The statue of Our Lady of Africa
in the Basilica of Our Lady of Africa in Algiers
Distant Origin and History of a Statue
Our Lady of Africa is dear to us, White Fathers and White Sisters, for more than one reason. The subject of this article will certainly interest the members of the two missionary societies founded by Cardinal Lavigerie, and placed from their beginning under the protection of Mary Immaculate, Queen of Africa. It is thanks to the ,-persevering research of Father Cazaunau, formerly of the parish of Our Lady of Africa, concerning the origin of the statue, and to the information of Father Cougoulat, a member of the present community of this post, concerning the various "clothings" of the Virgin, that this article has been able to see the light of day. Our thanks are due to them.
Edmé Bouchardon, who was born at Chaumont in 1698 and died in Paris in 1762, was one of the sculptors of the French school who, during the 18th century, preserved the grand style of the artists of Louis XIV's time.
While staying at St. Luke's Academy in Rome in 1722, he executed several works, including busts of Clement XII and Cardinals de Polignac and de Rohan. Called to Paris by Louis XV in 1732 and appointed sculptor to the King, he was asked to sculpture a lot of statuary for Grosbois, Versailles and other parks, public squares and residences. His principal works were numerous, but the hammers of the revolutionaries did not respect all of them: the Rights of Man existed on paper, of course, but not in practice... Today, we can still contemplate his admirable Four Seasons fountain in rue de Grenelle in Paris. Voltaire gave him a place of honour in his "Temple du Goût" (1733).
At St-Sulpice, he sculpted various statues: Christ, the Virgin and eight apostles. What interests us here is this statue of Mary, the so- called "Virgin of Bouchardon". What are we to think of it?
Unhappily, we can only judge by an engraving made by Sornique around 1744. Its title is: "The Blessed Virgin, executed in silver, after the model of Bouchardon, sculptor to the King by G. Chevallier". The St-Sulpice parish bulletin of 25 August 1912 noted that: "This engraving gives us the most favourable idea of the work of Bouchardon It was reproduced very often and made immensely popular by the Miraculous Medal "
(René Laurentin, Vie authentique de Catherine Labouré (1981).
A hundred years later, the "Prince of diplomats", or the "Lame Devil", Prince de Talleyrand-Périgord, an ex-bishop whom the "Dictionnaire des Girouettes" (Dictionary of Weathercocks) placed at the head of those who turned with the wind since the French Revolution of 1789, was at the end of his tether. Archbishop de Quélen of Paris never stopped praying for Talleyrand's conversion. Fundamentally, the latter bore no hatred against the Church: ordained a priest without a vocation, the Revolution enabled him to find a social position in conformity with his ambitions.
Archbishop de Quélen had promised Notre-Dame de la Délivrande (Calvados) - his favourite pilgrimage - to offer to the convent a statue of Our Lady, if he obtained this conversion. His prayer was answered. The instrument of the reconciliation, Father Dupanloup, superior of the Seminary of St. Nicholas du Chardonnet (The young Lavigerie entered here in 1841) told M. Michel, his friend and principal of the Ecole Normale de Paris, "all the various circumstances of his relations with Talleyrand and the edifying death of this great personage"
Archbishop de Quélen then ordered a statue modelled on the "Virgin of Bouchardon". "This statue, from 3 to 4 feet high, is in bronze... On the front...is the inscription 'Virgo Fidelis ". It was unveiled on 8 September 1838 at "La Délivrande" and is still there today.
When he returned to his archdiocese, Archbishop de Quélen ordered a second similar statue, which he had erected at the entrance of the convent of the Ladies of the Sacred Heart, in rue de Varenne, Paris, in gratitude for the hospitality he had received after his expulsion from his archdiocese in 1830. It was there that he died, on 31 December 1839 (This second statue has disappeared, without doubt after the Decree of Expulsion which affected the Ladies of the Sacred Heart in 1907. According to some sources that Fr. Cazaunau has not yet been able to verify, it was taken to Jette, a suburb of Brussels.).
