Notre-Dame-de-Grâce

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce

A plaque outside the little brick chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce reads: "Chapel of Our Lady of Grace, fourteenth century. Saint Vincent de Paul celebrated one his first Masses here in 1600." This is based on the local tradition reported by Collet. This chapel, a Benedictine foundation and originally in the diocese of Montauban, has been a place of pilgrimage at least since the end of the 1500's, and it is not difficult to reach from Buzet. Today, one crosses the river, goes through the village of Mézens and climbs the hill to route D35 to the "little chapel in the woords", to cite Collet. Vincent, however, probably took the small path through the woods leading up the slope to the plateau where the chapel is, a half hour walk. This chapel is not exactly in the woods anymore, since it is mainly surrounded by farmlands, but it lies on the top of the ridge. When Vincent came here, the chapel was about twelve meters long by five meters wide and did not have its side chapels. After these were added in 1842, the chapel could accommodate some fifty people. Its tall flat facade is typical of others in the Toulouse region. Also like other country chapels, this one has been many times restored, such as in 1825, 1850, and 1973 after a period of neglect.

The object of devotion is a small statue of Mary and the child Jesus. It is not original but a copy. The tabernacle, on a side wall, is in the shape of an urn with a representation of a bible on top, an original design dating from the eighteenth century. It used to be in the side chapel dedicated to Saint Vincent de Paul.

In this side chapel, restored in 1980, is to be seen a bust reliquary of Saint Vincent, donated by the Daughters of Charity in 1851. It was said to be a copy of an original now in the South Kensington museum in London; but the face is that of a local winegrower, with red cheecks and broad nose. The painting in this chapel depcits Saint Vincent teaching. The altar has a bas relief head of the saint carved on the front of the altar and apparently dates from the nineteenth century.

The facing side chapel has a large painting of the traditional glorification of Saint Vincent, shown with Saint Louise. In the foreground are the two books of the common rules of the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity. Another large painting depicts the first Mass, celebrated with an archpriest. Abelly says that Vincent was there alone, with only a server and an assisting priest. Might one not also think of students who could easily have accompanied their teacher on the day of his first Mass?

At the back of the chapel is a large painting of the crucifixion, with two depictions of the Red Scapular, a devotion with roots in the Daughters of Charity. Behiind the church is an old cemetery and meeting rooms for catechesis.

The chapel used to contain the altar taken from Our Lady of Remoulle. That chapel, now destroyed, was situated east of Buzet, near Mézens. Some have claimed it as the chapel where Vincent celebrated his first Mass, or perhaps one of his first Masses. Since it does not fit Collet's description as on a hilltop, amid woods, its place is less secure as the one he described. Noevertheless, nothing would have prevented the young priest from celebrating Mass there as well. In any case, a modern marble altar was installed in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce during the restoration of 1989, and the old Remoulle altar was removed.

This chapel is still the site of pilgrimage in honor of Our Lady of Grace on Pentecost Monday; another recalls Saint Vincent and is held on 27 September. A Vincentian mission here is recorded as early as 1677. During the Revolution a pious neighbor bought the chapel, thus saving it for the future. In the nineteenth century, various pilgrimages of Vincentians and Daughters of Charity came here. Jean Baptiste Nozo, the superior general, sent relics here from Paris in 1837. His successor, Jean Baptiste Etienne, together with the superioress general, visited in 1851. Charles Souvay, another superior general, visited in 1936, as have others since.