Traditional Chartres Pilgrimage in France Is a Victim of Its Own Success

For the first time in 40 years, the organizers of the famous Catholic route linking Notre Dame of Paris to Chartres Cathedral will have to turn away pilgrims due to an overflow of registrations.

Pilgrims arrive at the Chartres cathedral on June 1, 2009, during the annual Pentecost pilgrimage.
Pilgrims arrive at the Chartres cathedral on June 1, 2009, during the annual Pentecost pilgrimage. (photo: Alain Jocard / AFP via Getty Images)

More than 16,000 people are expected to take part in the upcoming 41st annual Chartres Pilgrimage in France, May 27-29.

This is a record number in the history of this three-day event, which takes place each year on the weekend marking the solemnity of Pentecost. The uninterrupted influx of online registrations in recent days has forced the organizers of the lay association Notre-Dame de Chrétienté (“Our Lady of Christendom”) to refuse all new applications as of May 19.

Invoking a “painful” and unprecedented decision in a communiqué published on its website, the association motivated its choice by the reality of the field, the bivouacs not being able to accommodate enough tents for everyone, the length of the walking column, which would exceed two hours, making the arrival of the last pilgrims too late, in addition to security issues.

The statement said that although this decision “was not easy to make,” “it attests to the growing influence of the Chartres pilgrimage and shows the growing interest of Chartres pilgrims, the majority of whom are under 20 years old, in the spirituality and depth of the traditional Mass.” The organizers added that they “will draw the consequences of this historic situation for the 2024 pilgrimage.”

Indeed, the enthusiasm generated by this event, which brings together Catholics attached to the traditional Mass from all over France and the rest of the world, does not seem to have been negatively affected by the 2021 motu proprio Traditionis Custodes or the February 2023 rescript restricting the use of the Tridentine rite.

This is also the conclusion of Père Danziec, a well-known pseudonymous commenter in the French Catholic media, who in a tweet compared the attachment to the Traditional Latin Mass to an “irresistible wave.” “It’s not a tsunami but something like the rising tide at Mont-Saint-Michel,” he wrote.

For him, the broadening of the “sounding board” of the Pilgrimage of Our Lady of Christendom is a manifestation of Cardinal Louis-Édouard Pie’s 1855 prophecy that “Chartres will become, more than ever, the center of devotion to Mary in the West, and people will flock to it, as in the past, from all parts of the world.”

A prediction that seems to have been partly fulfilled under the impulse of French-Catholic writer Charles Péguy, who made a solitary pilgrimage from Notre Dame of Paris to the Marian sanctuary of Chartres in 1912 to ask the intercession of the Virgin Mary to help his ill son. The writer, who had returned to the Catholic faith a few years earlier, was an inspiration for the itinerary conceived by Notre-Dame de Chrétienté in 1983.

“My old friend, I am a new man,” Péguy wrote in a letter to his friend Joseph Lotte upon returning from his 86-mile pilgrimage covered in four days. “You can see the Chartres bell tower 17 kilometers away on the plain. As soon as I saw it, I was ecstatic. All my impurities fell away at once.”

In 2019, the fire that ravaged a large part of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris forced pilgrims to establish their starting point in the square of St. Sulpice Church, in the 6th arrondissement of the French capital. This route will remain in effect until the reopening of the famous cathedral, probably in 2024.

Each year, the participants, carrying the flags and banners of their chapters, undertake the journey through the golden and verdant landscape of the Beauce region, singing traditional Catholic chants while thousands of non-walking pilgrims, called the “guardian angels,” unite with them in prayer.

“Eucharist, salvation of souls!” will be the guiding theme of this year’s meeting, during which the relics of St. Thomas Aquinas will be exposed to the veneration of pilgrims at the opening and closing Masses. Exhibited for the first time since 1369 in several places of France, on the occasion of the 700th anniversary of his canonization, in 2023, these relics of the skull of the Angelic Doctor were until now kept under the altar of the convent of the Jacobins in Toulouse, the cradle of the Dominican Order.