The statue in Jette
A month later, on 5 February 1840, Bishop Dupuch, since 1839 the first Bishop of Algiers (In fact, the 8th of August 1838 is the date of the restoration of the See, which was founded in the second century, under the name of Icosium.), went to France to find priests and resources for his new diocese. His programme included visits to the houses of the Ladies of the Sacred Heart in France and in Belgium. As a former chaplain of the Ladies of the Sacred Heart at Bordeaux, he knew how generous they were. On 12 March, he was in Lyons, where he presided over a general and extraordinary assembly of the Children of Mary of the Sacred Heart at La Ferrandière (In July 1907, the Ladies of the Sacred Heart were expelled and went into exile. The property was divided up into lots. In 1937, the White Fathers were able to buy the lot which_ included the chapel and made it their procure (Villeurbanne).).
Bishop Dupuch celebrated Mass and "gave us most interesting details about the missions in Algeria The Congregation promised him a statue of Our Lady... and the Bishop was asked to order it himself in Paris, where he was going."
When he arrived in the capital, among many other things Bishop Dupuch visited the Ladies of the Sacred Heart in the rue de Varenne. There he saw the statue of the Virgo Fidelis - the second copy of de Bouchardon's Virgin - the one that Archbishop de Quélen had presented to the Sisters of this convent a year before. He was immediately won over. A copy of the statue was made quickly, thanks to the mould which still existed and, on 5 May at Lyons, it was presented to him by the Children of Mary of La Ferrandière: this is the statue that would later be called Our Lady of Africa (In 1856, Bishop Pavy set up a commission to find the necessary resources for building the temporary chapel, and to decide on the patronal name for the statue and pilgrimage for public veneration. Several names were suggested. Finally, Our Lady of Africa was unanimously accepted).
What followed is well-known. The statue was first placed on the terrace of the Bishop's residence; then, in 1843, it was lent to the Trappists of Staouéli, who placed it above the door of their monastery with this inscription: "They have chosen me as their guardian."
In 1846, Bishop Pavy, originally from the Lyons Diocese, succeeded Bishop Dupuch. The new bishop knew nothing then about the odyssey of the "Virgo Fidelis". A letter dated 21 March 1855, gave him the information. The Ladies of the Sacred Heart of Lyons, having heard that the Bishop of Algiers proposed building a sanctuary dedicated to Mary, told him how happy they would be to see the Virgin they had given to his predecessor thus honoured
Bishop Pavy obtained information and went immediately to the Trappist monastery to reclaim the statue. The monks told the bishop that the statue did indeed belong to him, but that they could not wrong their Mother by taking down the statue themselves from the place where they had put it. Bishop Pavy took the matter in hand, and next day, the statue left for Our Lady of the Ravine (A small chapel founded by the two "Demoiselles de Notre-Dame de Fourvières", Agarithe).
On 20 September 1857, the "Virgo Fidelis", henceforth "Our Lady of Africa'', was installed in a temporary chapel next to what would be the Basilica of Our Lady of Africa. Work on it began on 27 February 1858.
On 14 November 1866, Bishop Pavy died. His successor, Bishop Lavigerie, finished the construction of the church which he consecrated on 2 July 1872. On 4 May the following year, he installed the statue of Our Lady of Africa in the new sanctuary.
Several years later, Bishop Lavigerie asked of Pius IX the favour of crowning for the statue of Our Lady of Africa. On 30 April 1876, after reading the two Pontifical Briefs, a precious diadem was placed on the Virgin's head. From this day, the church of Our Lady of Africa became a basilica.
On 8 August 1885, a lady at Blida offered to have a gown made for Our Lady at her expense. The White Fathers accepted gratefully and asked the benefactress to get the Carmelites to carry out her pious plans. The diary of Our Lady of Africa gave this information. On 19 December, the same diary reported that a "subscription had been opened for the purchase of a gown for Our Lady..." This was doubtless to complete the gift of the first benefactress. In any case, the diary stated on 29 April 1886 that "22 ex-votos were placed in the sacristy of Our Lady of Africa during April, without counting the rich gown of the Virgin, embroidered by the Carmelites of Bugeaud (housing estate in Algiers). and due to the donations of many of the faithful". According to a black and white photograph published in 1914 , this gown was very light in colour, studded with hexagonal embroidered motifs, like snowflakes, about the size of the palm of a large hand. In the centre, chest high, there was a deer, also embroidered.
