Our Lady of Clery
In the legend of Saint Liphard de Meung, who lived in 550 AD, mention is made of the town of Clery, and of an oratory dedicated there to the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Clery.
In the year 1280, some laborers placed there a little statue of Our Lady, which they had one day met with under their ploughshare. This discovery made a sensation, and attracted the attention of the most illustrious noblemen of the time. Among these nobles, Simon de Melun, a great baron, who had accompanied King Saint Louis IX to Africa, and whom Philip the Fair elevated to the dignity of marshal of France, formed the intention of founding a collegiate church there, but death, which he gloriously met with at the siege of Courtray, prevented him from executing this pious project. It was his widow and son who made it their duty to accomplish.
After his victories in Flanders, Philip the Fair, who had prospered under the protection of Mary, was struck with the concourse of the faithful who repaired to Our Lady of Clery. He increased the number of the canons, and resolved to rebuild the church; but death, who defeats so many projects, religious as well as others, left him, in this respect, no other merit than his good intention.
The church, nevertheless, was begun in his reign, and continued, thanks to the munificence of his third son, Charles, Duke of Orleans. Philip of Valois, that noble prince, who said to his soldiers, in conquered countries, “Respect the churches!” caused that of Our Lady to be finished, which the English Salisbury pillaged during the celebrated siege of Orleans. King Louis XI, who would have new sleeves put to his old doublets, to wear them till they were threadbare, but who knew how to act his part as king, when he pleased, built the church of Clery. He donated to it 2,330 golden crowns, settled upon it great revenues, erected it into a royal chapel, and richly endowed its cannons.
This monument, the object of so many expenses, and so much care, was destroyed by a fire in 1472, as they had just finished covering it in. “The whole was set on fire and burnt,” says the chronicle of Louis XI; but the church was rebuilt anew under the inspection of the king’s secretary.
Louis XI, having recovered his health at Clery, and attributing his recovery to the Blessed Virgin, enriched its collegiate church with fresh donations, and had his tomb prepared in it. “He placed himself in it several times,” says one of his historians, “to see whether the place fitted his body, and was well proportioned to receive it after his death.” He was interred there, according to his desire. His wife, Charlotte of Savoy, was laid there near him sometime after.
The Calvinists, who no more respected the tombs of kings than the altars of saints, broke into pieces the statue of Louis XI, and violated his royal tomb for the sake of plunder. This tomb, reconstructed by King Louis XIII, was mutilated again during the Revolution, and restored by King Louis XVIII. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Clery, still reigns there, with the greatest fervor, in the ancient church of King Louis XI.