The Assumption of the Virgin Mary is an essential date in the French calendar as it heralds the end of the long period of the summer holidays. Although a secular country, France has kept the date of Assumption Day a public holiday.
The tradition of the Assumption Day in France
Assumption (Assomption in French) derives from Latin assumptio meaning ‘a taking’.
The Catholic tradition
The date commemorates a belief shared by the Roman Catholic Church. According to the Catholic tradition, the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, entered directly into the glory of God (i.e. ascended into heaven) at the end of her earthly life.
This belief has no biblical basis but is in keeping with a very old tradition of the Churches of the East and West and has been a liturgical feast since the 7th century.
The dogma defined by Pope Pius XII on the 1st November 1950 teaches that “having completed the course of her earthly life, the Virgin was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.“
According to the Protestants
Although respecting Mary as the earthly mother of Jesus Christ, the belief of Mary’s assumption has no Biblical basis for Protestants who do not teach nor believe in the dogma.
France: a nation consecrated to the Virgin Mary
On the 10th February 1638, King Louis XIII made a vow to consecrate himself, the royal family and France to Mary and chose Our Lady of the Assumption as their patroness.
He instituted the date of the 15th of August as a national day of processions in honour of Mary throughout the kingdom.
The first procession occurred at Notre-Dame de Paris on the 15th of August, 1638. Louis XIII vowed to reconstruct the high altar of Notre Dame.
The famous Ingres’ painting below depicts the consecration of Louis XIII to the Virgin:
The celebration of the Assumption Day in France
Despite a dramatic decline in church attendance in cities and rural areas, Catholicism is still deeply ingrained in the culture of France. This may partly explain why the French people have kept the 15th of August a national day since Louis XIII’s vow in 1638.
The day is an essential celebration for many Catholic Christians attending church services. In France, there are many cathedrals and churches under the patronage of the Assumption of Mary.
On the 15th August, administrations, businesses and shops are generally closed. Catholics attend church, and most French people have family meals and organise afternoon outings.
Assumption Day is the occasion for a wide range of events in small towns and rural areas: parades, markets, sporting events or communal meals.
The pilgrimage town of Lourdes in the Pyrenees welcomes thousands of visitors on the 15th of August who comes to attend one of the many special celebrations.
In Le Puy-en-Velay, a famous procession of international dimensions takes place in honour of Mary.
The sea resort of Arcachon on the Atlantic Coast celebrates Assumption Day with grand fireworks.
At Quimper in Brittany, the day dedicated to the Virgin is also known as the ‘Feast of the Soul’ accompanied by the sound of bagpipes and the light of bonfires.
Churches of the Assumption in France
There are many Catholic churches in France under the name of Our Lady of the Assumption. Here are some examples.
Eglise Notre-Dame de l’Assomption in Paris
The church of Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption is a Polish Catholic place of worship. The sanctuary stands on Place Maurice-Barrès, at the corner of Rue Saint-Honoré and Rue Cambon in the 1st arrondissement of Paris. Built between 1670 and 1676, the church was disused during the Revolution and reopened for worship in 1802. Mgr Affre gave it to the Polish Mission in 1844.
Cathédrale de Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption in Clermont-Ferrand
The Cathedral of Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption is a Gothic cathedral in Clermont-Ferrand, the historic capital of the Auvergne. Work began in 1248 in the centre of the city of Clermont. It is the first example of the use of Volvic stone in architecture. In the second half of the 19th century, the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc renovated, particularly the western façade.
Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption in Montauban
The construction of the Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption cathedral in Montauban (Occitanie) followed the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Louis XIV ordered its construction to mark the presence of royal power and Catholicism in a traditionally Protestant city. The foundation stone of the new cathedral was laid on 10 April 1692, and the solemn consecration of the cathedral took place on 1 November 1739.
Eglise Notre-Dame de l’Assomption in Mont-devant-Sassey
The church of Notre-Dame de l’Assomption in Mont-devant-Sassey (Lorraine) is situated in a magnificent natural setting, on a wooded spur on the Meuse coast, in the foothills of the Argonne, a stone’s throw from the Ardennes. The church is one of the most beautiful religious buildings in Lorraine. Work on the abbey church of the Chanoinesses of Andenne began in 1127. The church has three naves and is built in the Rheno-Mosan style (a mix of Rhenish and Meusian architecture).
Eglise Notre-Dame de l’Assomption in Eze
Notre-Dame de l’Assomption in Èze (French Riviera) is a neoclassical church of the 18th century (1764-1778). The church was the work of the Italian architect Antoine Spinelli at the request of Duke Charles-Emmanuel III of Savoy.
Assumption Day: English-French Vocabulary
(f) for féminin, (m) for masculin, (adj) for adjective and (v) for verbs
- Assumption = Assomption (f)
- cathedral = cathédrale (f)
- Catholicism = catholicisme (m)
- celebration = célébration (f)
- church = église (f)
- dogma = dogme (m)
- Heaven = Cieux (m,p)
- Mary = Marie (f)
- patroness = patrone (f)
- procession = procession (f)
- Pope = Pape (m)
- public holiday = jour férié (m)
- Roman Catholic Church = Église Catholique Romaine (f)
- religion = religion (f)
- summer = été (m)
- Virgin = Vierge (f)