Nearly 50% of French claim to be Catholic. Even though the secularization of society is progressing every year, there are many amazing France pilgrimage sites that have been built in the previous centuries.
Pilgrims travel to France to pray in the churches, to heal in the miraculous water of Lourdes and to start the famous Camino de Santiago route.
One of the most important sacral buildings in the country, the Notre Dame cathedral has been partially destroyed because of the fire in April 2019. It’s currently closed for visitors. Hopefully, it will be open again in 2024.
Here’s a map of France pilgrimage sites that you can find in this post:
Let’s start with one of the most important sites for Catholics not only in France but in the world in general.
In the 19th century, just 4 years after the doctrine of immaculate conception was defined by Pope Pius IX, a peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous saw Virgin Mary who confirmed she had no original sin.
She asked Bernadette to tell people about the miraculous spring in the Massabielle grotto. Since that time, over 7,000 people claimed to be healed after washing or drinking this water.
Located 50 miles southwest of Paris, the Chartres Cathedral, also known as Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Chartres/Cathedral of our Lady in Chartres, is also another pilgrimage site in France that you should visit. It was built and inspired by Gothic architecture.
Inside the cathedral, you can see dramatic columns standing tall towards the high arches of its ceiling, and medieval stained glass windows giving its interior a splash of color while showing Christ’s life. The cathedral’s exterior is also as breathtaking as its insides where you can see statues depicting various scenes from the Old Testament and the North Testament.
Aside from its structure, another reason why Chartres Cathedral is one of the best pilgrimage sites in France is because of Sancta Camisa, the sacred tunic, that you can find here. The Sancta Camisa or Veil of the Virgin which was a gift from Charles the Bald in 876 served as the cathedral’s relic which captured the attention of a lot of Marian devotees around the world.
Since the Middle Ages, a lot of Marian pilgrimage is held in Chartres Cathedral because many believed that the veil was used by the Virgin Mary when she gave birth to Christ in Jerusalem.
If you want to visit this cathedral, Chartres is a city in North-Central France which is linked to Paris by the regional line of trains. The approximate travel time from Paris to Chartres is 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Once you arrive in Chartres, take the exit to Place Pierre Semard which will lead you to the cathedral. After paying a visit, you can also explore the Loire Valley
St. Jean Pied de Port
St.Jean Pied de Port is a small town in the Pyrenees on the border with Spain. It’s been an important place of European pilgrimage for many centuries.
Pilgrims coming from France, Germany, the Netherlands, and other European countries walk through the town on their way to Santiago. The main reason St.Jean Pied de Port became an important pilgrimage place is its proximity to the Roncesvalles Pass. The pass has been used for centuries to cross the Pyrenees.
For many pilgrims, St.Jean is the starting point of the Camino Frances, one of the most popular pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Thousands of people arrive here every year to start a 700km journey across Northern Spain to the tomb of Apostle St. James.
Everything in the town is about the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage spirit is everywhere from the information office to restaurants and souvenir shops. Traditionally before starting the long journey to Santiago de Compostela pilgrims attend the Pilgrim’s Mass at a small Gothic church Notre-Dame-du-Bout-du-Pont.
The town is located in the picturesque valley surrounded by mountains and emerald-green fields. It’s an interesting place to visit even for those who aren’t planning to go on a pilgrimage.
The first walking day on the Camino over the Pyrenees from St.Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles is a real challenge. It’s considered to be the toughest day on the route due to the very long and steep ascent, 1400m up. Many pilgrims prefer to walk it over two days.
There are two ways of getting to St.James from Barcelona and from Paris. From Barcelona take a bus to Pamplona and from there another bus to St.Jean. From Paris take a train to Bayonne and from there another train to St.Jean Pied de Port. You can book your journey on Omio.
The second most important France pilgrimage site, after Lourdes, Lisieux is where The Little Flower of Jesus (Thérèse of Lisieux) has been living.
She was famous for being straightforward and explaining the complicated truths of faith in a very simple, even childish way. Even though she died at the age of 24, with little education, she has become a doctor of the church.
The pilgrims from all over the world travel to Lisieux to pray to The Little Flower’s relics in the Basilica of St. Thérèse in Lisieux.
Over the centuries, pilgrims have been making the long trek to Rocamadour from all over Europe to experience the healing powers of the shrine.
As you enter the village you will come to a steep staircase called the Grand Escalier that leads you upward through a series of chapels, churches, and sacred sites. It has been said that pilgrims of the middle ages would have climbed all 216 steps on their knees.
The sacred Shrine of Rocamadour eventually became so well known that even kings would make the pilgrimage so that they too could reap the benefits of the shrine’s healing powers. All of the religious buildings including the famous shrine are open to visitors. Once you have made it up the stairs and passed the sacred sites, you can continue to the very top of the cliff where you will reach the castle as well as a beautiful view of the surrounding valley.
