We, Srs. Brid and Noelle, recently visited Annecy and all the places associated with this very human and gentle patron of the Salesian family. Our visit surpassed our expectations in many ways and has left us with precious and inspirational memories.
Annecy, is located on the shores of Lake Annecy 26 miles from Geneva, at the foot of the Jura Mountains. With glorious weather and sunshine all the way we were able to experience at its best the town which has retained an old world rustic charm making it easy to feel transported back to the seventeenth century.
We were amazed at the number of places associated with Francis de Sales that have remained relatively intact despite two World Wars. Among them,
The Gallery House, the ‘cradle’ of the Visitation Sisters founded by Francis and Jane de Chantal. This place has preserved almost intact the aspect it had on the evening of 6 June 1610, when Jeanne de Chantal, Jacqueline Favre and Charlotte de Bechard, led by the three brothers of Francis de Sales, came into their house in the Rue de la Providence for the first time. Here we saw the ‘Conference garden’ where St. Francis used to come to speak to the Sisters and whose words they gathered together into the ‘Conferences of St. Francis’
The Church of St. Francis de Sales. In 1612 the first community of the Visitation Sisters left the Gallery House to come here. It is now the Church of the Italian colony and seems to ooze a Salesian atmosphere. The relics of St. Francis and St. Jane de Chantal were venerated here until the French Revolution and it now has a statue of Don Bosco in the sanctuary.
The Basilica of the Visitation. In 1911 the Visitation Sisters moved to their new location here on the hill that towers high above the village of Annecy. The basilica was built here in honour of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal whose relics were transferred here with great solemnity having being moved to different locations during the French Revolution.
Outside the main door of the Basilica to the right is a museum with reliquaries containing effigies of Sts. Francis and Jane, objects that belonged to them, even Jane de Chantal's patched habit! The Visitation Sisters Monastery adjoins the basilica.
Other places associated with Francis and Jane de Chantal, such as the Convent and Chapel of the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Church of Notre Dame de Liesse (Our Lady of Joy), the Church of Saint Maurice, the Palais de l'Isle, the Castle, St. Peter's Cathedral, the House of President Anthony Favre, Lambert House… each with their own story to tell and moment of recognition and inspiration.
It was in many ways a pilgrimage, and inspired in us the desire to study the life and imbibe the spirit of St. Francis de Sales as Don Bosco would have wished. Finding ourselves here seemed to cause centuries to collapse and his spirit to be tangible and alive today. We asked ourselves, "Was I transported back in time or was Francis de Sales transported forward for me in his enduring relevance for all times?"
For those who are interested there is a beautiful song on YouTube "Love Eternal", based on St. Francis words from "A Treatise on the Love of God".