The Festival of Lights

The Festival of Lights

What do we celebrate on September 8th?

The first church in Fourvière to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary was built in 1168 but became extensively damaged during the religious wars that brought Catholics and Protestants into conflict (1562). On September 8th, 1643, the municipal councillors of the time (the provost of the merchants and the aldermen), went up to Fourvière to ask the Virgin Mary to protect the city from the bubonic plague which had spread into the area from the south of France. They vowed to repeat this pilgrimage if Lyon was spared the ravages of the disease. Thus, a procession in honour of the Virgin took place each September 8th thereafter.

A tradition born in the 19th century ...

In 1850, the religious authorities launched a competition for a statue to be created that would be erected atop the hill of Fourvière, overlooking the city. The sculptor Joseph-Hugues Fabisch won the commission and commenced work in his studio by the Saône.
The inauguration of the statue, initially scheduled for September 8th, 1852, was postponed to December 8th due to the Saône floods. When the day finally came, it seemed that stormy weather would again thwart the celebrations and the religious authorities were poised to cancel the inauguration. Miraculously, however, the sky cleared ... Spontaneously, the Lyonnais placed lighted candles in their windows and flocked into the streets. As night fell, the entire city was transformed by light. The religious authorities followed suit and the chapel of Fourvière gleamed radiant in the night.

That evening, a festival was born!

Every year since then, on December 8th, the people of Lyon have placed candles in their windows and roamed the streets of the city to admire exceptional light installations.

Recent developments…

In 1989, the Lyon city authorities expanded the event so that rivers and hills, neighbourhoods and roads throughout the entire city added to the illuminated majesty. Since 1999, this Fête des Lumières has taken place over a period of four days. During this time, several million people will walk around the city.