Our Lady of Montligeon is a place of pilgrimage and centre of prayers for the dead; pilgrims have been coming here for over a century from all over the world.
In 1878 Father Paul Joseph Buguet (1843-1918) was appointed parish priest of Chapelle-Montligeon in the Perche (61).
The 700-member parish of La Chapelle-Montligeon to which Father Paul was assigned was poor. Factories were replacing old cottage weaving industries, machines replacing hand-made crafts. The youth were leaving to go to the cities for jobs and unemployment was rising. Father Buguet wanted to offer his parishioners work without leaving their region so as to have a future for the parish.
In 1876, Fr. Buguet was deeply distressed by three deaths in his family: his brother Auguste, a bell ringer of Mortagne-au-Perche who died crushed by a church bell that came off its supports, and his two nieces who died soon after of grief.
From then on, he had two goals: “I was trying to reconcile a double goal: to have people pray for neglected souls, and, at the same time, to obtain through these souls the means by which the worker could make a decent living.”
So he set about creating work for his parishioners in this world while praying for the souls of the dead in the spiritual world. He believed that the souls thus freed would also intermediate for the success of his print works and so help the living.
After first trying his hand with a glove making enterprise and meeting with little success, Father Buguet launched a print works, inspired by the same activity at the Abbey of La Trappe which is not so distant. The beginnings were modest, the good father having just one worker and with one printing press in his presbytery. In time, the enterprise grew, translating and publishing religious tracts, and he used the profits to buy old houses in order to lodge the print workers and interpreters.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Montligeon
In 1884, Father Buguet obtained permission from the Bishop of Sees to set out on mission to free the souls of the dead. So as to promote his work, he became the “Travelling Salesman of the Souls in Purgatory”, begging for donations from parish to parish to build a church as place of pilgrimage. Father Buguet made trips both in France and abroad, drawing pilgrims from around the world to la Chapelle Montligeon. The first organised pilgrimages were held in 1885. In 1892, Father Buguet planned for a larger building to receive more pilgrims. On June 4, 1896, the first stones of the future basilica of Our Lady were laid. The first Mass was held on June 1, 1911.
On entering the Basilica of Montligeon, the visitor discovers the statue of Our Lady dominating the chancel. Cut from a block of Carrara marble, weighing 16 tons, and chosen by Bishop Buguet himself at the beginning of the 20th century, it is the work of the Italian sculptor Tadolini.
The basilica is also decorated with numerous statues of saints and stained glass windows.
In the garden to the left (facing the basilica) is a polychromatic statue of Saint Theresa of Lisieux, who of course has strong connections for us as she was born near us here in Alençon.
Father Buguet eventually died in Rome on June 14, 1918. His body was brought back to Montligeon, and is buried in the crypt under the basilica.