Perched on the hill of Fourvière, in the heart of this Lyon district with the air of a small village, the Saint-Irénée church is surrounded by scaffolding. Since the beginning of autumn 2021, workers have been cleaning its facades, repairing its stained glass windows and offering its crypt a complete restoration, the first since 1863. “The fruit of long-term work”, confides François Lagnau, president of the Cultural Association of the sanctuaries of Saint-Just and Saint-Irénée.
→ READ. Saint Irenaeus of Lyon, new Doctor of the Church
Created in 1995 by a handful of parishioners, it now brings together around a hundred members, the most active members of whom take turns every weekend to organize visits to the sanctuary. The goal? Make known a heritage “abused” by history and remaining “untapped”, as it forms one of the oldest testimonies of early Christianity.
Generate new momentum
The church was built on a Gallo-Roman necropolis where the bodies of several martyrs of 177 and 178 lie, while its crypt (11th century) has, according to tradition, housed the tomb of Saint Irenaeus (130-202) whose cult will then be established. This brilliant son of the East succeeded Saint Pothin as Bishop of Lyons and became one of the first great theologians: on January 21, he was declared a Doctor of the Church, on January 37and to bear this title.
“It gives us a little more credit,” explains François Lagnau, for whom the value of the site was never really taken into account by the elected officials, whereas this figure, associated with peace and unity, is forgotten by most of the inhabitants. The planets now seem aligned to transform this place of memory in the shadow of Fourvière, into a true site of pilgrimage for the faithful from the city or elsewhere, as it already is in the eyes of many patriarchs of the East. : “When they arrive in Lyon, the first thing they ask to see is the crypt of Saint-Irénée! »
“All the tools are ready”, exclaims Étienne Piquet-Gauthier, listing his books and documents, including a course booklet In the footsteps of Irenaeus Where Faith Demonstratedin pocket format… The man who has directed the eponymous foundation since 2010, located a hundred meters below, in Old Lyon, supervised the Year of Saint-Irénée, between 2019 and 2020 in the diocese.
This new impetus, launched by Cardinal Barbarin, former Archbishop of Lyon, makes it possible to widely disseminate the spiritual heritage of the character, by making his thought more accessible.. In addition to the organization of conferences and popularization symposiums, a series of books and magazines for adults and children have been published, to which are added a play Irenaeus, the dog and the prophetco-written by Father Bernard Badaud and Geneviève Iacono, or even a slam, specially composed and performed by Eurêka, an artist from Lyon.
The benefits of current thinking
If the pope’s recent decision makes it possible to recognize the place of this figure in the theological sphere where it is already well studied – as evidenced, in Lyon, by the work of the Institute of Christian Sources on the texts of the Fathers of the Church –, it is an opportunity to inspire the cultural and popular world,“as a means of evangelization”, according to Etienne Piquet-Gauthier.
At the Catholic University of Lyon, where he is responsible for teaching the master’s degree in theology and patristic sciences, Brother Élie Ayroulet also likes to bring to life the thought of Irénée – patron of the establishment – as a contemporary voice. “He is the first to systematize the faith by presenting it in a very positive way and he nourishes an optimistic and unitive vision of man, warning against certain ideologies that are contemporary to us”, explains the one who was also the coordinator and first editor of the documents for the cause of Irenaeus. “We must not forget that he forms the second generation only after the Apostles: he is a model which offers us the possibility of returning to the source of the faith and to the freshness of its transmission. »