It’s the only French church dedicated to children (Notre-Dame-des-Enfants in French)! The former church, a modest one, dates back to the 12th century: so needless to say it went to ruin in middle of the 19th century! Because we were in 1861: abbot Jacques-Marie Ducros, Châteauneuf's priest, sweated to rebuild his church.
He lacked money, so he decided one thing, in 1865... he asked every French children to send him 2 centimes for his new church! Not much, really... And every French children gave, but also children from the entire world!
Ducros couldn't’ believe it... finally, he could raise his new church! But... he had to choose a name! A little girl from Semur in Burgundy suggested a name in her letter, "Our-Lady-of-Children". OK! That was pretty good!
On March 30th 1866, archbishop de La Tour d'Auvergne founded Our-Lady-of-the-Children’s brotherhood in Châteauneuf church. This brotherhood had to put Christians children under the Virgin protection, to prepare them to the first Holy Communion, and so on.
The brotherhood had soon members everywhere in the world: in 2 years, they had more than 100 000 believers! Then Ducros went in Vatican with a scale model of his Virgin Mary statue. Pope Pius IX found it beautiful, so beautiful he asked Ducros a copy to put on his desk!
On January 21th 1870, people raised the brotherhood to a universal brotherhood. Châteauneuf church was raised to a minor basilica in July 1896 by pope Leon XIII. Our-Lady-of-Children's celebration took place every year on February 2th since 1868.
Just imagine: the narrow little streets covered with coloured flags; the Virgin statue, well-dressed for the occasion, welcomed a crow of children coming with their mothers, in front of Mary’s throne. Nowadays we still can see 2 000 ex votos from the entire world: recovery cases, exam pass...
For the construction, architect from Vendôme Margaise raised the foundations. We were in the 19th century, so people loved Neogothic style: Margaise was inspired by Middle-Ages, based upon architect Auclerc’s drawings.
Excavation began in 1869, and the building works ended in 1886. 79 metres long, 64 metres large, 20 metres high, the basilica’s bell-tower is crown by a Papal tiara, to echo the Pope’s protection...