Notre‑Dame Basilica

At the origins of Arcachon

Notre-Dame Basilica, one of Arcachon’s many treasures, is a protected and valued site to which the people of Arcachon are deeply attached. It was built from 1858 to 1860. The gothic-style building houses the Sailors’ Chapel which was built in honour of the Miraculous Virgin statue found on the beach by a certain Thomas Illyricus.

 

A providential statue

In 1522, this Franciscan monk from Bordeaux followed his hermit’s instinct, left the city and headed south. When praying at the top of a dune, in front of the ocean, he noticed two ships which were in imminent danger of being wrecked on the shoreline. He immediately knelt down and prayed for the sailors. The sea became calm and the ships sailed out into the ocean again. That’s when Thomas Illyricus found a small statue of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus which had been washed up by the waves. He picked it up and decided to build a wooden chapel to shelter it. The latter is now housed in the Sailors’ Chapel.

The trials and tribulations of Notre-Dame

Since it was built, Notre-Dame has experienced several pitfalls. On 16 January 1624, when it was just an oratory on the shore of Bernet, it was totally destroyed by a storm. Followers built a first stone chapel to shelter the Madonna, but this time it was swallowed up by the sand in 1721. Barely a year later a third construction was built and then enlarged in 1858 by enclaving it in the Notre-Dame Basilica. In addition to these successive mishaps the chapel was also looted by English pirates in the 16th century, ransacked by brigands in 1789 and even suffered an arson attack in January 1986.

25 March, a day of festivitie

The Fête of Arcachon is held on March 25 every year, it’s the day on which the town celebrates Marie, its patron saint. The local people always look forward to this event which is celebrated in pure tradition. It all starts with morning mass in Notre-Dame Basilica. The followers leave with a yellow rose in their hand and start a procession leading to the “Croix des Marins” (the Sailors’ Cross), and the Chapel Pier. A tribute is then paid to sailors who perished at sea.