4th March : Our Lady Of Guard

Our Lady Of Guard

Country : France

Year : 1221

Late one afternoon during the thirteenth century, a solitary French fisherman was fishing off the harbor of Marseille.  Before he became aware of it, a terrific storm burst upon him.  His boat tossed around like a shell, and filled with water faster than he could bail it out.  His rudder was lost; his mast snapped; cutting free the rigging with a knife, he saved himself from capture.  Everything looked hopeless, and he felt he could never get back to the harbor.  He thought of the family he would never see again and cast a despairing look at the city, the huge rock standing like a sentinel or guard on the Mountain which overtopped the city and harbor.

Dimly through the gloom he saw the figure of a lady, dressed in white, standing firmly on the very top of the rock.  She seemed to be extending her hand as if she would help him to the shelter and safety of the harbor.  At once it came to him that the Lady so calmly defying the wind and rain, could only be the Blessed Mother, so he prayed to her to help him.  Almost immediately his boat ceased its wild tossing, righted itself and pushed by a friendly gust of wind, raced into the calm water of the harbor until it drove onto the shore at the very foot of the mountain.  Falling on his knees, he poured out his thanks to the Blessed Virgin then hurried home to his worried family.

The story of his rescue through the assistance of Our Lady, quickly spread throughout the port.  It was remembered that other sailors, on numerous occasions during severe storms, had also seen the figure of the Lady on top of the rock.  Always when she had appeared, the angry seas had calmed and their craft had ridden safely into the shelter.

Soon everyone came to believe that the rock was the spot on which the Blessed Virgin would appear whenever her help was desperately required.  In thanksgiving to her the sailors of Marseille, in 1213-1218, erected a chapel on top of the rock.  In it they enshrined a lovely statue of Our Lady.

Around 1544, the chapel was replaced by a large church and the statue transferred to it.  Sometime during the French Revolution (1789-1799) the statue was destroyed, but during the 1830’s a new statue was dedicated.  That Mary did not confine her help to sailors, was proved in 1832, when a severe epidemic of cholera struck Marseilles; the people decided to appeal to Mary.  Forming a procession, they climbed the mountain, removed the statue from the chapel, brought it down, and solemnly carried it through the streets of the city.  Almost immediately the epidemic waned, and in a few days vanished.  So they called Mary, Our Lady of Help – the sailors called her Our Lady of Mariners

Some years later, as the fame of the shrine on top of the mountain spread, with more and more people coming up to pay their respects, it acquired still another name – Notre Dame de la Garde – Our Lady of the Guard or Guardian.

In Marseilles, today, the hill of Notre Dame de la Garde is topped by a basilica, at an altitude of 550 feet, built in 1864.  This commanding site has been occupied by a chapel since 1214.  The interior has a multitude of sailor’s votive offerings and model ships are hung in all parts of it.  A statue of the Virgin and Child dominates the city from its place on top of the western tower.