|The Virgin of the Line-Out|
In a small Gascon village called Larrivière, which lies in French rugby's heartland, called the "Ovalie" (in reference to rugby's oval ball), is the small church of Notre Dame du Rugby. This tiny chapel dating from the late Roman period, which was originally the sacristy for the now demolished old parish church of St Savin, is both a shrine to Our Lady and to the game of rugby. Needless to say, many devotees of both the Mother of God and the "game played in Heaven" have been visiting Notre Dame du Rugby throughout the World Cup, offering prayers and sacrifices for a French win. And it seems that the prayers have been working, for the fact that France has made it to the World Cup final is quite miraculous in itself!
The world's only ecclesiastical shrine to rugby was conceived by Father Michel Devert, who was a priest at Dax when three of the town's rugby players were killed in a car crash in 1964. Having heard of the stained-glass window that had been dedicated to the seven Manchester United players killed in the 1958 Munich air disaster, Devert decided it would be appropriate to dedicate a chapel in memory of the three young local rugby players who had tragically lost their lives. He also intended Notre Dame du Rugby to become a place of pilgrimage for those who had suffered injuries or for those who had lost friends or relatives as a result of playing the sometimes dangerous game of rugby. The shrine is also a place where many visit to ask the Mother of God to protect rugby players from harm.
|The Chapel of Notre Dame du Rugby|
According to the NZ Herald, Fr Lavigne celebrated a special Mass at Notre Dame du Rugby before the 2011 Rugby World Cup. The priest told the newspaper that those present at the Mass, "prayed for fair play, quality play and friendship in three languages, English, French and Spanish." He added, "The sermon was given by a priest from Cameroon who plays rugby. He prayed for the Southern Hemisphere sides in the tournament. And at the end we declared the tournament open."
Bizarrely, the NZ Herald also reports that: "[t]hree hundred kilometres northeast of Larriviere, at the basilica of Notre-Dame-de-Rocamadour, is La Chapelle de l'Ovalie, literally the chapel of the oval ball. The chapel is tucked away in a sanctuary that claims miracles performed by the Virgin Mary. More than a million pilgrims visit it each year." The priest in charge of this basilica, Fr Ronan de Gouvello, is reported as saying, "Nobody believes us that the consecration was a coincidence, but it is true. In fact we were sure [the French team] wouldn't make it to the final." He went on to say, "Actually, when we saw the match on Saturday we realised that we would need prayers to win the cup. So everybody was listening on Sunday when the bishop gave the sermon on spirituality and rugby."
|A shrine Our Lady and to that game played in Heaven|
Last week, I mentioned that I had prayed for St David 's intercession on behalf of Wales during that team's game against France. Sadly, Wales lost by only a point. One wonders, though, whether the Welsh team would have won if more supporters were willing to light candles and pray for its success? From reading about the French devotion to Our Lady of Rugby, it seems that prayer really has been helping Les Bleus! I think it fair to say that the best side did not win last week's semi-final game - but, is it fair to say that Wales lost due to lack of faith?
May the game played in Heaven go from strength to strength!
Our Lady of Rugby, pray for us
Notre Dame du Rugby, priez pour nous
Ein Harglwyddes o Rygbi, gweddia drosom ni
[Images: all images can be found on a special page on the International Marian Research Institute (University of Dayton) website, which also contains additional links]