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A ‘Good Encounter’ with a Woodblock

By Andrea Bryan, Class of 2019

The shrine of Our Lady of Good Encounter is located in southern France. According to tradition, this shrine was founded around 1550 when a shepherd discovered his ox bowing to a statue of the Virgin Mary in a field. The statue was removed, but it miraculously returned to the same spot the next day. Bon Encontre began as a small, local shrine. Local shrines in premodern Europe provided the average lay person with opportunities to visit religious sites and bring their spiritual needs to a religious figure, usually the Virgin Mary. The shrine fulfilled the religious, medical, and communal needs of the Catholic community.

The print produced from this woodblock, which was made in 1724, emphasizes the medical role of shrines in premodern society. This image contains ex-votos, usually small objects or images left at or hung on sacred sites as devotions, forms of remembrance, or signs of thanks for healing. They are usually wax replicas of body parts or other objects associated with pilgrims’ afflictions. This shows that pilgrims came to the shrine to offer up their sufferings and to ask the Virgin Mary for her healing intercession. Local shrines were often small; if one was popular enough, it could grow into a church and even stimulate growth of the surrounding town. Bon Encontre was one such place. It received royal patronage in the 1600s, when Marguerite of Valois, a queen of France, founded a royal chapel and monastery at the site. A basilica was built on the site in 1859. The town around the basilica today is called Bon Encontre after the shrine. It is likely that this town was built around the original chapel.

Tourism to shrines of medieval and early modern Europe helped to finance the sites. As pilgrimages grew, so did the tourism economy, which provided goods and services to cater to pilgrims’ needs. Religious objects such as prints from this woodblock were not just souvenirs, but objects to strengthen pilgrims’ faith and prayer life when they returned home. This type of memento could have been used as a devotional object. This is suggested by the prayer to Mary at the bottom of the print. It could be placed somewhere in the house where the person would pray daily.

This shrine has a connection to Marianist history. In the early 19th century, the founder of the Marianist sisters, Ad.le de Batz de Trenquell.on, wrote about visiting the shrine and how it was desecrated during the French Revolution.

In the process of researching this object, I noticed a gap in the historiographical record on local European shrines. The Bon Encontre shrine has a basilica associated with it and therefore is likely to have historical records on location. Even so, few scholarly works on the shrine at Bon Encontre are written in or translated to English. Bon Encontre has received next to no attention compared to shrines such as Lourdes, one of the most popular shrines in modern Europe. The lower visibility of other Catholic shrines in Europe may be a reason for gaps in their historiography.

Shrines are places of living history where Catholics can still interact with their faith just as people did 50 years ago or 500 years ago. Catholic shrines today are not just accounts in history books; they are meant to be holy places of pilgrimage

— Andrea Bryan is a 2019 graduate of the University of Dayton. She researched this woodblock for her term project in the archives course UDI 204, This is UD.

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