Our Lady of Pontoise, France (12th Century)
Pontoise is an old town built around a bridge across the Oise; and its shrine dates from before the 13th century, as is evidenced by a charter of donation from the year 1231. Our Lady of Pontoise is about seven leagues from Paris. This image, which is set up on the front of the church of the suburb of this town, on the side of Rouen, is celebrated for the many miracles which are wrought there.
The statue of Our Lady of Pontoise is of marble, and stands over 6 feet in height. The Madonna wears a short veil and a dress with long tight sleeves. Our Lady’s face is framed by her hair. The Divine Child lays His hands on an orb that His mother holds in her hand.
The statue was, according to tradition, carved by a pious youth in the quarry at Blangis, near Abbeville and brought to Pontoise. In 1226 the Archbishop of Rouen dedicated a chapel there, and in 1249 it was made a parish church, and the statue was placed outside, over the main entrance. The church was visited by the saint-king, Louis IX; though it did not figure greatly in history until after 1431 when it was destroyed by the English.
From this time on, the shrine had a violent history. The English, who were at that time still militantly Catholic, determined to rebuild the shrine they had destroyed. It was partly finished when the French reconquered the territory. They finished the rebuilding in 1484.
During the years of 1580 and 1650, when the plague was destroying the country, people flocked to Our Lady of Pontoise and the danger was averted. Again in 1849 a cholera epidemic was averted through her intercession, so that the shrine had the name of being powerful against plagues.
In Reformation times a devout Protestant tried to steal the statue and failing that, knocked off the head of the Infant and threw it into the river. A fisherman had spread his nets just below the bridge and the severed head was saved and returned to the statue.
In 1585 the church was destroyed again by the English; in 1790 by the revolutionaries. Each time the statue was saved and returned; the last time by a man who bid on it at an auction and kept it in his garden until the troubled days were over. The church was rebuilt in 1800 and a century later was still extant; the yearly thanksgiving procession for Our Lady’s protection from the plague was held annually. Replicas of the statue were placed over many doorways of the city after the plague of 1640, and some are still there.