The caves of Saint-Antoine de Brive-la-Gaillarde: the little-known Lourdes Limousin

The caves of Saint-Antoine de Brive-la-Gaillarde: the little-known Lourdes Limousin

Unsuspected. This could be the way to describe the caves dedicated to the patron saint of Brive-la-Gaillarde, in Corrèze. This simple cave dug with bare hands during the Middle Ages is the most important pilgrimage center in the northwest of the Massif Central. Not far from the Camino de Santiago and the Lourdes sanctuary, pilgrims like to stop there. And for good reason, Fernando Martins de Bulhões, alias Saint Anthony of Padua, loved to recharge his batteries there and pray during his wanderings in Limousin. It is even said that the Virgin and Child Jesus appeared to him in September 1226!

A point of attraction in the heart of nature

This popular place of devotion which is home to a community of 6 Franciscan friars welcomes, every day of the year, tourists, the curious and the faithful in a 5 hectare green setting. In a calm atmosphere and far from the city, this sanctuary, relatively unknown to Corréziens, is made up of two parts: the caves themselves below the cliff to the south of the city center, and the very steep park in the upper part. , with its chapel, its monastic store, its hostelry managed by the local Franciscans and its Stations of the Cross overlooking the town.

Place of spirituality par excellence

A true religious landmark since the 13th century, the caves attract around 50,000 people each year. Beyond the lost objects, for which Saint Anthony of Padua is often invoked, pilgrims discover on site, through contact with the Franciscans, little-known aspects of the saint's life: his fraternity and simplicity. History tells that between 1226 and 1227, the famous preacher was named “Custode” (in French, local religious superior) of Limousin by Pope Gregory IX. His goal: to preach the Good News against the Cathars, a fundamentalist Catholic community in the south of France, deemed heretical. A major challenge for the Portuguese, who in moments of doubt liked to isolate himself in these caves. It is in this place that he witnesses an apparition of Mary. While the monks who accompanied him were starving, a woman went there to give them food. Despite heavy rain, she was not touched by a single drop of water. “The Virgin came to console me,” he wrote. This is how local devotion to Our Lady of Good Help was born. The Golden Legend also tells that the saint made a source of water appear by digging the rock. Many pilgrims go today to the 4 taps to collect it. A year after his death, on June 13, 1233, Antoine was celebrated there for the very first time. A century later, the caves became a major place of pilgrimage. A hermitage then a chapel were built above the cavities. In the 19th century, a monastery and a new church were built by the Franciscans. A Stations of the Cross will later be built.

Today, the monastery has been converted into a hotel for passing pilgrims, under the aegis of the Association of Friends of Saint Anthony. It offers rooms, meeting rooms and a store of monastic products.

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