Our story begins in the Middle Ag..." /> The festival of lights – French Quarter Magazine

Art & Culture

Published on December 4th, 2014 | by Magalie Lopez


The festival of lights

Our story begins in the Middle Ages, in Lyon. We are in the year of 1643 and a terrible plague has decimated France. At this point in the story, if you search a little bit on the internet, you will find two versions: the first and most common, explains that Lyon was not affected by the epidemic (like the famous story of the Chernobyl radioactive cloud that cleverly circumvented France…), the second and more controversial tells that half of the population of Lyon had been erased from the map.

As I am a good inhabitant of Lyon, I have a preference for the first version and I will develop it for you. Once upon a time in Lyon, there was plague and the Virgin Mary. The plague raged through the city with the growing concern of Lyonnaise population. Although Medieval medicine was revealed to be itself powerless against this disease, the highest level of Lyonnais society decided to go to their patron saint Mary, mother of Jesus. To save the city from the epidemic, the aldermen (called councilors today) promised the Virgin Mary to honor her each September 8 (no, I did not make a mistake on the date) with a pilgrimage to the hill of Fourvière (where now stands the famous Basilica of the same name). The miracle occurred and the plague stopped at the gates of the city.

Visuel officiel FDL-2

Photo by Magalie Lopez

In 1852, or 209 years later, the city wished to inaugurate on, September 8, a magnificent golden statue of the Virgin that would overlook the city from the Fourvière Hill, but the facetious Saône overflowed and prevented the sculptor from completing his artwork on time. Regardless, the new date became December 8. The date is known and celebrated under the name of Immaculate Conception.

The Archbishop of Lyon organized a sumptuous party and asked city residents to illuminate their windows and facades with as many candles they can install. But, they did not count on a violent storm that tried to spoil the party and discouraged the archbishop who planed the festivities to postpone them again. At nightfall, the storm finally stopped, the inhabitants of Lyon lit their candles and the celebration took place.

Since then, every December 8 at night, the inhabitants of Lyon set multicolored candles at the edges of their windows and on their balconies. People leave their homes to walk in the streets, whatever the weather is. The streets are filled with a dense crowd admiring the spectacle of “illuminations”.
At first, this show was only made of candles, in small red glasses, blue, green, yellow etc. topped with a small white candle and crenellated like a little cupcake.

Today, the show has taken on a different dimension, the whole city is set ablaze, and monuments and squares light up. Lyon is clothed in its finest light. Artists and visitors flock from all over the world to participate in the festival.

This sumptuous and unavoidable party is an open door for talent, whether young or experienced. Artists are competing with their ideas and ingenuity to make us dream, taking us into their magical worlds where spectators’eyes light up as well as walls and fountains. This year’s festivities will begin Friday, December 5th at 6 pm and end in triumph on Monday, December 8th at midnight. Here is a small selection of what awaits the lucky visitors.


L’hôtel de Région. Photo by Magalie Lopez.

“The Hôtel de Region will be transformed into a cathedral of water and light. From the outside, the viewer will be captured by the huge waterfall flowing over the facade. Crossing bubbling water, it will enter into a cathedral. The Hostel Dieu’s choir members will be in concert and , soon joined by a soprano. They will rock the light, singing the Kyrie of the Mass in C major by Mozart. Gradually distorted, stretched, sounds will turn into runoff, drop by drop, splash, to compose a symphony of water.


Place Antonin Poncet, Laniakea. Photo by Magalie Lopez.

« Place Antonin Poncet, Laniakea, means « Huge heavenly horizon » or « immeasurable Paradise » in Hawaiian, will lead the viewer in a cosmic experience. Thousands of light particles will shine in the dark. Static and disorderly, they will form a cloud, a cluster of bright spots, stars, like a galaxy. In a dizzying ballet, constellations will form, then fall apart, offering a hypnotic and immersive spectacle. » (source www.fetedeslumieres.lyon.fr)

However, I must warn you that the festival of lights is somehow a victim of its huge success. In fact, unless you live in Lyon or its suburbs and thus are able to move on foot to the festivities, it will be an uphill struggle to park or just find room on a bus… and I am not talking about the subway!

But do not let you discourage for all that, take a good pair of walking shoes, a backpack filled with bottles of water, a sandwich and a camera and go for it, you will not regret it because it is worth the effort!

I will be among the onlookers of the Tête d’Or, nose in the air to see the family of giant luminous dragonflies and many other wonders.


About the Author

is a public writer and spends a good deal of her time helping people with writing difficulties. She supports aspiring writers, writes, corrects everything that is written. Recently she has been working on English to help the many foreign English speaking students in Lyon. In parallel and for fun, she runs a blog with a fun literary tendency under the pseudonym Louise Artifact. She will publish in September her first self-publishing novel. Visit Magalie's Website Visit Magalie's Book Website

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