One of the most ancient shrines in Europe dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary is in Le Puy, France. A 55-foot statue of Our Lady towers from the hill over the valley below. The tall, majestic figure of the Virgin Mary is standing atop a globe, her foot crushing the head of the serpent. She is crowned with 12 stars and is holding the Child Jesus in her arms while he extends his blessing to the world. This imposing iron statue was built from 213 Russian cannons and dedicated in 1860, but devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in this location goes back to the 3rd or 4th century A.D., or possibly even earlier. Pilgrimage to this site is based on an alleged apparition of Our Lady to a sick woman living in this area. The Blessed Virgin told her that she wanted a church built in that place. Pilgrims were traveling to Le Puy as far back as the early Middle Ages, and even Charlemagne visited on at least two occasions in the late 8th century.
The Cathedral of Le Puy (Our Lady of the Annunciation) forms the highest point of the city of Le Puy. It is Romanesque in architectural style, and was primarily constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries. It survived well throughout the centuries until the French Revolution, when the treasures of the Cathedral, including the statue of Our Lady that had been gifted by King St. Louis, were destroyed. The Cathedral is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, part of the “Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.”
Accommodations: There are many 2 and 3* hotels in Le Puy-en-Velay, as well as bed-and-breakfasts and cabins. Since this is the starting point of one of the Camino routes, accommodations are plentiful but simple.
Transportation: Le Puy is about a 1.5 hour drive southwest of Lyon (80 miles) via the N88. Train: Trains run between Lyon and Le Puy daily. Check schedules for times – the ride is approximately 2 hours. No bus. Walking: Le Puy marks the beginning of one of the Camino routes. It connects with other routes in France near St. Jean Pied de Port and then continues on through Spain to Santiago de Compostela.