Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 20, 2006
Pilgrims trek to Little Flower's parish church
Cathedral Saint-Pierre also honours the first pope
Chair of St. Peter – February 22
- Photo by Ted Fitzgerald
Pilgrims flock to Cathedral Saint-Pierre
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Pilgrims travelLing to Lisieux, home of popular St. Therese of the Child Jesus, traditionally visit the great hillside basilica dedicated to the Little Flower, her family home and the Carmel convent where she spent the last years of her life.
Impressive too, and of great historical interest, is the saint's parish church, the great Cathedrale Saint-Pierre, which honours the first pope.
On this rock
The ancient feast of the Chair of St. Peter is concerned with the primacy of the pope. Jesus said to Simon, "You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church" (Matt.16:18-20) and the followers of Christ all acknowledged the leadership of Peter.
When Rome became a focal point for the new religion, Peter became first bishop of the see of Rome, a position established physically by his occupation of the bishop's chair or cathedra. The church in which the chair reposed thus became a cathedral, central place of worship for a diocese or collection of parishes.
With church expansion, new dioceses were established, each with its bishop and cathedra.
The people speak
Dominating the centre of Liseiux and its most prominent building, it's appropriate that the cathedral here should bear the name of the first pope and relate directly to the see of Rome and, although the huge Norman-Gothic structure has not been the seat of a diocese since the French Revolution, its designation as cathedral has been steadfastly retained by the city's people.
Dating from the late 12th century, the building is much visited by pilgrims because of its association with the young Norman Carmelite, Sister Therese Martin who spent many prayerful hours of her youth here.
She had moved to Lisieux with her father and siblings from Alencon following the death of her mother.
From their new family home, Les Buissonnets, the saint attended Mass at the cathedral until at age 15, she was admitted to the nearby Carmel monastery, wrote her famous Story of a Soul and remained there until her death in 1897.
Visitors to the cathedral will find St. Peter remembered in a large statue close to the confessional frequented by Therese and in an ancient stained glass window that portrays his martyrdom. To the right of the Gothic high altar, a gift in part from Therese's father, a small chapel was rented by Mr. Martin for his family's use at Sunday Mass. Here, the saint had a revelation that convinced her to donate her life to God.
Culmination of a journey down the nave is the central chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary where a plaque advises that "here Sister Therese of the Infant Jesus assisted at daily Mass before her entry into the Carmel (convent)."
This large chapel was remodelled in pure Flamboyant style by cathedral namesake Bishop Pierre Cauchon during his tenure here from 1432 to 1442. Therese, a great admirer of Ste-Jeanne d' Arc was possibly unaware that the chapel's builder had been the chief judge at the trial in Rouen that saw Joan put to death in 1431.
Ironically, a life-size statue of the Maid of Orleans occupies a place of honour in the cathedral that would be the envy of her persecutor. Joan was rehabilitated in 1456 by Pope Callistus III who overturned the trial results, but the people of France had revered their national patron long before her formal canonization in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV.
After a prayer in the great church, there's always time to enjoy refreshments in the open air in the large Place F. Mitterand fronting the cathedral before seeking out a multitude of other sites associated with Ste-Therese, Eglise Saint-Jacques, a wax museum where her school was . . .