In 1925, Sister Marie Claver (Odette Grandin de l'Eprevier, a niece of Mother Marie Claver (Cardinal Lavigerie was Mother Marie Claver's director. She became Assistant General of the Sisters of Our Lady of Africa and died at Mpala (Zaire) in 1905. The voluminous correspondence between her and the Cardinal is very interesting for anyone who wishes to understand better our Founder's spirituality.) made a new gown. There is no explicit mention of a mantle.
In 1950, Sr Emmeran (Yvonne Menjou-Marcat) of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, embroidered a new gown and a mantle. She embroidered the names of the Sisters of her community inside the gold roses. On Our Lady's feast day (30 April), the statue was reclothed with its new costume. The material, gold thread and so on, were paid for by donations, received through the "Ligue Féminine d'Action Catholique" .
There was a new "taking of the habit" on 7 December 1985, in the presence of Cardinal Duval, carried out by Brother Roméo Lamoureaux, who was celebrating his golden Jubilee of taking the oath. He did not suspect then that a commonplace accident, six months later, would take him off to end, with Mary in Heaven, his years of extraordinary devotedness (Diary of Our Lady of Africa, dated 30 April 1950. One can admire, in black and white, a photograph of this new costume in "Grands Lacs", N° 176, November 1954, page 5, as well as a very beautiful photograph of the basilica with, next to it, the aforesaid temporary chapel. In 1956, Mr. Deckers made a portrait in oils of the statue, at the request of Father Cazaunau, who presented it to Bishop Durrieu for the chapel at the Generalate. Photographs and post cards, still available, have been made from this painting.).
The materials had been given by benefactors, including a cousin of a White Father, whose name I am not allowed to reveal. Thanks to a very generous anonymous gift, the work could be entrusted to a master embroiderer of Tlemcen.
To end, a quotation from Sister Marguerite Laporte (Sr. Germaine- Marie) of the Sisters of Our Lady of Africa: "The embroidery was done according to the traditional technique of 'medjdoub', also used in France under the name 'guipé'... The motifs, from the most important to the finest stems, are cut out in thin leather by the master embroiderer, who
arranges them and sticks them to the velvet before handing it over to the embroiderers. The latter cover the motifs with gold threads which do not penetrate the cloth. On the inside, a linen thread pulls the gold threads and attaches them to both sides of the leather. Hence the name 'Medjoub' which comes from the Arabic word meaning 'to pull'. Several of our Sisters helped in the preparation and follow-up of this work which took three months. Thus adorned with the beautiful work of an artisan of the country, the Virgin blesses the people who venerate her, standing on her ceramic pedestal, also made by an Algerian artist."
The blessings of Our Lady of Africa also extend, we are sure, to all of Africa and to all those women and men who, while belonging to a multitude of communities, everywhere make up a single large family, fulfilling the function assigned to them and bringing their share to the common task in favour of Africa.
René Xavier LAMEY Archivist des Pères Blancs (+1993)
30th April 1989
Note: The canopy over the statue was removed as it was on the point of collapsing. Rust, worms and humidity had eaten away the structure composed of plaster and wood and a small amount of iron. It was removed in 2007 before it fell down and maybe taking the statue of Our Lady of Africa with it. The decision was taken by the Architect, the Archbishop and the confreres of Our Lady of Africa. It turned out that the inscription: "Our Lady of Africa, pray for us and for the Muslims" is now clearly seen from all angles. The canopy had hidden most of it.
The statue now after the renovation of the Basilica
A few texts from the Cardinal, one or other of which might be used to fill up a page at the end of the article, if desired:
Do not be content to have placed a gold crown on your Queen's head, for it is only a symbol, but give her your hearts, this is what she asks of you, this is her true royalty. (30 April 1876, the day of the crowning of Our Lady of Africa.)
During my life, I have had a great deal of wretchedness to reproach myself with, but I can bear witness to the fact that I have always been faithful to my commitment as priest and bishop. I attribute this precious grace to my devotion to Mary. (Carthage, retreat of 1884)
Our Lady of Africa is not only the Queen of the present and of the future, she is also the Queen of the past, the Queen of all the Cyprians, the Augustines, the Optats, the Fulgences, the Felicities, the Perpetuas, of all the doctors, the pontiffs, the martyrs, the virgins who have made this noble land fragrant with the perfume of their virtues... (Pastoral Letter of 1 March 1876)
* * *
Second article by Jacques Casier MAfr in French
La statue qui a servi de modèle pour celle de N-D d'Afrique se trouve en Belgique. Elle est actuellement à Jette (Bruxelles) au couvent des Religieuses du Sacré-Coeur, Avenue du Sacré-Coeur n°8; elle se trouve dans le jardin de l'institut.
