Basilique Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde (or Our Lady of the Guard Basilica) stands as one of the highest points in the city of Marseille, France. And rightly so, as she is considered to be La Bonne Mere - 'Our Good Mother' - who benevolently guards the people of Marseilles. At 154 meters, it seems that she is doing her job quite well. The statue, as well as the Basilica, is a well-loved landmark.
The magnificent Basilica never fails to shock and move you. Back in the mid1800s, the bishop of Marseilles, Saint Charles Eugene de Mazenod, had this basilica built. It was originally a chapel dedicated to the Lady of the Guard, who was expected to ensure the safe return of the 'people of the sea' – the sailors of Marseilles. In fact, the 13th century chapel contained some ex-votos that were used for the purpose of praying to her. There is also a fortress built near the site.
Surmounted on the basilica is a gigantic statue of the Virgin and her Child. It is quite tall, imposing, and attractive. It is also visible miles and miles away from the sea. The statue is entirely covered in golf leaf. This statue is a welcome sight to pilgrims and sailors approaching the shore. The grand basilica is made of porphyry and marble, and took around five years to construct. The façade also features the use of alternating dark and light stones, as well as rounded Roman vaults and domes. There are also statues of Saint John and Isaiah outside of the Basilica.
Inside, the basilica featured inlaid marble, murals and mosaics, as well as quite a collection of ex-votos. There are also war medals, model boats, paintings and plaques. These ex-votos are objects that are bestowed as a reminder for someone to carry out a vow or as a 'thank you' gift because of her miraculous deeds such as providing salvation to sailors from a shipwreck. There are some pretty ancient ex-votos, some dating back to as early as 1756.
As you enter, you will quickly notice the contrast between the light outside and the shadows inside. You should also note the massive bronze doors at the entrance. Also, be sure to look at the mosaics up close and you will appreciate the level of detail and effort that went into them.
The floor is also one big mosaic. This was ordered all the way from Venice, from the workshop of Francesco Mora. Aside from this, you will also see some interesting statues of the 'Good Mothers'. One is a silver statue that took the artist, Chanuel, six years to make.
Its Roman-Byzantine style never fails to move. Even up until now, there is disagreement about the design. Yes, no visitor comes here and leaves indifferent. It is unique and its visual power draws you in and then takes you by surprise. Another interesting tidbit – the architect's name Esperandieu means Hope in God, an auspicious name as he was a Protestant assigned to build a Catholic structure. Sadly, he died at the young age of 45 before he was able to finish the interiors of the basilica. His prodigy finished his work for him, and completed the chancel and the domes.