“Religious vagrancy had no intensity under the Empire. In 1873, we had seen many pilgrims. They were tolerated and we did well because, in 1874, we no longer speak of these manifestations, despite the combined efforts of the General Council of Pilgrimages and a special body, The pelerin , to warm up the zeal of the faithful. We decided to abandon the more or less miraculous caves to their natural solitude. »
What we read in the article Pèlerinage of the 1874 edition of The great Larousse encyclopedia testifies, in addition to the anticlericalism of its editor, Pierre Larousse, to the first steps of Pilgrim of today. Which, one could imagine, does not bear this name quite by chance. The severe defeat of 1870, the trauma of the Paris Commune and, at least for Catholics, the capture of Rome by the Italians – making the Pope, at that time, a sort of “prisoner” of the Vatican -, were largely felt in France as the punishment of national faults, the consequence of a large abandonment of the traditional faith. From where a spectacular movement of collective expiation: public prayers and pilgrimages in the multiple sanctuaries of the country… One hundred and fifty parliamentarians will support, on June 29, 1873, the consecration of France to the Sacred Heart that the senator of Belcastel pronounces in Paray-le-Monial.
The National Assembly, where a rather monarchist majority sits, will even declare the construction of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the hill of Montmartre, in Paris, of public utility, barely two weeks after the launch of the Pilgrim July 12, 1873, and at the time when the first National Pilgrimage launched by the Assumptionist religious was taking place in Lourdes… The revival of pilgrimages is indeed part of the ambition of re-evangelization and affirmation of Catholics public, which animates this very young congregation.
It is to “work for the salvation of France” that the Parisian Assumptionists created, in January 1872, an association which will be the matrix of many spiritual and social works. They baptize her Our Lady of Salvation.”
The workshop and the writing are housed in the premises of the Assumptionist community, 8 rue François-Ier. The main editor is also an Assumptionist, Father Germer-Durand, helped for a moment by a layman, Mr. Gondry du Jardinet, and a priest, Abbé Tilloy, chaplain of the Lycée Descartes. The initial ambition is therefore limited to accompanying the pilgrimages, and particularly the brand new National Pilgrimage, with the aim of saving France: “We obey the two noblest sentiments which dominate all human life, writes Abbé Tilloy in the first number: love of the Church and love of France, faith and patriotism. »
But four years later, the first Pilgrim is dying: even if the pilgrimages, in particular to Lourdes, remain active, the political climate has changed and there are no more than four hundred subscribers to the pilgrimage bulletin. It is time, as Fr. Vincent de Paul Bailly would say, to give it “a new coat”.
The man who was to inaugurate a new style of Catholic press, develop Le Pèlerin, then launch the daily La Croix in 1883 and lay the foundations of a company – La Maison de la Bonne Presse, now known as Bayard – was a man extraordinary. With a scientific and technical background, Father Bailly was Napoleon III’s personal telegraph operator before becoming a religious. He is also very attentive to the working classes, whom he rubbed shoulders with as a military chaplain in 1870: he was in Metz during the famous surrender of Marshal Bazaine, then lived again with the soldiers in Mainz in a prison camp. Struck by the popular dechristianization, of which he became aware on this occasion, he returned to Paris, to his religious community, the very day of the outbreak of the Commune. It is therefore not necessary to look very far for his idea of using the popular newspapers, in full expansion, as a means of reaching the workers at home and evangelizing.
His project ? He described it a posteriori, in 1888: “It was unconsciously that in 1877, a small humorous Catholic newspaper, Le Pèlerin, was launched in the press, which contrasted with the serious and somewhat stiff manners of the pious sheets of the time and the daily newspapers. The people knew little about the Catholic daily press, which was too masterful for them, sparsely sprinkled with various facts of life, accidents, inventions. The Pilgrim, breaking with tradition, told sometimes trivial anecdotes, but always accompanied by a touch of truth, borrowed from the spirit of faith. » He had been more direct with his superior general, Fr. d’Alzon, founder of the Assumptionist congregation: « We must create an interesting Catholic organ. The Weeks (The Religious Weeks, official diocesan bulletins, editor’s note) and other Catholic newspapers are very boring. »
A new Pilgrim four years later
It is therefore a new newspaper which appears on Saturday January 6, 1877. It no longer has anything to do with that of 1873. The first page is still very severe, but next to the mention “New series”, the numbering changes and starts again at number 1. This does not prevent also displaying “5th year”, to clearly mark the filiation. Father Bailly, as we have seen, understood what must be done to capture the interest of a popular audience, and he did his best to do so, announcing from the outset the use of illustration because “the preaching to the eyes is powerful”.