Cette statue se trouvait à Paris, rue de Varenne dans le parc de l'institut des Dames du Sacré-Coeur de Sainte Sophie Barat.
Emile Combes, président du Conseil des Ministres de 1902 à 1905,q ui mena une politique anticléricale en France édicta des lois contre l'Eglise et contre les congrégations religieuses. Les Dames du Sacré- Coeur furent expropriées. Mais quand presque tout leur fut enlevé elles préservèrent la statue de la sainte Vierge "Virgo Fidelis" et l' amenèrent à Jette (Bruxelles) ,où le site a été reconstitué dans le jardin en 1904-05.
Nous possédons une_lettre de 1958 (photocopie) qui nous décrit l'état des lieux à Paris tel qu'on l'a trouvé en 1927:
"Monsieur G. de Grandmaison, désirant remédier à l'état de forêt vierge où se trouve notre ancien jardin (de la rue de Varenne),le conservateur a fait procéder méthodiquement. Or,on vient d'arriver au rond- point central où se trouvait encore un tronçon à demi brisé de notre colonne de la Vierge Fidèle (transportée à Jette).Quand on a creusé pour l'enlever, on a trouvé un bassin en pierre parfaitement conservé (nous savions, en effet qu'en 1835,1a D. Mère de Gramont a fait combler ce bassin de Le Nôtre, élever le monticule et placer la statue), et dans ce bassin était placé un coffret en plomb bien soudé. En l'ouvrant on y a trouvé un parchemin dont l'encre est si jaunie que l' écrit est difficile à lire, mais on distingue très bien les noms Barat, de Gramont, de Quélen , des médailles dont une grande médaille Miraculeuse (1832) et une monnaie de Louis Philippe"
Cette statue de bronze porte sur son socle l'inscription "Virgo Fidelis".L'ensemble se trouve à Jette aussi placé sur une haute colonne. Le pied de la colonne porte sur trois côtés une plaque de marbre avec une inscription latine explicitant le qualificatif:Fidelis
Fidelis in Laudando
Magnificat anima mea Dominum
Et exsultavit spiritus meus
In Deo salutari meo
Fidèle dans la louange
Fidelis in quaerendo
Fili quid fecisti nobis sic
Ecce Pater tuus et Ego
Dolentes quaerebamus Te
Fidèle dans la recherche
Fidelis in compatiendo
Stabat juxta crucem Jesu
Et soror matris Eius Maria Cleophae
Et Maria Magdalenae
Fidèle dans la compassion
La statue de la "Vierge Fidèle" de Jette est elle-même l'aboutissement de toute une histoire.
Le plus ancien modèle est une statue faite par Edme Bouchardon (16981762), un des statuaires de l'école française qui conservèrent pendant le XVIIIe siècle le grand style des artistes du siècle de Louis XIV.A St Sulpice il exécuta plusieurs statues dont cette statue de Marie, ladite "Vierge de Bouchardon".
Nous ne pouvons plus en juger que sur estampe gravée par Sornique vers 1744.Elle a pour titre: "La Sainte Vierge exécutée en argent, d' après le modèle d'Edme Bouchardon, sculpteur du Roy, par G. Chevalier."
Cette Vierge de Bouchardon a été reproduite bien souvent et popularisée à l'infini par la Médaille Miraculeuse de Ste Catherine Labouré.
La Vierge au sourire de Ste Thérèse de l'Enfant Jésus est aussi une reproduction de la Vierge de Bouchardon.
Mgr de Quélen, archevêque de Paris, avait promis d'offrir à N.D. de La Délivrande (Calvados), son pèlerinage de prédilection, une statue de la Vierge, s'il obtenait la conversion de Talleyrand. Sa prière fut exaucée. Il commanda donc une statue sur le modèle de la "Vierge de Bouchardon" en 1838.Cette statue d'environ 1,20m de haut était de bronze. Sur le devant du socle se trouve l'inscription"Virgo Fidelis".Elle fut inaugurée le 8 septembre 1838 à La Délivrande et elle s'y trouve encore.
