Guard Hill provides a beautiful, scenic panorama of the coastal city of Marseilles, France, and the Mediterranean Sea. One can see for miles in any direction, both the compact city and the vibrant blue waves. Perhaps most importantly, one could stand on Guard Hill and see oncoming weather.
Awareness of inclement weather is often a matter of sink-or-float for the inhabitants of a port city. Fishing especially relies on the daily weather for its catch; sunny days yield a different catch than cloudy days, and impending rain showers are the definition of high-risk, often high-reward days at sea. But rainy days could quickly – and easily – become full-blown thunderstorms.
One poor fisherman found himself caught in such a storm. His mast broken, sails tearing, and water filling his craft faster than he could bail, all hope seemed lost for this 12th-century fisherman. He looked back to his city, still pondering his options, and saw something which surprised him. Amid the turbulent storm, on a shallow rocky crag framing Marseilles’ bay, a woman in white was extending her hand to him, unbothered by the wind raging around her.
The fisherman did what anyone in crisis would do: he prayed fervently for her help.
Almost immediately, his ship righted. A friendly wind carried his craft to shore, and the moment it grounded he fell to his knees and thanked the Blessed Mother for her intercession. He ran to tell his family what had happened – and, most importantly, that he was safe.
The story of the fisherman’s rescue flooded through the town faster than a tide coming in. Other seafarers began to come forward with similar stories – broken ships, falling overboard, and treacherous waters which washed away at the appearance of the woman on the rocks.
In agreement that this was indeed the kind hand of the Blessed Mother, a statue was crafted in her honor in 1213. It was completed five years later and placed on the rocks where she was seen and stayed there until it was moved to the top of Guard Hill. The ancient fort that had once resided on the highest natural point of Marseille became a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Mariners in 1544.
Her miracles in Marseilles continued; according to popular tradition, the town took the newly-created statue (the first having been destroyed shortly after the chapel’s dedication) of Mary and processed through the streets during the Cholera outbreak in 1832. To their relief, the epidemic waned and vanished within a few days.
Once called “Our Lady of Mariners”, intrigued and thankful pilgrims gave her another name: Notre Dame de la Garde – Our Lady of the Guard.
Even today, this church – now basilica – still carries replicas of many boats, left by thankful mariners and their families as reminders of Our Lady’s helping hand.
Our Lady of the Guard, pray for us!
Our Lady is celebrated under many names, from popular apparitions to small-town titles. Each reveal something different about the Blessed Mother to us – and affirms what we already know of her love and intercessory power! Deepen your devotion to Our Lady with Miracles, Mysteries, & Mary, a monthly collection of stories, Church teaching, reflections, and so much more – guaranteed to expand your knowledge of Our Blessed Mother. Sign up today to receive this Marian content, right to your inbox!