I went to Ars at the beginning of September this year with a friend from Allen Hall. Ars is a popular place of pilgrimage for priests and seminarians; St. Jean Marie Vianney, the famous “Cure d”Ars”, is the patron saint of all priests. I’d never been before but decided to go on recommendations from friends. A few of them, however, as much as they would recommend Ars, would always add, with a look of genuine recoil, that Ars is not that beautiful a place. I don’t know where these people usually go on holiday/retreat, but I had images of a dank wasteland in mind. On arrival I was therefore pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t like Annecy where I had spent a few days before, with ice-capped mountains and pure watered lakes, but compared to life on the King’s Road, Ars was wonderfully quiet, and had real countryside. Throw in some Catholic stuff too, and I was laughing – or praying, as the case may be.
We were there for three full days. South-east France has a very rich Catholic tradition, as we soon discovered. The first day was spent in Cluny and Paray le Monial, which were about an hours drive from Ars. Cluny, the location of an ancient monastery now largely destroyed, was surprisingly pleasant. I say surprisingly because other guests we spoke to at the quiet, comfortable, and reasonably priced Foyer Sacerdotal, said that there was no life there. True, there is no religious community as in Paray le Monial, but it is certainly worth a visit, as well as the 10 euro entrance fee to get into the monastery. Paray, the small town of the Sacred Heart apparitions, certainly did not disappoint either.
The next day was spent in Lyon, which was about a 30 minutes drive from Ars. We spent a good day there too, trying to find a place to park, traversing the steep streets, visiting Notre-Dame-de-Fourviere and Cathedral St. Jean Baptiste, and having a long coffee overlooking the city. I didn’t find Lyon’s sky line particularly attractive actually, but it has enough beautiful churches to keep one going for the day. The restaurants are good there too, albeit expensive, I’m told!
The next day was spent in Ars looking around the points of interest such as the famous statue of St. Jean Marie Vianney with the little boy he met on the way to Ars (see photo above). We saw his house, and his terrifying daily schedule; the chapel of his miraculous incorrupt heart; the Basilica of St. Jean Marie Vianney, and his shrine where he lays miraculously incorrupt. There are a couple of shops selling some decent religious items – I picked up a nice little statuette of St. Vianney kneeling in prayer. There is a very young community of religious sisters there too, which is very encouraging.
Ars is tiny, don’t get me wrong. Less than a day in Ars and you have seen and ‘done’ everything. But Ars is never going to be a place to explore in that respect. It should be an ideal place for Allen Hall to retreat to after Easter.