Friday, August 15, 2008

The Assumption

August 15 is a legal holiday in France. Most of my French friends just call it "le quinze août," which to me sounds like le canzoot. It seems as though anyone who is taking an August vacation -- which is most of Paris -- is out of town for the long weekend. The streets are quiet. Officially the holiday -- the holy day -- is the Feast of the Assumption. Several of my French pals confuse l'Ascension, which is in May, and l'Assomption, which is today. So I don't feel like I'm a total doofus if they -- born French and baptized Catholic -- can get mixed-up about the two days. To them those days are simply jours feriés to plan vacations around.

But in the 7e arrondissement, which has no shortage of churches, chapels, and convents, I discovered that le 15 août is a day of major importance.

This morning on rue de Babylone I saw a crowd clogging the sidewalk. "Oh, just another group of tourists," I assumed at first. But when I reached rue du Bac, I realized that I'd seen just the tip of the iceberg. Throngs of religious pilgrims were waiting in line to go to mass at Notre Dame de la Medaille Miraculeuse.

I've been inside the Chapel once. A French guy whom I dated long ago had told me about it and joked, "I go into the Chapel every day after lunch to pray for the miracle -- that Polly will tomber amoureuse de moi." I later discovered that he used that line on all American women.

Curious, though, I visited the chapelle one day. Even the most skeptical or Protestant visitor has to be impressed by the devotion of those who have made the pilgrimage.

I was born and raised Episcopalian, and we're so... figurative. On the whole, we don't go for the whole transubstantiation/miracle message. I'm not even that good an Episcopalian, but I think we like the idea of a modern-day miracle, but just need more scientific proof in the here-and-now, I guess. My personal take on miracles and other huge leaps of faith is this: it may not specifically help, but it sure can't hurt; so go ahead and believe.
Which is why, for example, the night before French exams I used to sleep with the slim Bescherelle's L'Art de conjuguer 12000 verbes under my pillow. Who knew? It couldn't hurt.

So, I was actually quite moved by the notion of the miraculous medal. I'm honestly trying to say this without sounding coy. Someone has to believe, and I'm genuinely glad that there are so many fellow human beings who believe in miracles for me. The sweet nuns at the chapel said they would bless your medal if you bought one. American to the core ("let's buy in bulk!"), I bought a whole bag of medals and got them blessed.

I distribute the medals to friends who are in need, I drop them in sidewalk beggars' cups, I pack one in each piece of checked luggage. They're useful in many ways.

Who knows? What do I know?
It may or may not help, but it sure can't hurt.


Anonymous said...

Hi Polly, that is one cool post. You did not sound coy. I'm a Catholic convert (1990) and I wear the miraculous medal everday. Mine has a lovely gold edge around it. I believe it really happened, and I hope to visit the chapel someday. Two of my friends have and brought me medals from there.~~Dee

Gypsy at Heart said...

Absolutely. I carry a little religious stamp that my godmother gave to me years ago. It shows the infant Jesus of Prague. When she placed it in my hand, she prayed it would protect me. Many years later, I've discovered that in spite of my faithlessness, it is still doing my Godmother's will.

Lovely post. Glad I followed you over from David Lebovitz. With a clever name like Polly-vous francais? You were too irresistible not to check out.

blueVicar said...


Meilleurs voeux!!

Polly-Vous Francais said...

I simply adore these medals. Sorry the photo makes them look like insects!

Dee, I hope you get to visit the chapel some day. It really is inspirational.

Gypsy, thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you like the name! I wish I could claim that "Polly-Vous Francais" was the product of my clever adult mind, but it was actually the result of my confused 5-year-old mind.

Here's the explanation on one of my first blog posts

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