The Vincentian Community and the Shrine of Our Lady of Prime-Combe: A History
By: Jean-Pierre Renouard,CM Éric Saint-Sevin, CM
In 1887, a shepherd named Bertrand, found one of his oxen kneeling before a thicket. It turns out that there was a small stone statue there! The Virgin did not want to go to the parish church and so a pilgrimage was organized to the place of the statue. Throughout the centuries, hermitages were established on the site and the monks lived in a cave beneath the chapel.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Prime-Combe was entrusted to the Vincentians in 1875. There the Community established an Apostolic School and a Mission House. The school was closed in 1905 (as a result of laws that were passed in that area) and then reopened in 1921. The Daughters of Charity established their Novitiate there during the time of the war (1914-1918). The Daughters also opened an orphanage in that place to care for the children who has been orphaned during the war … there was born the vocation of a young man known as Brother Paul. Parish pilgrimages to this area were on the rise as a result of the presence of the Apostolic School. In 1937, the fiftieth anniversary of the coronation of the image of Our Lady of Good Help, a huge crowd of nearly 50,000 pilgrims traveled along the roads leading to the sanctuary. At the present time, pilgrimages continue, especially on Marian feasts. The surrounding parishes visit the shrine during the year.
At the time of the terrible fire of 1861, the buildings were preserved but the surrounding forest area was totally destroyed. Some of the confreres, teachers in Prime-Combe, accepted the invitation to minister in the neighboring parishes. This took place at the time that the Apostolic School closed in 1964. The buildings were rented out to the Psychiatric Hospital in Uzés which they continued to occupy that space until 2008. Patients recovering from varius mental illnesses were lodged there.
In 1987, the faithful of Combe and the entire diocese of Nîmes celebrated the centenary of the discovery of the miraculous statue that can still be seen there today.
During the summer of 1997, a Benedictine community that accepts candidates (with some disability) for monastic life, took up residence in the building where the confreres had once lived. The Motherhouse of this community is located in Croixrault in the diocese of Amiens.
The Shrine invites tranquility, serenity, and retreat in the midst of a wonderful natural environment amid the thickets of the Gard region. What captures the attention of people as they enter this site, is the silence … there is no noise but the sound of the birds and the wind which invites people to engage in meditation and contemplation.
Today, a confrere regularly goes there to preside at the various celebrations. A priest from a diocese in Madagascar, who resides in France for reasons of health, is the Prior of the Benedictine Monks. A permanent Decaon also serve at the Shrine. A team of dynamic lay people has taken charge of ministering to the pilgrims and maintaining the buildings. The pilgrims were most happy to receive the Superior general who visited the Shrine on the feast of the Epiphany 2016. Cardinal Franc Rodé will celebrate the Eucharist at the Shrine on the Feast of the Assumption (2016)
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM