“This is where the martyrs are, it is here that the Sacred Heart must reign!” These powerful words of the cardinal-archbishop of Paris, Joseph Hippolyte Guibert (1802-1886) were for good cause in the construction of the basilica which is celebrating the centenary of its consecration beginning October 20, 2019.
Montmartre is the place of the martyrs. On this hill the first apostles of Paris were tortured: St. Denis and his companions Eleuthère and Rustique.
Around 475, St. Genevieve had a church built on the very spot where St. Denis gave his ultimate witness of faith and love to the one and only Lord, Jesus Christ, the true Son of God. In the ninth century, the building that was falling into ruin was rebuilt. Thereafter, until the French Revolution, the church was used as a convent for Benedictine nuns, dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
The metropolitan station “Abbesses,” in Montmartre, still bears witness to this monastic presence, as do the streets of Rochechouart and the Tour d’Auvergne, which bear the names of superiors of a long-disappeared monastery. And with good reason: dispersed by the French Revolution, the Benedictines saw their monastery pillaged and destroyed from top to bottom in 1792. At the height of the Terror, the last abbess, Marie-Louise de Montmorency-Laval, climbed the scaffold on July 24, 1794. Her blood enabled the miraculous resurrection of religious life that would take place eighty years later on the sacred Butte and writ rightfully the site of the Basilica.
The National Vow
In 1870, Garibaldi seized Rome, and Pope Pius IX, robbed of his states, took refuge on Vatican Hill. At the same time, the Second Empire collapsed in the face of Prussia, which invaded France. France, vanquished and humiliated, suffered the amputation of Alsace and Lorraine. The capital was in the grip of the revolutionary unrest of the Paris Commune, which was formed following the riots of March 1871 which took place on the Montmartre Butte, where two generals were savagely murdered.
In this tragic situation, two men of faith launched “the national vow,” a patriotic confraternity whose particular purpose was to achieve the consecration of France to the Sacred Heart, according to the latter’s request to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque on June 17, 1689.
Refugees in Poitiers, supported by Cardinal Pie, the entrepreneur Alexandre Legentil and his brother-in-law, the painter Hubert Rohault de Fleury, were campaigning to build a sanctuary in honor of the Sacred Heart. The national vow drafted by Alexandre Legentil states: “In the presence of the misfortunes that have befallen France and the greater misfortunes that perhaps still threaten her. In the presence of the sacrilegious attacks committed in Rome against the rights of the Church and the Holy See and against the sacred person of the Vicar of Jesus Christ.
We humble ourselves before God and uniting in our love both Church and our homeland, recognize that we have sinned and been justly punished. And to make honorable amends for our sins and obtain through the infinite mercy of the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ pardon for our faults, as well as the extraordinary help that alone can deliver the Holy Pontiff from his captivity and put an end to the misfortunes of France, we hereby promise to contribute to the construction, in Paris, of a sanctuary dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
On January 18, 1872, Bishop Guibert approved the pious initiative to build a church dedicated to the Sacred Heart and he chose as the site the summit of the Mount of Martyrs - Montmartre - which dominates Paris. He wrote: “This is where the martyrs are, it is here that the Sacred Heart must reign, in order to draw everyone to Him ... At the top of the hill where Christianity was born among us, in the blood of our first Apostles, the monument of our religious regeneration must be raised.”
In order to acquire the necessary land, the promoters of the project turned to the National Assembly, which voted, on July 24, 1873, the recognition that this grandiose project would promote the public interest. Secularism was not yet the sectarian ideology that has since descended upon France. The country of Clovis, St. Denis, and St. Genevieve still knew how to recognize the contempt for God and His rights as the source of their misfortunes. The church would be dedicated to the Sacred Heart, on Montmartre Butte, in reparation for all the nation’s faults— “Gallia poenitens and devota.”
From the First Stone to the Consecration
On June 16, 1875, Cardinal Guibert laid the foundation stone of the building. The site will experience many adventures and vicissitudes. The consecration, scheduled for October 17, 1914, was postponed because of the entry into the war. It was finally on October 16, 1919, one hundred years ago, that Cardinal Amette, Archbishop of Paris, consecrated the building to the worship of God, under the presidency of Cardinal Antonio Vico, then Prefect for the Sacred Congregation of Rites and Legates of Pope Benedict XV.
To celebrate this centenary, a jubilee year has been declared between October 20, 2019 and October 18, 2020. Let us add that since August 1, 1885, Eucharistic adoration has been going on uninterruptedly, day and night, in silence, in order to offer up to Heaven a long and reparative prayer for Paris, France, and the Church, who are so much in need of it. Begun in a temporary chapel built next to the construction site, perpetual Eucharistic adoration has never been interrupted, including during the bombings of April 1944.
View photographs of the basilica's construction