December 2nd: Our Lady of Liesse, Cause of Our Joy
In 1134 three Knights of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, the sons of William, sire of Eppes, Jean, Hector, and Henri, fell prisoners of the Muslims at Ascalon and were sent to Egypt. They reportedly miraculously found or received in their prison from an angel a statue of Our Lady, which they named “Notre Dame de Liesse” [“Our Lady of Joy” in French]. The Sultan sent his daughter Ismerie to the dungeon to convert the three knights, In response to their prayers, Ismerie, took an interest in the Knights and through the intercession of Our Lady and the mercy of God the princess was converted.
The princess arranged the escape of the pious crusaders and joined them on their journey to France. During their flight all four fall asleep, and during their sleep they were miraculously transported to Northern France, awakening close to the Eppes’ castle. They carried the statue with them, and in the region of Laon, about 35 miles northwest of Reims, they founded a church as a resting place for the statue. Through local devotion the church took on the name of the statue, and gave that name to the whole region, so that “Notre Dame de Liesse” came to mean both “Our Lady of Joy” and “Our Lady of [the place called] Liesse”.
The statue came to be venerated by many, and “Our Lady of Liesse” became the Patroness of the Diocese of Soissons. In 1620 the titular Bailiff of Armenia, Fra’ Jacques Chenu de Bellay, built a church to Our Lady of Liesse at Valletta in Malta. The original statue was destroyed during the French Revolution, but the medieval basilica at Liesse remained a center of devotion to the Mother of God, and a new statue was installed and crowned there in 1857. It is still the focus of pilgrimage, especially on Whit Monday.
O God, who brought joy to the world by the incarnation of Christ your Son, grant to us, who honor his Mother as Cause of our Joy, the grace to follow your commandments and to set our hearts on the true joy of heaven. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
This information was provided by Fra’ James-Michael von Stroebel. Click here to view the complete Calendar of Liturgical Celebrations Proper to the Order.
Pictured above is a painting of the Shrine of Our Lady of Liesse by Giovanni Gagliardi.