The clear highlight of my last visit to the Auvergne was the church of St-Blaise/Notre-Dame-des-Malades in Vichy. Vichy was for centuries France’s prime spa centre with sulphurous and mineral waters which are still prescribed – to be drunk or to be bathed in – for many maladies. Indeed, it was the town’s number of hotels and its good communications with the rest of the country that led to its being chosen as the capital of the French state after its occupation by Nazi Germany during World War II.
But I digress. St Blaise was a church built in 1672 out of which only a nineteenth-century-built chapel remains, connected with the main church of Notre-Dame-des-Malades. This chapel still contains a miraculous picture of a Black Madonna – aren’t they all? The waters of Vichy (Celestine Mineral Water is still bottled from a spring you can freely drink of) had curative properties but the thanks were, of course, due to the Virgin mary, in her incarnation as Our Lady of the Sick: Notre Dame des Malades; a procession takes place around Vichy on 15 August every year.
But it is the 1931 art deco church that was built on the spot by architects Antoine Chanet (one of his other creations was the Hotel de Ville in Vichy) and his son, Jean Liogier, that is the astounding masterpiece in the city. An austere exterior gives rise to an incredibly ornate interior with pulpits made out of onyx, semi-precious mosaics, marble walls and stained glass windows from the ateliers of the Frères Mauméjean.
The result is a church like you’ve never seen before. Note in particular the use of the rainbow in the main mosaic as a symbol of inclusivity.