Belsunce and the 1720 plague: hope among death rattles

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The statue - ©Robert Valette / CC-BY-SA The statue - ©Robert Valette / CC-BY-SA
Belsunce's statue Statue Epidemic

Belsunce... the most famous street in Marseille, the cours Belsunce! Yes, but also a statue, located in front of the cathedral Sainte-Marie-Majeure: do you know who Belsunce is?

The most famous bishop of Marseille: Henri-François-Xavier de Belsunce de Castelmoron, who was born in Périgord in 1671. This bishop has his own statue here because he was one of those hero during the terrible plague epidemic, in 1720...

A hero in the turmoil

First vicar of Agen, he was called in Marseille to be the bishop in 1709. Everything was fine, but soon... this terrible plague epidemic struck Marseille city. We were in 1720. The plague, that bloody curse, was surely sent by God to punish humans and their sins!

Hey, that was they thought, at that time. Our Belsunce, locked in his palace, surrounded by corpses who were rotten in front of his windows, probably thought the same thing. Oh, but he didn’t mope! With the brave chevalier Roze, he’s the hero of the Marseille plague!

Our bishop dedicated himself to ill people, helped them, in order to confess and cheer them up a little... "His charity was active", said historian Pichatty de Croislainte. He even gave his own money to cure and feed the sick people.

Despair and liberation

But the epidemic made more and more damages, so Belsunce went on. He wrote in a letter: "Sometimes, courage abandoned me and I feel so desperate"... Poor Belsunce! At that time, more than 1 000 people died every day: hell on earth!

He decided, with a vow, to consecrate his diocese to the Sacred-Heart of Jesus and founded the celebration of the Holy-Sacrament every November 1rst, on All Saints' Day. On this special day, he came out from his palace, bare-naked, bare feet, holding a cross.

Behind him, a procession went toward a big altar raised near the Aix gate. There, he made amends and prayed. Just imagine a huge crowd invading the current cours Belsunce. All the bells rang together, while a big choir of 50 000 voices sang the Deus in adjutorium, "God, come and help me"...

Belsunce, in middle of the sick people’s death rattles, blessed all the city. Anyway, one month later, the plague stopped... To reward him, the king asked him to be archbishop of Laon, in 1746. But Belsunce refused, he was attached to Marseille. He died in this city in 1755.

The statue

The current statue made of bronze dates back to 1853: sculptor Joseph-Marius Ramus, from Aix-en-Provence, made it to decorate the cours Belsunce. Since 1892, they put it in front of the cathedral de la Major.


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