I’ve crossed the French border twice – once from Belgian and once from the German side. Both times, the effect was striking. It was as if I have crossed an invisible barrier or directly a wall behind which there was an entirely different world. Everything was different – the atmosphere, and somehow even the air… When crossing the border for the second time, I decided that this „distinction in the air“ (it is quite difficult to explain that feeling) was due to the different pastel colors of the houses in France. But maybe this is not the case since the first time it took a certain amount of time before I reached a settlement with houses, and the feeling was already in being. If one is getting dropped in Paris by plane, he wouldn’t be able to notice the difference. Or maybe only I can notice it?
Avioth is a little village located 11 km. away from Orval, with little more than 100 inhabitants. And in the middle of it stands this wonder.
I haven’t come across such a discrepancy so far (although, of course, there are in many other places). On principle, one imagines the big spiritual buildings placed in commensurable with them big settlements. That’s why I think that everyone would ask themselves what had in this little village indeed happened and why exactly here, when, and by whom was this big and significant monument erected. I will again use the word ‘mysterious’, for the simple reason that no other word comes to mind. To me, everything about Avioth is a mystery. And to make it worse, in the little tourist office next to the basilica, there were tourist brochures only in French. And this is in a settlement whose livelihood is provided mainly by the tourists and pilgrims (I don’t think that every one of them speaks French).
So, it seems that a detailed information on Avioth could be found mainly in French.
According to the legend, ‘as tradition dictates’, (as I’ve somewhere read) shepherds found a statue of the Virgin Mary on a thorn bush. And indeed, after how many other legends in various places in Europe, including Bulgaria as well, enacted the same scenario – a shepherd finds a miraculous statue/icon of Mary? This one here was also miraculous.
So, the cult of Mary in the settlement (that at that time belonged to the County of Chiny (like Orval) dates back to the end of the 11th and the beginning of the 12th century.
It is assumed that this unique construction in front of the church, called La Recevresse, was built on the site where the statue was found, and it had replaced the initial chapel in its honor that had proven to be too small for the stream of pilgrims.
The church itself was erected between 1225 and 1420, and La Recevresse – at the beginning of the 15th century.
The exceptionally beautiful Recevresse is a representative of the Flamboyant style – the last stage of the Late Gothic architecture in France. It is the only one of its kind and its reproduction is exhibited in the French Museum of National Monuments in the City of Architecture and Heritage in Paris.
La Recevresse, the Receiving One or the Welcoming One – this is the name of the Virgin Mary of Avioth, and she gave that name to this structure, intended for receiving the offerings of the pilgrims. (The handcuffs that you can see are a present from a prisoner released thanks to Mary.) In the 14th century, the origin statue from the 12th century was brought inside the church and was replaced by a new one. In its turn, it was replaced by the present one in 1802.
The Virgin Mary of Avioth is actually black too, but at the end of the 19th century, the color of its face and hands was changed.
It is placed on a special Gothic throne under a pyramid dome, crafted at the beginning of the 15th century (to the left of the altar).
The miracles of Mary were documented in a manuscript from the 17th century written by Pastor Jean Delhotel. People went so far as to bring their still-born children to her in order to be revived for a short time so that they could be baptized and thus, be allowed to enter the Paradise. (And that is an unthinkable thing for a person raised in a country of Orthodox religion but during and after the Communist Regime). After baptism, the children went back to death and were buried on the eastern side of the church.
But the thing is that this miracle made by Virgin Mary occurred not only in Avioth but there are records of it in many other parts of France, in Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Swiss.
It is known that Bernard of Clairvaux visited Avioth in 1147, accompanied by Pope Eugene III. (Since 1131, Orval fell under the influence of Bernard and the Abbey there is dedicated to the Virgin Mary too.) But nothing else is left as information from this period.
Yet the thing that Bernard was famous for was his particular devotion to Mary. He was one of the most significant ‘Mariologists’ during the Middle Ages. That’s why it is not surprising that his influence had spread over churches dedicated to her.
Saint Martha and the Tarasque – the dragon of the French city of Tarascon. As I said in the publication about Malmedy, St. Martha is one of at least 9 other saints, excluding Saint George, who is depicted slaying a dragon.
One Virgin of Mercy.
Renaissance stone pulpit from 1538 with the sculpture group “Ecce homo” from the 14th century.
In 1993, Pope Jean-Paul II raised the temple to Basilica minor.
La Recevresse, the south portal in the middle, and the Renaissance façade of the new chapel from the 16th century to the right.
The south portal. Some of the statues are stolen.
The east portal.
Abbot Delhotel Street leads to the Basilica.
Every year, on the 16th of July, many people of different nationalities flow here to attend the procession in honor of Our Lady of Avioth.