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French city Lyon shines out in winter gloom

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French city Lyon shines out in winter gloom


On December 8, the French city of Lyon’s St Jean Cathedral is dressed in light.

It marks the start of a procession which lies at the heart of what is known locally as the “Fete des Lumieres” or Festival of Light.

The annual celebration dates back to 1852 and is essentially a religious one.

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the Archbishop of Lyon, explained the highlight for him.

“It is the festival of light in Lyon so everyone puts candles in their windows in honour of our Lady of Fourviere and now we are going up from the cathedral to the basilica with the statue of the Virgin. It is a moment of joy for everyone.”

Although some people think the candles are a tradition linked to a time when Lyon was threatened by the plague, the truth of the matter is more to do with the inauguration of a new statue of Mary.

Over 150 years ago, the ceremony presenting the religious icon was hampered by bad weather and locals looked round for something to lighten the mood.

“Originally it took place in September, on September 8”, said one Lyon resident. “And following an exceptionally bad flood, it could not take place so it was moved to December and it became December 8 and on the day when it was moved, there was so much fog that they put the candles out to brighten things up.”

Since then the festival, which is now held over four days, has been added to by spectacular light shows.

By the end of it, four million visitors will have experienced 80 light projects – transforming the facades of some of Lyon’s most august buildings and filling the city’s squares and avenues.

All of which began with a simple candle.

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