Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:39-42)
The Visitation Sisters
The Visitation Chapel, constructed between 1723 and 1737, sits on the western edge of the Place de la République (Republic Square), the city center of Le Mans. It was here that Basil Moreau was ordained to the priesthood on August 12, 1821 by the then bishop of Le Mans, Monsignor Claude de la Myre-Mory.
The chapel was originally built to serve the adjoining convent of Visitation Sisters – an order of women religious founded in 1610 by Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Jane Frances de Chantal. A convent of Visitation sisters was established in Le Mans in 1634, but not installed on this site until ten years later. The convent and its chapel were designed by a religious of the Visitation: Sister Anne-Victoire Pillon (1664-1751). She had received permission from her bishop to spend a year outside the cloister in order to study the construction of other Visitation convents. Her design reveals a unique talent. The three oculi of the vault were probably painted by this Sister from Le Mans.
The chapel is in rococo style, rare in French religious architecture. The emblem of the Visitation order is present: the Sacred Heart of Jesus surrounded by the Crown of Thorns. Other symbols that speak of Visitation spirituality/history are present, including the words Vive Jésus and the initials SFS (Saint Francis de Sales), IHS (Iesus Homini Salvator: Jesus Savior of Humanity), and AM (Ave Maria). In addition to the chapel’s own masterful beauty, it contains notable works of art including numerous terracotta statues which date from the 16 th and 17 th centuries, a copy of a famous 19 th century Fra Bartolomeo which is preserved at the Louvre (The mystical marriage of Saint Catherine), a Virgin of Pity, painted by Lionel Royer (1852-1926), and a painting dated from 1754 by Jean Restout. At the time of the French Revolution, the Sisters were expelled from their convent and the buildings were used as a tribunal and as a prison, until 1991 and 2010 respectively (though the chapel was returned for liturgical use as early as 1804).
A “new” Visitation
The convent chapel reopened in 2016 after undergoing years of restoration. The other former convent buildings are also slated for extensive renovation and redevelopment.
On the exterior wall of the chapel, facing Republic Square, is a statue of Saint Scholastica (c. 480-542), sister of Saint Benedict. She consecrated her life to God and founded a monastery near Monte Cassino (Italy). Saint Scholastica is the patron saint of Le Mans, and as such, protected the city during the German occupation and subsequent liberation. The statue was made by André Bizette-Lindet in the 1950s.