sainte-Therese had largely crossed the oceans, a second project is set on track with the asserted support of the pope in place, who had just canonized her : Pope Pius XI. Always with Monseigneur Lemonnier as local pilot of the project.

It is a French architect from the Nord department with an established international reputation who is in charge for the second project. Known as much for his civil constructions as for his restorations of religious buildings, following conflicts or not, Louis Marie Cordonnier submits a basilica project in reinforced concrete and granite which is generally inspired by the Sacre Cœur (Sacred Heart) in Paris.

In September 1927, Monseigneur Lemonnier approved the Cordonnier project and his successor a few months later, Monseigneur Suhard, did not question it and would continue to carry it.

 

 

Foundation stone ceremony in 1929

 

The earthworks began at the beginning of 1929 and in September of the same year, they were sufficiently advanced for the laying of the foundation stone to take place.

Projet area : 4 500 m² or 48 438 square feet

Height of the central dome : 90 m or 295 feet

Length of the basilica : 104 m or 341 feet.

Special feature : no inner column obstructs the view of the 3000 pilgrims on the sanctuary.

 

 

For memory :

Area of Notre-Dame de Paris : 6 000 m² or 64 583 square feet

Height under roof of the central nave of the abbey church of Fecamp and Notre-Dame in Paris : 40 and 43 m / 131 and 141 feet

Abbey of Fecamp and Notre-Dame de Paris : 127 m / 417 feet of length

Respective width of the two aforementioned : 20 and 48 m or 66 and 157 feet.

Capacity : 9 000 people for Notre-Dame of Paris ; unknown for Fecamp.

 

 

On July 11, 1937, Cardinal Pacelli (future Pope Pius XII) pronounced the solemn blessing of the Basilica.

 

Obviously, during the Second World War, construction works were greatly slowed down by the lack of materials, even if officially they never stopped. The bombings during the Liberation of 44 did not concern the construction site of the Basilica for a relatively simple reason : at that time, unlike today, the construction site of the Basilica was really outside the city, almost in the forest , which explains the absence of "military" interest in the building.

On the other hand, Saint-Pierre cathedral, which is actually in the center of Lisieux and adjoins the episcopal palace, escaped without a bomb, which for once is relatively inexplicable in terms of the balance sheet of destruction in Calvados during military operations following the Landing. Especially since Lisieux after the Liberation is considered to be two-thirds destroyed !

 

 

Consecration of the basilica in 1954

 

Thus on July 11, 1954, the consecration of the Basilica could be pronounced by Monseigneur Martin, Archbishop of Rouen, in the presence of the Pope's legate.

 

 

A chapel of Adoration adjoins the Crypt under the basilica of Lisieux.

The Campanile, meanwhile, even if richly endowed with bells, 51 in all, including 6 bells of volley, is still considered incomplete in 2020. Its drone (9 tons) bears the inscription: " I ring the call of the peoples for unity in Love ”. But in French : « Je sonne l’appel des peuples à l’unité dans l’Amour ».

The Campanile of Lisieux concert carillon comes from the know-how of Paccard (Haute-Savoie), a bell builder renowned throughout the world.

 

The Lisieux Basilica annually represents a tourist flow of around 600,000 people. If we compare this flow to that of French National Monuments, the Basilica is close behind the Pantheon and its 875,000 visitors and is ahead of La Conciergerie and its 456,000 visitors. In the provinces, the Basilica is on a par with the Castle of Carcassonne, visited annually by around 621,000 people, far ahead of the Loire castles (half as much for the most famous of them: Azay-le-Rideau and its 310,000 visitors ).

The Basilica of Lisieux was listed as a Historic Monument on September 14, 2010 and classified as HD on September 7, 2011.

 

 

View of the south transept with the reliquary of the Basilica Sainte-Therese of Lisieux 

 Photo. :  © Tours-in-normandy.fr

 

Anecdotes :

The hill on which the Basilica is built is a clay hill about 30 meters thick, offering absolutely no natural stability necessary for the construction of such a reinforced concrete building. The foundations of the Basilica therefore rests on 130 cylindrical pillars (diameter varying from 1.4 to 5 meters ! ) To reach the underlying limestone layer and guarantee the stability of the whole. Obviously the reinforced concrete structure of the emerged face of the Basilica is connected to the submerged face of the foundations. And it is therefore vital not to break this metallic mesh (cf anecdote 3).

 

No location for an organ was planned in the original project of the Basilica. In the 1930s, the rector of the Basilica having succeeded in obtaining an award-winning Cavaille-Coll organ at the 1935 Universal Exhibition in Brussels, it was decided, because there was no possible alternative, to install it instead of two side stands on either side of the choir. With an electrical transmission between the two blocks.

 

The absence of an elevator in the last century did not put anyone off and the 175 spiral steps to get to the roofs increased the pleasure once you got to the top (40 m) !   Given the insistence and frequency of the question: "Where is the elevator ? ", It was necessary to find a technical answer to the impossibility of cutting any of the metal parts buried in the reinforced concrete. For ONE missing centimeter, we had to opt for a tailor-made project inside the north tower, on the left when we look at the Basilica from its forecourt. This elevator was expected to enter service at the end of 2020 (COVID-19 pandemic) and will serve all floors, from the crypt to the top of the two towers.

 

 

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