Why was Notre-Dame-de-France statue built?



In a previous article we you gave you an overview of the beautiful city of Le Puy-en-Velay in Haute-Loire.

We mentioned the Chapelle St-Michel perched on the Rocher d’Aiguilhe, a rocky spur overlooking the city.

Today we have chosen to talk about another exceptional monument, Notre-Dame-de-France statue.

Our Lady is represented blessing the city fromthe top of another volcanic spur, the 132m highRocher Corneille.

She wears a crown of stars and carries the Child Jesus on her arm, while holding a globe and crushing a snake under her foot.

The statue was built in 1860 by Jean Bonnassieux, but it all began a decade earlier, when Father Xavier Ravignan met Bishop Pierre Darcimoles.


A statue seen from afar!

The two clergymen decided to take a walk on the Rocher Corneille.

The vestiges of an ancient castle, that once commanded the region from the top of the spur, inspired Father Xavier who then exclaimed:

“this is an outstanding location; this is where we should built a gigantic statue of Our Lady, a statue that would be visible from afar in the manner of a beacon.”

The idea had come up, but it was now necessary to find the way of funding the construction of Notre-Dame-de-France statue!

The public subscription launched on July 16, 1850, added to the money collected during the daily services and town festivals, raised enough funds – more than one million gold francs – to carry the project ahead.


Here is an idea of its size

All that was needed then was… to find a talented sculptor!

Jean Bonnassieux’ project was selected on October 9, 1853 among those of the 30 artists who entered the contest launched by the diocese.

Notre-Dame-de-France statue was unveiled on September 12, 1860 in the presence of 120,000 pilgrims.

It seems as if Bonnassieux’ success triggered much envy as nasty rumors soon started to spread.

Some claimed that the artist made a serious design error when he positioned the Child Jesus on the Virgin’s arm, an error that led him to commit suicide.

The rumors died before Bonnassieux, as he died on June 3, 1892, some 30 years later!

Notre-Dame-de-France statue in figures

Notre-Dame-de-France statue was cast with the bronze recovered from the Russian cannons captured at the Battle of Sebastopol, a gift of Napoleon III.


Our Lady carrying the Child Jesus

Construction was quite a challenge, due to the monumental proportions of the monument!

A life-size plaster prototype was first built in order to define the assembly joints of the different parts as the statue couldn’t be cast in one piece!

Notre-Dame-de-France statue is made of hundred and five cast iron pieces assembled together with nine hundred large bolts and various parts!

The outside of the mold produced from this prototype was made of silica and compacted clay, the inside of sand and resin.

The 16m tall statue is placed on a 6,70m high pedestal made from arkhose stone; the whole monument has a circumference of 17m.

To give you an idea of its exceptional size, you should know that Our Lady’s hand is 1,56m long, and that the head of the Child Jesus has a circumference of 4,80m and weighs 1.1 tons.


An old postcard with Bonnassieux in front of his statue

The statue weighs 110 tons and the pedestal 680, so a total of 835 tons; both are hollow.

The interior of the pedestal is laid out in 3 floors opened with windows boasting spectacular views of the city and the area.

A 33-step staircase serves each floor and leads to a 58-step staircase serving the interior of the statue.

From there you climb a 16-bar ladder to reach Our Lady’s crown.

The statue and its pedestal were classified as a Historical Monument in 1997.

The full restoration, carried out in 2012, led to the re-opening of the staircases that had been closed to the public for years for safety reasons.

Notre-Dame-de-France statue is one of the most visited monuments in Haute-Loire, and attracts nearly 90,000 visitors each year.

A Must See when you visit this beautiful area of Auvergne!

Coordinates and map for Notre-Dame-de-France: Lat 45.047619 – Long 3.885211