Church of the Val-de-Grâce: Paris’ tribute to the miracle of birth

French church - www.MyFrenchLife.orgOne of Paris’s most beautiful churches is also a testament to one of the city’s best known miracles.

In 1638, a woman thought to be barren gave birth to her first child when she was thirty-seven years old. The woman was Anne of Austria, the Queen of France, and the Val-de-Grace church stands in testimonial to the birth of Louis XIV, France’s longest ruling monarch.

The Val de Grace, while not as well-known as Paris’s more famous cathedrals like Notre-Dame, deserves a closer look, not only because it’s located in the vicinity of the Jardin du Luxembourg, but because the story of its origin is as unique as it is inspiring.

Difficult beginnings

Ana María Mauricia’s parents sent their teenage daughter alone to France, forcing her to abandon not just her friends and family, but her native country as well.

After marrying Louis XIII at 14 years old, Ana, now known as Anne of Austria, grew up amongst strangers in a land where she was not loved. This difficult situation was made all the more so by a husband who was so distant that he was little more than an acquaintance to her.

Adding to this hardship was the acrimony of the nation who disdained the foreign queen, a contempt deepened by the fact she had yet to bear an heir to the throne. After suffering numerous miscarriages, many French people blamed the powerless queen for the lack of a successor to King Louis XII.

A humble monk

french church - www.MyFrenchLife.orgLiving the quiet life of a monk, Frére Fiacre dedicated his life to being God’s servant without ever imagining he’d become God’s tool.

One night, the ascetic had a dream in which the Virgin Mary appeared to him, and explained that the Queen needed to visit three churches in different regions of France and say a prayer to the Virgin in each of them. After accomplishing this task, Anne would provide France a Dauphin.

When Frére Fiacre shared this with his confessor, he was met with disbelief. The Virgin, however, had prepared him for this. After describing in minutest detail a painting that hung on the walls of Notre-Dame de Grâces—a French church over 300 leagues from Paris and one Fiacre had never visited—the religious hierarchy gave credence to the monk’s claim.

A promise kept

Anne of Austria, Queen of France, gave birth to a son less than one year after carrying out the instructions given to her by the monastery. Her son, Louis Louis-Dieudonné de France, would grow up to become France’s longest reigning monarch. He would serve as King so long that his successor would not be his son, nor even his grandson, but his great grandson.

Long before that moment, however, when the Sun King was still just a 5-year-old boy, he stood with his mother on the grounds of the convent where she’d sought comfort during her struggles to become pregnant.

The mood was festive as she broke ground to commence construction of the church that would commemorate her gratitude over the miracle she’d been granted. That French church is the Val-de-Grace.

Paul Prescott - 03.06.2014 - French church

Church of the Val-de-Grâce
1 Place Alphonse Laveran, 75005 Paris
RER: Port-Royal

What about you? What French church do you find most inspirational? Join the conversation and leave your comments in the box below!

Image Credits
1. Val de Grâce by Olivier Issaly, via Flickr.
2. Détail de l’Eglise du Val de Grâce by stephane martin, via Flickr.
3. Front of Val de Grâce by Taks, via Wikimedia Commons.

About the Contributor

Paul Prescott

Creative writer, English teacher, and pizza chef, I have been living in Paris for over 30 years. Less of a cinephile than a cinevore, I see a movie in the theater every day, and so aspire to see 365 films every year. In addition to the French film reviews on My French Life, I publish mini-reviews of every film I see on Leterboxd, Instagram and Twitter.

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  1. Selina Sykes Jun 19, 2014 at 8:35 AM - Reply

    I discovered this when living in Paris last year – what a beautiful and underrated church!

    • Paul Prescott Jun 20, 2014 at 4:43 AM - Reply

      It really is a gem, isn’t it? Like a secret tucked away, waiting to be uncovered.

  2. Elise Mellor Jun 20, 2014 at 11:38 AM - Reply

    I imagine that in the 17th century, 37 was *terribly* old for a woman to have her first baby.She must have felt very blessed indeed!

    • Paul Prescott Jun 27, 2014 at 5:57 AM - Reply

      And to think she’d had several miscarriages before! I imagine ‘relief’ doesn’t begin to cover it!

  3. Ellen Burns Jun 27, 2014 at 11:24 AM - Reply

    Such a fascinating story!!
    I have a baby sister who’s just 18 months old and her mother was 40.. (though already had twin 6 year olds!), but it must have been such a huge deal to have a baby at that age back then.. and after everyone watching you for so long!

    • Paul Prescott Jun 30, 2014 at 1:38 AM - Reply

      The pressure must’ve been enormous! Thanks for the wonderful comment and congrats on your little sister! How neat is that!?

  4. Christina Guzman Jul 11, 2014 at 3:15 PM - Reply

    What a beautiful story!!!
    I must confess that even though the Notre is beautiful, I love Sacre coeur.
    But I have to go here next time i visit! I love stories like this

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