Researching this beautifully executed bronze art medal introduced me to yet another centuries-old Marian devotion, this one in Lille, France. I cannot promise 100% accuracy: all detailed information, which I cannot validate, was in French, so I could only interpret the generally poor results produced by popular Internet translation tools. Before I present the lengthy historical and religious saga, let me first describe this fascinating and beautiful medallion.
On the face is a very ancient rendering of Mary and the Christ Child that is probably pagan in origin. I say that because our Lady's open legs and seated stance resemble another pagan representation found in Chartres Cathedral. Likewise, her bosom is ample and her countenance is that of a no-nonsense, purposeful woman holding her child and fleur-de-lis scepter with great strength.
She is seated atop a platform adorned with the fleur-de-lis from the city of Lille's crest, what I believe are the keys to the city, and what is likely the crest of the bishopric or diocese of Lille. Note the cross-hatched design behind the emblems that resembles a trellis. The inscription around the coin edge identifies this formidable Madonna as "N.D. de la Treille, Patronne de Lille."
In tiny letters at the bottom the medal is signed "A. Lecomte a Lille," no doubt the medalist who designed this outstanding commemorative while in Lille. The best reference I can find is for (Jean-Jules) Antoine Lecomte du Nouy, a French painter and sculptor who lived from 1842 to 1923. That would make him 12 years old when this medal was presumably produced, but it's a lot closer than French sculptor Felix Lecomte (1737-1817).
The verso proclaims the celebration of the "Sixth Secular Jubilee" from 1254 to June 1854. As you will read below, 1254 notes the first miracle attributed to Notre Dame de la Treille and 1854 is when construction began on the Lille Cathedral dedicated to her. I just love the deeply carved grapevine surrounding the words, with every grape clear and distinct as well as the leaves and tendrils. This image supports the translation of "treille" to "vine" and not "trellis" although you can't have a vine without a trellis. At the bottom of the medal, the outer rim is marked "Cuivre" for bronze.
What does one do with medallions such as this? As part of my personal collection, some hang in shadow boxes; some are displayed on small easels, and others serve as paperweights on my desk. I enjoy picking them up and pondering their beauty and symbolism when the words don't flow or when I need to feel refreshed.
Consider this fabulous religious antique for your spiritual pleasure or that of someone you love. Comes boxed and ready for gift-giving.
Weight – 22 grams
Dimensions – 1-7/16 inches
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Since the Middle Ages, a miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary was venerated in the area where the city of Lille was yet to be built. One translation says it was protected by an iron trellis; hence the name "Notre Dame de la Treille" or "Our Lady of the Trellis. Other translators convert the word "treille" to vine, arbor and pergola. I found a reference to the "Virgen de la Treille" or "Virgin of the Vine" and the Treola Vineyard near what was not yet the city of Lille. So, it's also possible that the statue's name refers to the vineyard where it originated.
Between 1238 and 1254, the statue was installed in the Church of Saint-Pierre, where it remained until the French Revolution. Three series of miraculous (but unspecified) events are associated with the statue. The devotional fervor began in 1254, from 1519 to 1527, and from 1634 to 1638. In 1634, Mayor Jean Le Vasseur dedicated the city of Lille to the Madonna and laid the keys to the city at the base of the statue.
After the destruction of the Church of Saint-Pierre during the Revolution, the statue fell into oblivion. It was later purchased by a chaplain, who donated it to the Church of St. Catherine in 1801. It was not until 1842 that Father Charles Bernard, pastor of St. Catherine, revitalized devotion to Our Lady of Treille. Shortly thereafter, it was decided that a magnificent Gothic-style church would be built in the heart of Old Lille on the site of "the ancient mound." My guess is this refers to the original site in the vineyard.
Construction began in 1854 when the first stone was blessed, and concluded in 1999 when the Cathedral of Lille was finally sealed after years of neglect, abandonment and rework. Enough of the cathedral was finished in 1872, over 100,000 pilgrims witnessed Blessed Pope Pius IX bless and crown the statue, dedicating her to the city of Lille.
After centuries of work, the end result can only be described as disappointing. The façade is a somewhat homely combination of modern and Gothic-revival architecture, and this disharmony is echoed inside. Some of the chapels dedicated to different saints are quite beautiful but the overall effect is a bit odd.
Another unfortunate result of the periods of neglect is that the original statue was stolen in July 1959. The translations were not clear, but a reproduction may have been made "under the chisel of Mary Magdalene Weerts." Descriptions of the cathedral note that a neo-Gothic representation of the Virgin was executed by Baron Jean Baptiste Bethune in 1870, and that other representations of Our Lady can be found on the gables and facades of the houses in Old Lille.
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