Colline Notre Dame de Lorette
The National Military Cemetery Notre Dame de Lorette is located in the commune of Ablains-St-Nazaire.
It was officially open in 1925 and classified Historical Monument on December 27, 1928.
It stretches on a 25ha plot of land located on the top of a hill known as Colline Notre Dame de Lorette.
It includes the Basilique de Notre Dame de Lorette, the lantern-tower and the necropolis.
This war cemetery contains the remains of over 40,000 French soldiers placed in individual graves and eight ossuaries.
The National Military Cemetery Notre Dame de Lorette today overlooks cultivated fields, which extend to the horizon.
From October 1914 to September 1915, this land was one of the largest and deadliest battlefields of the Great War.
The Battles of Artois
The Colline of Notre Dame de Lorette was coded as Hill 165.
This major strategic spot, located between Liévin, Lens and Arras, became the chore of deadly fighting.
The Germans seized it in October 1914.
They then protected it with five lines of trenches defended by a dense network of barbed wire and obstacles along the current D937.
Their defence network deployed around Neuville-Saint-Vaast was so extensive and complex, that it was nicknamed ‘the labyrinth’.
By May 9, 1915 the French troops had formed a 10km long front linking Arras in the south to Lens in the north, and attacked the German positions.
Fighting continued on May 10, and resulted in a huge number of dead or severely wounded.
The men indeed had to progress through an area crisscrossed by an extensive network of defences, barriers and redoubts.
The French troops, however, made good progression in the following days.
They re-seized La Targette, Neuville-Saint-Vaast, Carency, Ablains-Saint-Nazaire and the sugar refinery in Souchez, then the Colline Notre Dame de Lorette on May 22 and the labyrinth on June 17.
The operations were stopped on June 25.
Tragically, the 20km2 of land recovered between May 9 and June 25 resulted in 102,500 dead, missing and prisoners from both sides!
This series of fighting are known as First and Second Battle of Artois.
Marshal Joffre launched the Third Battle of Artois on September 25 with the support of the troops of the 1st British Army.
National Military Cemetery Notre Dame de Lorette
The cemetery was open on the battlefield in 1915 .
It was enlarged in 1920 in order to regroup the remains of the French soldiers buried in the field cemeteries scattered in Artois and Flanders.
The National Military Cemetery Notre Dame de Lorette was inaugurated in 1925.
It is the largest French military necropolis.
It indeed contains the remains of 40.058 soldiers buried in individual graves and 8 ossuaries.
It spreads on a 646m long by 208m wide rectangle plot of land bounded to the northwest by a hedge marking the German positions.
The graves are all marked with a simple white cross.
The original wooden crosses were replaced with cement crosses in 1933.
The National Military Cemetery Notre Dame de Lorette contains eight ossuaries containing the remains of the unidentified soldiers killed on the battlefields of Artois.
A Muslim section houses the tombs of 576 soldiers of the French Colonial Troops.
The architect Louis-Marie Cordonnier designed the neo-Byzantine Lantern-Tower, which is a reminiscence of the medieval Lantern of the Dead.
Marshal Pétain laid the first stone on June 19, 1921.
The 52m high tower stands on a 12m wide square base.
It is topped with a lantern that runs at five revolutions per minute and is visible for miles around.
Its base houses a chapel of rest and an ossuary.
The ossuary contains the remains of nearly 6,000 unidentified soldiers, who were killed on the Colline Notre Dame de Lorette.
The chapel of rest shelters 32 graves, of which 29 contain the remains of WWI unidentified Soldiers.
In 1950, the remains of a WWII Unknown Soldier were brought in the chapel and placed in an individual grave.
In 1955, the ashes of victims of the Nazi camps were placed alongside.
Notre Dame de Lorette Basilica
The original chapel was built in 1727 by the painter Nicolas-Florent Guillebert on his return from a pilgrimage to the House of Mary in Loreto in Italy.
The tiny Romanesque chapel was destroyed during the French Revolution.
It was rebuilt in 1815 and became a place of pilgrimage where worshipers flocked on September 8, the alleged date of birth of the Virgin.
It was destroyed during the fighting that took place on the hill during WWI.
The first stone of the current neo-Byzantine chapel, also built by Louis-Marie Cordonnier, was laid on June 19, 1921.
The bishop of Arras blessed the 46m long by 14m wide basilica on May 27, 1927; he was later buried in the chapel.
1- The interior walls are covered with mosaics.
They warm colours are enhanced by a series of stunning stained glass windows.
These were produced by the master glazier Lorin after drawings by Henri Pinta, Prix de Rome.
2- The base of the walls are covered with hundreds of commemorative plaques placed by grieving families.
3- You’ll also find a small glass cabinet with the wooden cross placed on the grave of Louise de Bettignies.
The young woman played an important role in the defense of Lille, as she led an intelligence network for the British.
She was arrested in October 1915, sentenced to forced labour and died in captivity in Cologne in 1918.
4- The six windows of the transept were given by England and created by the artist Payne.
The theme of the windows give a religious and patriotic meaning to the sacrifice of the soldiers, whose remains were laid to rest in the National Military Cemetery Notre Dame de Lorette.
5- Two chapels frame the transept.
One houses the tomb of Bishop Julien of Arras.
The other is dedicated to Notre Dame de Lorette.
It contains a secondary altar with a triptych of Our Lady of Czestochowa, funded by the Polish community of miners of Pas-de-Calais.
6- The vaulted chancel houses the Chapelle de Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix.
The chapel is decorated with a gigantic mosaic representing the Risen Christ in his Halo of Glory and with open arms to welcome the world.
The inscription Pax Hominibus – Peace is placed below the mosaic.
The chapel is a place of meditation and prayer.
7- You’ll find the battered Calvary of the village of Carency – entirely destroyed during the fighting – placed against one of the exterior walls of the basilica.
Department of Pas-de-Calais – Ablains-St-Nazaire
Coordinates: Lat 50.400120 – Long 2.719331