Notre Dame des Victoires, a church dedicated to Louis XIII’s victories
Notre Dame des Victoires is the former chapel of an Augustinian convent and therefore has modest dimensions, 62m long and 24.50m wide.
Louis XIII funded its construction and laid the cornerstone of this church which he named Notre Dame des Victoires to give thanks to the Virgin for his victory over the Huguenots during the siege of La Rochelle in 1627-1628.
Construction began in 1629, but was not completed until 110 years later due to lack of funds. It was indeed consecrated in 1740.
This resulted in a superimposition of styles which, however, didn’t affect the building’s architectural unity.
The original classical architecture is thus embellished with Greek style pilasters and Baroque decorations.
The side chapels and most of the stained glass windows were decorated in the 19th century.
The facade is sober, yet quite unique.
Its triangular pediment indeed bears monarchist motifs (coat of arms of France wrapped in flags and palms) which miraculously escaped destruction at the Revolution.
So did the church’s organ, pulpit and stalls!
The facade’s upper section is adorned with Corinthian columns and the lower with Ionic.
The church interior, however, is quite dark.
Eight heavily decorated stained glass windows bring little light into the nave, thus necessitating the opening of the entrance portal during the summer.
Our Lady of all Victories
Louis XIII being the patron of the church, it is therefore unsurprising to find several decorative features dedicated to him.
The stained glass window ‘Le voeu de Louis XIII et la révélation de Frère Fiacre’ (Wish of Louis XIII and the Revelation of Brother Fiacre) is one of two major examples.
Legend has it that Brother Fiacre had an apparition of the Virgin holding in her arms not Jesus, but “a child whom God wanted to give to France”.
After 10 months of prayer, on the part of the priest and the Court of France, Queen Anne of Austria gave birth to a son, Louis-Dieudonné (Louis Gift of God) the future Louis XIV.
On February 10, 1638 Louis XIII vowed to consecrate “his person, his State, his crown and his subjects” to the Virgin so that “She be crowned at the head by the hand of God, and at the feet, by the hand of a French Monarch”.
On August 15 of the same year, Louis XIII consecrated France to the Virgin Mary, and renewed this vow every year during the feast of the Assumption.
The second reference to this moment of history is a canvas by Carle Vanloo.
In 1746 Vanloo indeed painted ‘The wish of Louis XIII at the siege of La Rochelle’.
He represented the king showing the Virgin the drawing of the church facade he intended for Notre Dame des Victoires.
The church chancel boasts six other canvases by Vanloo that represent the life of Saint Augustine, a collection believed to be unique in France.
A church decorated with ex-voto dedicated to the Virgin Mary
The church was closed at the Revolution and escaped destruction as it was converted to house various institutions.
It reopened in 1809 under the Empire, but the convent buildings were eventually demolished in 1859 during the renovation of Paris.
In 1836 Notre Dame des Victoires abbot founded an association intended for the conversion of sinners which led the church to be consecrated to the Most Holy Immaculate Heart of Mary.
As a result, Notre Dame des Victoires became a major pilgrimage site, which not only attracted French but also believers from all over Christian Europe.
They left 37,000 votive offerings that were affixed to the aisles and the transept’s walls.
These are mostly marble slabs, but also thousands of hearts, stained glass, military medals and decorations left in thanks to the Virgin, the Queen of all Victories (healing, marriage, birth … )
This abundance of ex-voto made the church a unique case in Paris.
In 1854 the pope proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and the name ‘refuge des pécheurs’ (sinners refuge) was added to Notre Dame des Victoires as a testament to the Virgin Mary’s powers.
Notre Dame des Victoires was elevated to a basilica in 1927 because of the countless graces and blessings that had taken place since the birth of Louis XIV.
Sainte-Therese de Lisieux’ prayers to the Virgin in Notre-Dame-des-Victoires
The church also benefited from its association with Sainte-Therese de Lisieux.
The young Therese Martin (1873-1897) stopped to pray at Notre Dame des Victoires while on her way to Rome where she asked the Pope for permission to enter Carmel.
She already suffered from tuberculosis, but her prayers to the Virgin healed her when she was 10.
This miraculous healing led Therese to devote her prayers to Our Lady of Victories until she died prematurely at the age of 24.
Located in an affluent district, Notre Dame des Victoires attracted renowned parishioners.
Mozart went to pray in the church; so did Jean-Baptiste Lully, the composer of Louis XIV, who lived in the nearby rue des Petits-Champs and was also buried there.
His imposing tomb was unfortunately damaged during the Revolution, but what could be saved was placed between two side chapels.
Two allegorical sculptures representing Music and Poetry in the guise of two mourners are seated on each side of his tomb.
Two children embodying Crying Genies are placed on the upper pedestal, beneath the bronze bust of Lully.
You’ll find a second bust of Lully, attributed to Antoine Coysevoix, in the left aisle.
Notre Dame des Victoires was listed Historic Monument in 1975.
Small and fairly understated, it doesn’t look like much at first, but is definitely worth a detour (beyond any religious connotation) for its many votive offerings and works of art dedicated to the Virgin!
Directions: 2nd district – Place des Petits Pères
Coordinates: Lat 48.866973 – Long 2.340955