Enthroned to gunfire
ACHURCH, an inn, a farm or two make up no more than a hamlet.
Such is Foy-Notre-Dame, in the hills above the tourist playground of the Meuse with its illuminated castles, caves. rocks and gardens.
To this isolated sanctuary in 1623 came 12.000 pilgrims, with some 200 sick, for the solemn opening of a new church to enshrine a tiny, nine-inch statuette of the Madonna found embedded in the bark of a hoary oak condemned to the axe.
That was in 1609; this is the 350th anniversary.
FOY-NOTRE-DANIE has prepared its celebration since the opening of the century. Fifty years ago the
nN July 6, 1609, Gerard, a farm hand, was holding a wedge for Gilles de Wanlin, a carpenter, to hew open a log. The next blow split the wood and revealed a graceful little statuette of Our Lady, apparently of stone, crowned, and in the style of an earlier century.
Both cried, "Miracle", promptly enough, and brought the maid running from the farm. Gilles' axe had taken off the head and shoulder of the Child. He mended this, then put the statue on the kitchen shelf, and the tale ran round the neighbourhood.
Meanwhile Innocent Delimor, the boatbuilder, made a prosperous businees disposing of the rest of the oak as replicas of the statue.
It is possibly one of these which is now preserved in Downside Abbey Church, the gift of Dom Bede Camm, who picked it up in Belgium as an antique, before his conversion.
The Seigneur had a niche cut in a nearby oak, and protected the image with a grille. Four years later he removed it for greater safety to his castle chapel.
The consequence was startling. Good folk from far and wide massed in his courtyard and the company of sick and maim contaminated his stately home. The Prince Bishop of Liege approved the cultus and the Lord of Celle built a little rotunda on the site of the felled oak,
The Norhertine Abbot of Leffe came out from Dinant on a cold November day with banners, hands, and choirs, and almost the entire populace, and to the firing of muskets and mortars the new Madonna of Foy was raised to a throne among the many ancient slaters that Flemish and Walloon piety never fails.
THE shrine at Foy soon became the hub of an almost world-wide devotion, largely through the agency of Jesuit Fathers from Dinant, who carried reproductions of her image on missionary journeys across the Atlantic.
Sanctuaries and altars under the title of Our Lady of Foy sprang up as far away as the United States, Canada, and Paraguay. and in Hurope through France and Belgium, Holland, Germany,
Czechoslovakia, Austria a n d Sweden.
The present church at Foy succeeded the rotunda in 1623. Its exterior is almost as plain as lnigo Jones' "handsomest barn in Christendom" — Saint Paul's, Covent Garden.
Within it has a wealth of baroque decoration, notably a famous coffered ceiling with 145 panels representing scenes from the Gospels and saints. The church is exceptional in that both the edifice and most of the fittings were designed by the same artists. the Stilmant brothers, who worked at Dinant at the sign of the Three Stools. In the sacristy is preserved silver-gilt chalice, the inscribed gift of an unknown English Countess of the seventeenth century.
The principal pilgrimages at Foy are on the Purification and Our Lady's Birthday, but there are solemnities an all Marian feasts. The shrine is easily reached from Dinant, either by bus or on foot by the old Pilgrims' Way.
"Our Lady "I Foy": A translalion nf the official history by the author al the above article Is available front Abbey Cottage, Priory Road, RAWgone, Kent. (Price 2s. postage paid).