But the result is not for everyone. In his own congregation, one finds inappropriate the recourse to various facts and the fantasy of certain published information, unworthy of a religious congregation. However, if Fr. d’Alzon notes that “Le Pèlerin pleases because he gives in the zozo genre”, he nevertheless supports Fr. Bailly, who also knows how to slip into his pages the spiritual and reflective elements that are in fact the raison d’être of the newspaper. “Too many drawings and miscellaneous facts,” growls Fr. Picard, who will soon succeed the founder at the head of the congregation; “You have to be people to be read,” replies Father Bailly, who will no doubt have appreciated the little congratulatory card sent to him by the Occitan writer Frédéric Mistral “for the spirit, for the ” from Journal. He is apparently not the only one to appreciate since it turns out that the wife of the President of the Republic, Maréchale de Mac-Mahon, and that of the President of the Council, Mrs. Dufaure, are among the subscribers! We must take advantage of this because their successors, lay anticlericals, will quickly become the favorite adversaries of Father Bailly.
In the meantime, writing and producing Le Pèlerin is no easy task when you don’t have a craftsman. Gabriel Strous, who was secretary to Father Bailly before becoming, for almost fifty years, editorial secretary at La Croix, speaks of a Pèlerin written “in a cell in rue François-Ier, a poor Pèlerin, made of clichés, bought at a discount and almost begging”, around which Vincent de Paul Bailly wrote a story relating to them, since he had promised not to use them as simple illustrations without a precise relationship to the text. A huge job. Writing to his brother Emmanuel, also an Assumptionist, Vincent de Paul Bailly solicits articles from his colleagues because, he says, “we need variety”.
Unfortunately, these are more accustomed to long scholarly texts than to the brevity and spirited style of the popular press. So it is he who provides, writing almost alone most of his diary. This perhaps explaining that, the success is fairly quickly at the rendezvous. In eighteen months, Le Pèlerin could count on eighteen thousand subscribers and probably around forty thousand in June 1883. The readers of Le Pèlerin, who were offered a subscription coupled with La Croix launched by the same Bailly, still penniless, were the only starting point from which the adventure of the Catholic daily began. The first subscribers to La Croix were almost all subscribers to Le Pèlerin.
“We will learn to love the saints better by looking at their images”
At this time, the weekly has already changed a lot. Under the headline of the newspaper, which occupies half of the front page, the statue of Our Lady of Salvation occupies all the space in the foreground, installed on a globe in front of which are arranged the insignia of the papacy. To the left and right, in the background, crowds enter Jerusalem and St. Peter’s in Rome. The great loyalties and the great impulses of the Pilgrim are there.
After L’Almanach du Pèlerin, created in 1879, and which sold hundreds of thousands of copies each year for decades, the success of a small section entitled “Fleur de saint” led to the creation in 1880 of a a small four-page supplement – La vie des saints – which, “for two cents a month”, was added to the weekly. In 1897, Father Bailly would proclaim, The Pilgrim is an adult. He is twenty years old, at least in his “new series”. For the first time – and it is among the very first if not the first in France – the Catholic weekly appeared with a color cover, which required investing in a state-of-the-art rotary press.
The story of the Pilgrim does not stop there, of course, since it runs right up to us, one hundred and forty years later. But it’s another story, sometimes turbulent, more often peaceful, which testifies over the years to remarkable adaptability, so much the world and its own readers have changed, decade after decade. Father Vincent de Paul Bailly had dreamed of it, since in an article from the last years of the 19th century, he had mentioned his centenary Pilgrim. He is still there, faithful to his heritage, and much older than imagined.