Benoite-Vaux, rich furnishings and funerary art | RCF Lorraine Meuse

To Michaël George, following the RCF broadcast, recorded with him on September 1, 2022, in Benoîte-Vaux.

An invitation to eternal life rather than a memorial

It seems a bit cumbersome to dwell on “funerary” art in a Catholic church, particularly that of the Marian pilgrimage monastery of Notre-Dame de Benoîte-Vaux, dedicated to the Virgin of the Annunciation. This building announces to us the good news that the risen Jesus is alive and does not cease to be reborn because he is in us, not only in the Holy Spirit but in the body of the Church, the baptized bodies of all the Christians who come there. pray. The iconoclasts who tried several times during the Thirty Years’ War and during the Terror to banish or break the statue of Mary carrying Jesus there saw only a place of death, worthy of dying with its faithful, but the Virgin of Nazareth survives in spite of them and she continues to save those who have grasped the need to adore her Son in her.

Here, it is not very judicious to speak of death, if one correctly understands the meaning of the ex-votos painted before the Revolution or engraved in marble since 1870, the intention of the donors of the votive objects, the visible presence statues and stained glass, relics of saints. One of the most venerated by the Canons Regular of Our Savior succeeding the Premonstratensians after the Restoration was Saint Pierre-Fourier. Everything speaks to us here in an ostentatious way of the secret, unanimous, universal desire for eternal life, of a victorious combat in the face of evil and death, of which the passion of Christ, always on the way to the cross, remains against all the archetype the better known.

(photos of Saint Pierre Fourier (stained glass, relic and statue) to be added)

A rich artistic heritage

The church of Benoîte-Vaux is a work of art or a collective work that historians believe owe to the genius of César Bagard. Representatives of a secular republic have listed it as a historical monument, but it is more than a museum: a present from the living God. The great architect who designed it is not only an enlightened philosopher but Wisdom itself, the representative of the Law, the Incarnate Word who enlightens the world, invokes it and evokes it, provokes it and conceives it as a everything. The miraculous statue of this sanctuary suggests to us that in his hand the Earth is not an apple that man could detach from Heaven in the hope of biting it. This church and this statue link Earth to Heaven, abolishing within them the philosophical categories of time and space, of life and death.

Visiting this Baroque-style church, which has a completely theological design, makes you aware of this. There, through statues and stained glass windows, we encounter a figured or transfigured humanity, reunited by Christ: his Palestinian, Nazarene or Jewish relatives and contemporaries (his family and his disciples), a few French saints of course (Pierre Fourier, Thérèse or Jeanne, Louis IX, his cousin from Anjou), two Romans (Grégoire le Grand and Cécile), a German (Norbert de Xanten), an Egyptian (Antoine le Grand), a Syrian (Marguerite d’Antioch), an Algerian (Augustine) and a Turk (Nicolas), destined like the apparently stateless angels to all migrate to Heaven where death is temporary, the common homeland, eternal life.

Entering the nave requires us to cross two walls each pierced by a single obligatory passage. They stand before us like two iconostases when we want to reach the transept and touch the balustrade that surrounds the high altar where the assembly takes communion. The first wall of the facade shows the evangelists surrounding Christ who entrusts Peter with the key to this building rebuilt after the Thirty Years’ War. The figures of the tetramorph at the foot of the apostles invite us to fight like a lion, to sacrifice ourselves like an ox, to rise like the winged child or the eagle in order to reach heaven and see the Light in the East which dissipates all mysteries. In the middle of the building a second lower wall, pedestal of Christ on the cross between Mary and Saint John. This kind of rood screen, pierced at its base by a door with two openwork wrought iron leaves, separates the reception nave for pilgrims from the nave where the Premonstratensian canons spread out in about twenty stalls sang the services. Like the Ark of the Covenant built by Noah, the great nave is partitioned, and allows, when desired, to isolate the shepherds from their flocks at certain times.

(photos of the facade and the rood screen)

A rich funerary heritage

This second threshold to be crossed separates the two side altars dedicated to Anthony the Great and Margaret of Antioch, patron saints of the couple of donors who financed this Baroque decor. The latter are buried at the intersection of the nave and the transept under a black marble slab which recalls their names and their last wishes. If we keep in mind the plan of a church in the shape of a Latin cross, this is the very location of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Dominating one of the altars, a first coat of arms showing a scale identifies Antoine, Lord of Longchamps, of the Escale family (Italian nobility). It could be Jacob’s ladder. A second coat of arms showing helmets identifies Marguerite, his wife, from the Condé family (coming from the banks of the Scheldt, via the mines of Creutzwald). The pig and the dragon diabolical and respective attributes of the two saints very familiar to the artists have been omitted to honor the models because it is not forbidden to think that the sculptor wanted to represent the two deceased donors by lending their features to their patron saints .

(photos of the two statues and coats of arms, arms of the town of Creutzwald)

Almost all of the inscriptions engraved in the marble testify to healings, to miraculous survival. Two remarkable funerary plaques affixed in the transept are nevertheless to be linked to funerary art and war memorials. This is, to the right of the altar of Saint Joseph, the list of Meuse priests who were victims of the Great War and, to the left of the altar of Saint Nicolas, the much longer list of seminarians who died in the field. honor on the nearby battlefields. These funeral mentions here perpetuate the bimillenary tradition established by our ancestors to be buried near the choir of the church of the place of our baptism or our consecration while awaiting the Last Judgment and in the hope of resurrecting in the company of Christ ( through Him, with Him, in Him) and of all the saints.

The Annunciation is only a first step subject to gravity before the stumbling blocks of the Stations of the Cross, the burial, before the Ascension, before the Assumption. The announcement of the good news is that of life, of joy, of joy, of weightlessness, of light rest. It supposes the remoteness of the Earth, of its concerns and its risks, of the suffering and the death that the funerary art cultivates too sometimes until the pain, the martyrdom, the victimization, the macabre of dark series.

Very brotherly!

Bernard Folliot.

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Benoite-Vaux, rich furnishings and funerary art | RCF Lorraine Meuse

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