A certain spirituality
In 1842, Mayet made asynthesis in his Memoirs of what he knew of the project’s beginnings.
A summary of the progress of the Society amidst contradictions until its approval.
It began obscurely, at the major seminary of Lyon, towards 1815. Twelveseminarians (such, I believe, is the figure that was mentioned to me) line up under the name of Mary, sign a short commitment and meet with the permission and under the protection of M. Cholleton, director of the major seminary. Such is the first step.
– The Mayet Memoirs
In a sense, Mayet was right, even if he was to discover that the beginnings of the project went back further than 1815. But something really “began” then, although only four of the 12 carried on with the project. The Fourviere event was the beginning from which a whole Marist “family” would develop. Historian Gaston Lessard writes: “When the group of Marist aspirants met at Fourviere on July 23, 1816, the plan they nurtured constituted already a certain spirituality, a certain way of living the life of the Spirit to which they were called by Baptism.”
For centuries and to this day, Fourviere has been a popular place of pilgrimage, and several religious Orders trace their origins to moments of grace in the life of their Founders that took place here in the Chapel. Inside the chapel, the walls are lined with plaques placed there in thanksgiving for special graces received.
Lyon and Fourviere
As a city, Lyon (Lugdunum) dates to 43 BC. It was the capital of Gaul, what we know today as France, and in less than two centuries it became a cornerstoneof the Roman Empire. Lyon is of great importance in the history of Christianity. It was here that St lrenaeus and the first martyrs of Gaul died in 177 AD. It was the site for two major Councils of the Church, in 1245 and 1274; and from earliest times it has been a fervent centre of Christianity.
Fourviere is the hill which overlooks the whole city of Lyon, and on entering the city the first thing that one notices is the Basilica high on the top of the hill, commanding a view over the whole city. The present church was built in 1896. To the left of the Basilica a tall tower can be seen, with a statue on its pinnacle. This is the small chapel built on the site where a shrine has been dedicated to Our Lady since 1170. This chapel, restored in 1751, has not greatly altered since then, and it was here that the seminarians made their promise to begin the Society of Mary.
There are 800 stone steps to climb in orderto reach the top of the hill. Today, a funicular helps pilgrims, but no such convenience helped the 12 seminarians as they made their pilgrimage up these steps. Here is Etienne Terraillon’s account of the event:
“Our ordination took place on the feast of St Mary Magdalene on July 22, 1816. On the following day we went up to Our Lady of Fourviere to place ourselves and our project under Mary’s special protection. Father Courveille said Mass and I assisted him. The others simply received communion because they were saving their first Mass for their parish. We placed our names on the altar as a symbol of our dedication.