Today, Rocamadour remains an important France pilgrimage site but it also attracts tourists from all over the world for its fascinating history and spectacular views.
Rocamadour is best reached by car from Toulouse which takes 2 hours. Otherwise, you can drive from Bordeaux which takes just under 3 hours.
Nestled high in the hills of the Vosges mountains in the Alsace region of France is Mont Sainte-Odile.
It’s a beautiful but solitary place sounded by tall trees and dark forests forest of the region. Set in an awe-inspiring location, perched on a sheer cliff face. Just the sort of place for a saint to be buried. Odile was blind but regained her eyesight after Saint Erhard of Regensburg baptized her, thus bringing her eyesight back.
Her father tried to marry her off and Odile escaped into the mountains being chased by her father. A cliff face opened up to protect her and her father then agreed to build her monastery in this position.
The Monastery was originally built sometime in the early 7th century, but has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the years. Visit the tomb of St Odile, the Chapel of Tears, and the Chapel of Angels. A
walk along the cliff face provides inspiring views looking north towards Strasbourg and south towards Colmar. Today there is a Church, chapels, hotels, cafe and gift shop. Mont Sainte Odile is one of the most beautiful spots in all of the Alsace to visit.
Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur, Montmartre
Talk about pilgrimage, there are two places in Paris that first come to mind – Notre-dame (of course), and the other one, is the Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre.
“Mont”, in French, means a mountain. The Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur is a white cathedral stand stop of that mountain and its iconic architectural silhouette could be seen from a lot of places in the city from different angles.
Compared with a lot of historic heritage sites in Paris, the basilica is actually very new. It is a Roman Catholic church that inaugurated as a political and cultural monument of the adoration of the Holy Eucharist. The site was officially completed in 1914, 25 years after the completion of the Eiffel Tower.
With only 130 meters in height, Montmartre is fairly accessible to worldwide tourists; it’s a great place to kick start your pilgrimage in France.
Appreciate the grand interior, pipe organ, bells, and more; but don’t miss out on taking a short walk up the staircase, or riding the funicular, to reach the open space right in front of the Cathedral.
It is one of the best viewpoints in Paris due to the direction of where the church is facing. You will have a panoramic view of the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame and beyond.
Vèzelay Abbey is among the most significant religious places in France. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Vèzelay is located in Burgundy, central France and dates back to the 9th century.
Although Vèzelay has long been a significant Benedictine monastery, it’s the history here that you’ll find most intriguing. In the early 11th century, the abbey monks began claiming that relics of Mary Magdalene herself had been discovered in a nearby church, and pilgrims flocked to Vèzelay in their thousands.
It was so important that Richard the Lionheart spent several months there in the 13th century, mustering his forces for the Third Crusade, and it was also a key staging post for pilgrims traveling through France to Santiago de Compostela on the Camino de Santiago.
In the 13th century, a church in Provence staked a much stronger claim to holding Mary Magdalene’s relics, and Vèzelay Abbey slowly fell out of favor. These days it stands on a tall hill, surrounded by the small town of Vèzelay.
The architecture is fantastic, with incredible Romanesque facades and a beautiful Gothic extension inside as well. There’s also a famous sculpture on the tympanum; Christ spreading the gospel on the Pentecostal Mission, where the Last Judgement would normally be shown – quite a political statement!
Unless you’re on a pilgrimage, accessing Vèzelay can be a little tricky. There’s no train station in town, so you’ll need to alight at Sermizelles and catch a connecting bus. Or you could hop off the train at Avallon and grab a taxi the rest of the way.
Traveling by car, Vèzelay is just off the A6 motorway between Paris and Beaune. Cars aren’t permitted in the center of town, so you’ll need to park outside the walls and walk up. Don’t worry about getting lost – as long as you’re climbing uphill, you’re heading towards the Abbey!
Are you looking for an authentic French village on your way to Santiago de Compostela? Conques will be the perfect stop!
Located on the Camino de Compostela that goes from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago, Conques is one of the cutest villages you will get to see in France.
This medieval village has loads to offer, but the most famous attraction is the Abbey Church of Sainte-Foy. This beautiful example of romanesque architecture is mainly known for being home to the relics of Saint Faith (Sainte Foy). The relics were brought to Conques in 883. Since then, it became one of the main stops for pilgrims in France.
Inside the abbey, you can see the treasures with the statue of Sainte-Foy and many medieval goldsmiths.
Outside, you can admire the tympanum. The doorway carvings are absolutely beautiful and will blow your mind! The Abbey was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1998.
Conques is a very cute and authentic place, you will love wandering the streets and discovering the local shops and bakeries. Don’t hesitate to go for a meal in one of the local restaurants. You will get a chance to discover the “cuisine du terroir” and typical dishes from southwest France. Duck confit, cassoulet, foie gras… a real treat for food lovers!
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