The religious city of Lisieux draws vast numbers of Catholics. In fact, it is considered the second most important pilgrimage town in France, thanks to its 19th-century saint, Thérèse Martin. Thérèse’s fame also explains Lisieux’s extravagant 20th-century hillside basilica, outdoing the medieval cathedral.
For Catholics, Lisieux is synonymous with the young Thérèse Martin, a model of 19th-century piety. However, Lisieux has a much longer history, going back to Roman times. Then, with the establishment of the duchy of Normandy in medieval times, it became the seat of a bishop's palace, with a cathedral. The bishop-counts of Lisieux were forceful figures in Norman events. In town, the quarter around the cathedral known as the Quartier Canonial has retained a number of impressive buildings once associated with the important religious administration based here, run in part by canons. Religion has long been a powerful force in Lisieux.
The second most important pilgrimage site in France
Tragically, a major part of the historic town was destroyed in World War II bombings. However, many of the places associated with the greatest figure of 19th century Lisieux, Thérèse Martin, survived. Born in the southern Normandy town of Alençon, Thérèse moved with her family to Lisieux when she was four. Following the example of her older sisters, she became fascinated with religious life from an early age. She joined the Carmelite nunnery here at the exceptionally tender age of 15, by special dispensation. Not just because of her exemplary pious life, but also because of her clear writings on faith, she became one of the best-loved Catholic figures of her century. She died young, having achieved a great deal. In the 1920s, she was made a saint, as Sainte-Thérèse de l’Enfant Jésus. In 1997, Pope John Paul II declared her just the 33rd Doctor of the Catholic Church because of her spiritual writings – at the time, she was the only woman to be given the exceptional title. Some 700,000 pilgrims visit Lisieux every year, making it the second most important pilgrimage site in France.
Sites and attractions
Worth a visit in Lisieux
Basilique Sainte-Thérèse, Musée d'art et d'histoire...