Saint Sylvestre sur Lot, France.
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As the cold winter period slowly disappears in February, what to do on a fine sunny Sunday morning? Go for a stroll! So Wilf ( who has also been with me since 2 months) set off towards St Sylvestre sur Lot, just 8km from Villeneuve sur Lot where we are staying. We arrive into a quaint little village alongside the river Lot which stretches for more than 400km to Bordeaux in the west. The first thing we notice about this village is that it is quiet and beautiful at the same time. Barge boats sit quietly along the river banks, probably moored up there since and for the winter period. Some of them are house boats, where people live all year around. On this side of the river is Saint Sylvestre sur Lot, across to the south side over the bridge is Penne d’Agenais. To the south east we spot a hill where on top sits what looks like a Basilica?
I say to Wilf “I bet the views from up there are fantastic”! I ask a local man passing with his dog – the best way up to the Basilica. He informs us that it’s called ‘Notre Dame de Peyragude’ (Our Lady of Peyragude) and happily tells us to cross over the bridge, turn left, take the first right turning. Follow this road to the roundabout and then turn left again. The road climbs up through the hill and eventually after a few minutes (driving), you arrive at the foot of the basilica. Here you will find a parking area, where you have to climb the last few metres by foot to the basilica. We thank the man and his dog for their help and friendliness and set off as instructed.
When we arrive to the parking area, we continue on up the hill towards the basilica, passing a cemetery which dominates the southwest side of the grounds of the basilica. I can’t pass without going in and so enter into the cemetery to look at all the graves of our fallen brothers and sisters in the past. I notice that the oldest grave dates back to 1891 and that most of them are family graves. The views from the cemetery are amazing, breathtaking, beautiful and wonderful to say the least, nestling beneath evergreen trees. Continuing up the small incline to the basilica, which sits 218 metres above sea level, I notice the absolute silence that surrounds the area. Wow! This is Beautiful!
Notre Dame de Peyragude dates back to the year 1000, when a small chapel was built on the cragged rock dedicated to our Blessed Lady the Virgin Mary. But the current basilica was completed in 1898 after the first stone was laid in 1897 by the Arch Bishop of Bordeaux on May 14th 1897. Inside the basilica is like any other that you will see, but beautiful all the same. It is however smaller than most, which is probably due to its position on a cragged rock.
In 1182 on the same peak, The duke of Guyenne (Richard the Lion Heart), built a strongly fortified castle which later proved to be a dangerous neighbour for the chapel as it was frequently ravaged by wars.
In 1373 Pope Gregory XI, a native of Limousin, asked the Bishop of AGEN to rebuild the devastated shrine.
Between 1412 to 1431 the life time of Joan of Arc. The English successfully lost and recaptured the Castle four times!
In 1563 the wars of religion left behind them nothing but ruin and destruction.
In 1653 the Plague, carried off half of the population of AGEN. The Municipal Magistrates of Penne made a pilgrimage to the chapel ruins and decided upon its reconstruction.
In 1793 the chapel was sold to the highest bidder. The stones and roof tiles realized £90.00 (€92) in today’s money. (Nowadays 92€ will buy you 2 nights in a budget hotel).
In 1842 the chapel was reconstructed as well as could be and once more became a place of pilgrimage.
In 1896 work on the existing basilica began. Pilgrims from Jerusalem donated a cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (pictured) which was erected on the rock beside the basilica and atop the caves (pictured).
In 1949 the present Sanctuary was solemnly consecrated by the Bishop of AGEN in the presence of more than 10,000 pilgrims.
In 1980 Each year from Easter to All Saints, particularly during the month of May, numerous pilgrims go up to Peyragude to witness to their Faith and to celebrate Holy Eucharist together.
If you are ever in the Aquitaine region of France, visiting the Notre Dame de Peyragude is a MUST!
Next stop Macon, France!