Whenever I go to the market at Hesdin which I love thanks to its wonderful location, I pass a little white chapel at the side of the road in the village of Embry in the Seven Valleys area of Pas-de-Calais. The neighbours tell me it is the second Lourdes which I’ve always thought a bit of a wild claim as it is tiny, in the middle of nowhere and it’s not exactly famous – or so it seems.
However it is very pretty with an almost Caribbean look to it and there is a definite air of calm and mystery where it is in the bend of a road so I thought I’d look into it.
It transpires that in 1872 a local woman took ill with it is believed, peritonitis. In those days there was no real medical treatment for such an illness and the woman was at death’s door and in a coma. Her family held a mirror to her mouth from time to time – the tried and tested way of the day to see if a person was still breathing and waited for what seemed a certain unhappy ending which would leave four young children motherless as well as a grieving husband.
The local priest visited; he was fresh back from visiting Lourdes and bought with him a small vial of water he had acquired at the famous place of apparitions and miracles. The husband of the woman, Monsieur Duflos, a deeply religious man wondered if the water would bring comfort to the woman and declared that if it did, he would build a chapel in honour of the benevolent and omnipotent God. The priest administered a few drops of the holy water to the woman and it is said, she immediately awakened from her coma and opened her eyes. In the next few days she recovered completely and indeed in the years of good health that followed, she went on to have a further thirteen children with her loving husband.
As he had promised, the Chapel was built and dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes and the miracle of his wife’s recovery. Apparently it was the second church ever to be dedicated to Lourdes just 24 years after the town of Lourdes had been recognised for the miraculous apparitions that appeared to a local girl.
The little chapel remains a place of pilgrimage for locals and tourists who are greeted with the words “I am the Immaculate Conception” at the entrance.