In the 1890s, in, the nondescript Village of Raynaude, Father Antoine Rousse faced a serious problem. In fact, for a Catholic priest, it was a matter of some urgency. His church and presbytery were in such a state of disrepair that he could not conduct mass. As a result, the catholic children of the village were forced to attend a nearby Protestant school. This enraged the young priest, who set out on a quest to renovate and rebuild the entire complex.
The ancient church of Notre Dame de Raynaude dates from the 12th century. Restoration on it and the surrounding monistic structures began in 1862, but the work was quickly derailed when funds were unexpectedly depleted. But then, as legend would have us believe, the dejected priest was the recipient of some amazing good fortune.
In 1892, less than a year after Bérenger Saunière wrote ‘Discovered a tomb. At night it rained’ in his diary in Rennes-le-Château, the famed American oil tycoon, industrialist and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller visited the region. Or so the story goes. As incredible as it sounds, Rockefeller had evidently learned of the plight of, Abbé Rousse and his failed restoration and was sympathetic to the priest’s cause. A significant donation was provided post haste and the restorations were quickly underway.
The work was completed by 1895 and commemorated in an inaugural celebration presided over by one, Monseigneur Rougerie. The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph and Sainte Anne; inspired by the 1858 apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes.
With the restoration now complete, the church had essentially been repositioned lower in the landscape than its ancient predecessor. However the hill behind the church would not stay empty for long. If we turn the clock ahead 50 years, Father Louis de Coma’s Carol estate was about to be dynamited by authority of the Bishop. With forewarning of this event, local clergy managed to save Father Louis de Coma’s beloved Stations of the Cross and relocate them to Notre Dame de Raynaude, on the hill immediately behind the modern day church. The Stations of the Cross, which remain in situ today, are sensational. Each is housed in a protective chapel.