Basilica Our Lady of Good Help

Saint-Avold, France

A saved basilica

Rehabilitating a Marian basilica is a rare, precious, and impressive task. The Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours basilica in Saint-Avold threatened to become a ruin. Thanks to the tenacity of its rector Olivier Riboulot, the impossible project began to become possible. In parallel with very large works that were to ensure the future of the building, it was up to me to give this place a face.

 

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The star-spangled dome

During my first visit, a reality struck me: the antiquated and gloomy interior paintings literally made it impossible to see the architectural qualities of the building. So I began to worry about emphasising the Romano-Byzantine shape of the building to restore its elegance and highlight its qualities. The dome, though gray, had real majesty. One had to make it sing. I then dared to dream of making it polychrome and making it, like our builder ancestors a starry sky. A blue vault, where Mary, star among the stars would give thanks with us for creation.

A chorus and a sanctuary

At the same time, it was necessary to work on two distinct spaces: one would be the Marian shrine, the other under the dome would become the only choir to celebrate mass. There is of course a link between the two: Mary is the one who leads to Christ. I wanted this path to become sensitive for pilgrims. The idea of ​​carving it in stone then sprouted up. Blue, the Marian color par excellence, prevailed again, and I ran a line of blue quartz all along the basilica, going from the shrine to the choir and even going up on the altar to end in a cross. To clearly mark the link, the half-dome of the Marian shrine would also be adorned with the starry sky. “To Jesus through Mary” could be the motto of the place.

The furniture

Now it was necessary to adorn the choir. The altar is therefore the finishing line of our path, the symbol of Christ, the table of the last meal and that of the tomb of the Resurrection. A beautiful, noble and clear stone was chosen to carve a shape that is both majestic and flared. The ambo would be realised in the same spirit. With an almost monastic sobriety. But I still had another - big - problem. In a church, prayer must have a line of focus. A representation of Christ. However, on the blueprint the back of the choir is ... the entrance! A coming and going of opening doors cannot be the visual support of prayer. I had to remove this perspective, without obstructing the architecture! Now it happens that I have been working for some years on the singular technique of thermoformed glass. This process, which involves sculpting in powdered plaster, superimposing a thick plate of glass on top and baking it very slowly, offers a very particular result: a relief glass, translucent but not transparent and which is adorned with the multiple colors of light. Very quickly I saw in the back of the choir a wall of glory from which would emerge, like the rising sun, a Risen Christ adorned with gold leaves. This wall of glory, a technical challenge, would be the subject of extensive research with the Loire master glassmakers of Chartres, whose competence is recognized worldwide. It would definitely give its center and its horizon to the choir. There was still the question of the tabernacle. It seemed to me that the Eucharistic reserve should be placed in one of the arms of the transept. I gave it the shape of the star: Mary, the first living tabernacle as Benedict XVI said, would keep in her womb and in her heart, her son Jesus, made the Eucharist. The fonts would also be marked with the sign of the star.

The Martin's Family Reliquary

On the sanctuary side, another dimension emerged: the basilica had relics of Therese of Lisieux. For having already created several reliquaries including one for the Martin family in the United States, I rejoice in this new "treasure" knowing what spiritual fruits reverence can bear. The Martins would be placed at the foot of Mary, because, like all the saints, they too show the way that leads to Christ. While the wonderfully benevolent holiness of Therese is already world famous, the holiness of her parents is proving to be a model and a source of inspiration in these times when families are sorely tried. The sanctuary side would thus be a beautiful space for devotion and prayer of the heart. As in the past we used to have exvotos created, it is to be hoped that in future times we will once again be able to inscribe in stone, like our ancestors, all the benefits received in this place! In any case, light holders would be placed on the sides of the reliquary to clearly signify the prayer which rises like a song of praise.

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Ô, whosoever thou art that perceiveth thyself during this mortal existence to be rather drifting in treacherous waters at the mercy of the winds and the waves, than walking on firm ground, turn not away thine eyes from the splendour of this guiding star, unless thou wished to be submerged by the storm! When the storms to temptation burst upon thee, when thou seest thyself driven upon the rocks of tribulation, look at the star, call upon Mary.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux