The pilgrimage to Puy Cathedral developed quickly and its attraction spread all over western Christendom. At this starting point on the Way of St James, from the 10th century pilgrims would visit the venerable and mysterious statue of the Black Virgin. It provided a unique experience in recognition of Christ the Saviour, whom Mary had welcomed as the Son of God.
Virgin Mary at the summit of Mont Anis
Popes, kings and millions of pilgrims came to worship at the Cathedral dedicated to the mystery of the Annunciation. In 1095, the first crusade, preached by Pope Urban II in Clermont-Ferrand, had Adhemar de Monteil, the Bishop of Le Puy-en-Velay, as its legate in the Holy Land. He popularised the “Salve Regina” hymn, the “refrain of Le Puy” as Saint Bernard would call it.
Religious feast days are the highlights of the liturgical year. On Good Friday, the White Penitents follow the Way of the Cross in the upper town in memory of Christ’s Passion. On 15 August, the feast day of the Assumption, the statue of the Black Virgin is carried in a procession through the streets of the town.
The mysterious statue of the Black Virgin
Procession through the streets
Another highlight is the Jubilee taking place on 25 March, whenever the Feast of the Annunciation falls the same day as Good Friday. The celebration of the Incarnation then coincides with the celebration of the Redemption. The 31st Jubilee celebration took place in 2016.
The next will be 2157!
Where the Spirit blows
The signs of Velay’s religious roots are everywhere. In the countryside, you see crosses, calvaries, oratories, chapels and other places of worship. The sacred is part of the scenery. From Le Puy-en-Velay, devotion to the Virgin Mary spread all over the diocese, as witnessed by the large number of Romanesque statues of Mary still seen in the little churches.
Alongside the special fervour for the Virgin Mary, the region also has a deep and rich monastic life, as can be seen in the abbeys of La Chaise-Dieu, Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille, Chamalières-sur-Loire and Chanteuges.
And not forgetting the convents and religious houses. In a land deeply marked by Catholicism, Protestantism developed from the 16th century in the region around Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and Le Mazet-Saint-Voy. This presence is still strong today and has strongly influenced local character and behaviour, contributing to the richness and diversity of all the region.