In Vendeville, a sanctuary dedicated to Saint Rita

In Vendeville, a sanctuary dedicated to Saint Rita

Classified as a sanctuary city last September, Vendeville, whose church houses a relic of the patron saint of desperate causes, has seen a jump in the number of pilgrims.

On this April morning, a few silhouettes cross paths in front of the church in Vendeville, a small northern town of 1,700 souls. With short hair and an elegant red scarf tied around her neck, Cindy Carpentier accompanies her mother, clearly feverish. The two women from Tournai, Belgium, travel whenever they can “to this special place”. Because the church of Vendeville, a discreet town in the Lille metropolis adjacent to the A1 motorway, houses a sacred treasure: a relic of Saint Rita, the patroness of desperate causes.

In 1930, under the ministry of Abbot Henri Dumortier, the city church was offered a relic of the saint – a small piece of bone – by the basilica of Cascia, in Umbria (Italy), where she has been resting since her death in 1457. Since then, Vendeville has worshiped her and many pilgrims come to invoke her to ask for the healing of a loved one or for support during a difficult time in their lives. On September 21, 2023, the destiny of the town changed: it obtained the classification of sanctuary city, in the same way as Lourdes, Mont-Saint-Michel and around twenty other sites.

Popular fervor

“We lost family to a hereditary illness, and my husband in an accident, Saint Rita helped us a lot in these difficult times. For us, coming here is really important,” confides Cindy Carpentier. A feeling shared by Danielle, a sixty-year-old from Lens (Pas-de-Calais), who travels around forty kilometers once a month to rely on Saint Rita. “She did a lot for us in the face of illness. I now feel the need to show him my gratitude. »

The town hall, supported by the Seclin-Mélantois tourist office, on which the commune depends, submitted Vendeville's application to join the network of sanctuary cities. “We have thus become the little thumb among the big ones,” jokes Father Roussel, priest of the Saint-Eubert church, met in his large office with paneled walls. The rector of the Vendeville sanctuary is pleased to welcome “each year, nearly 120,000 pilgrims”.

An attendance which is expected to grow further in the years to come. Since its classification as a sanctuary city seven months ago, the town has observed “a 40% increase in the number of pilgrims,” says Paul Dumortier, director of the tourist office. The number of candles or tapers used during masses continues to grow, the parking lots are filling up visibly and the city's businesses are seeing their attendance swell. “The sanctuary city effect is undeniable. We are receiving more and more pilgrims and some of them do not hesitate to come from far away,” assures Sophie Sion, manager of the flower shop adjoining the church.

New businesses

A small town with no more than five restaurants, a bar and a florist. Ludovic Proisy, the mayor, intends to raise this issue. Fitted blue jacket, tight jeans and sneakers, the man with the look of a dynamic executive receives calmly in his office. Elected in 2020, he intends to take advantage of the attraction of Saint Rita to develop his town. “By 2026, we plan to transform the church square to better accommodate pilgrims. We are also planning the opening of four or five businesses near the church,” continues the councilor, who does not intend to carry out his action alone. “I am also holding discussions with the European Metropolis of Lille (MEL) to review urban planning in the face of the influx of pilgrims in the years to come. »

Because there is no time to lose. “In 2024 alone, we could accommodate 180,000,” anticipates Ludovic Proisy. For its part, the Seclin-Mélantois tourist office has already called for mobilization. The objective: to give more visibility to Vendeville by integrating it into spiritual tourism routes. “We work with tour operators and agencies specializing in pilgrimages,” says Paul Dumortier. The other sanctuary cities share their experience with us so that we can permanently point Vendeville on a map. » Lisieux, Vézelay, Rocamadour… the city has something to learn from.

Recipes for success

  • Easy access Although the village of Vendeville is devoid of hotel establishments, it is located within the Lille metropolis, rich in offers for overnight stays. Furthermore, Vendeville is easily reached by public transport from Lille and Lesquin airport.
  • An exceptional monument Consecrated in 1866, the Saint-Eubert church is a carefully preserved architectural gem. It houses thousands of ex-votos dedicated to its saint.
  • Many meetings During the year, the pilgrimage is marked by several events: first, the Easter feast, then the great novena, from May 14 to 22, the feast of Saint Rita with its famous blessing of roses.

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