De retour à l'archevêché en 1839,Mgr de Quélen ordonna une deuxième statue semblable qu'il fit ériger dans la cour d'entrée du couvent des Dames du Sacré-Coeur, rue de Varenne à Paris, en reconnaissance de l'hospitalité qu'il avait reçue lors de son expulsion de l'archevêché en 1830.C'est là qu'il est mort le 31 décembre 1839.
Mgr Dupuch, depuis 1838 premier évêque d'Alger, se rendait en France le 12 mars 1840 pour une visite de quête dans les maisons des Soeurs du Sacré-Coeur. Le 12 mars il s'arrêta à Lyon à Ferrandière et présida une assemblée générale et extraordinaire des Enfants de Marie de l'institut du Sacré-Coeur. La Congrégation lui promit une statue de son choix. Lors d'une visite aux Dames du Sacré-Coeur de la rue de Varenne à Paris il fut immédiatement conquis par la "Virgo Fidelis" de Bouchardon qu'il vit dans le jardin. Une copie fut faite rapidement, grâce au moule qui existait encore. Le 5 mai 1840 à Lyon les Enfants de Marie de la Ferrandière la lui offrirent (x).
(x) En juillet 1907 les Dames du Sacré-Coeur de Lyon furent expulsées et prirent la route de l'exil. La propriété fut divisée en lots. En 1937 les Pères Blancs purent acheter le lot qui comprenait la chapelle et en firent leur procure (Villeurbanne).
La statue est en bronze de sorte que le visage et les mains paraissent noirs quand la statue est habillée; ainsi on parle parfois d' une vierge noire.
On appellera cette statue en 1856 Notre-Dame d'Afrique, quand Mgr Pavy à Alger aura demandé l'avis d'une commission. Plusieurs noms avaient été avancés, mais finalement on adopta celui de N.D. d'Afrique à l' unanimité.
A Alger la statue fut d'abord placée à l'évêché, puis en 1843, prêtée aux Trappistes de Staouéli qui l'installèrent au-dessus de la porte de leur monastère.
En 1846, Mgr Pavy, originaire du diocèse de Lyon, succédait à Mgr Dupuch. Les Dames du Sacré-Coeur de Lyon lui firent savoir par une lettre du 21 mars 1855 qu'elles aimeraient bien voir leur statue honorée dans le sanctuaire que l'évêque voulait faire ériger pour la Sainte Vierge. Mgr Pavy, qui ignorait toute l'histoire de la statue,la redemanda à Staouéli en 1856 et la "Vierge Fidèle" désormais nommée N.D. d'Afrique fut placée à la chapelle St Joseph à la vallée des Conseils.
Le 20 septembre 1857 elle fut érigée dans la chapelle provisoire, à côté de ce qui sera la Basilique de N.D. d'Afrique dont les travaux commencèrent le 2 février 1858.
Le 14 novembre 1866 Mgr Pavy mourait. Son successeur, Mgr Lavigerie paracheva la construction de l'église qui fut consacrée par lui le 2 juillet 1872.
Au printemps de 1873 ,les Pères Blancs prirent possession de l'église considérée comme le berceau de la Société. Aujourd'hui ce sont encore des confrères qui y assurent le ministère.
L'installation de la statue de N.D d' Afrique se fit le 4 mai 1873 lors de la célébration du Concile d'Alger. Des mains fortes portèrent la statue dans le long cortège d'ouverture qui monta la colline et le plateau de la Bouzareah au chant de l' Ave Maris stella.
Quelques années plus tard, Mgr Lavigerie demanda à Pie IX la faveur du couronnement pour la statue de N.D. d'Afrique. Le 30 avril 1876 un diadème précieux fut posé sur la tête de la Vierge. A partir de ce jour, l'église de N.D d'Afrique devenait Basilique.
Généalogie de N.D. d'Afrique
Jacques Casier M.Afr (+1998)
Other article about Our Lady of Africa in Alger. (Statue & Basilica)
© Photos Photothèque Generalate in Rome