Notre Dame-De-Consolation - The Charity Sale Bazaar - Commemoration Site
By Coline Duvall

T his chapel was built in memory of the terrible fire that destroyed the Charity Sales Bazaar on May 4th 1897. It stands today on rue Jean Goujon in the François 1er district.

Notre Dame de Consolation Chapel

"Notre-Dame-de-Consolation" Chapel

On May 4th 1897, a terrible fire destroyed entirely the Bazaar of the annual charity sales.

The Duchess of Alençon, sister to the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, also known as "Sissi", perished there with 140 other people.

Three years later, the Chapel Notre Dame-de-Consolation was erected to remember those who left their lives for others.

The Chapel Notre Dame-de-Consolation was, at first, to be of a bigger structure, but due to the nature of the grounds (which laid then on the site of the ancient Seine river bed), the foundations had to be reinforced leading then to reduce a great deal the actual building.

The Charity Sale Bazaar

The Duchess of Alençon

The Duchess of Alençon

In 1823, the street "Jean Goujon" where stood then the François 1er district, was opened.

In 1814 the Champs-Elysées had still a very countryside look.

It was the Colonel de Breck who was in charge of the edification of the whole area.

There was there, in 1897, a vast 100 square meter piece of land. In 1830, Victor Hugo settled on "rue Jean Goujon" at number 9 (his house does not exist anymore and has been replaced by a more modern building). The aspect of the district was still very deserted. It will only start to expand during the Second Empire under Louis Philippe. The Vilquery Hotel settled as early as 1864 and in 1897 the street was already well dwelled.

That is when, in 1897, it was decided to have the Charity Sale Bazaar built. It was at first a long structure of 80 m long by 13 m wide. Its access was made by way of three steps and two doors. Built in pinewood with painted papier mâché it was very well decorated. It had a glass roof covered and decorated with curtains and fine chiffons.

Aimed to the charity sales it included 22 boutiques with a main alley in the middle.

Mr. Chaperon (who also contributed in 1855 to the Universal Exhibition on the Champs-Elysées) was in charge of the decoration and was to be ready pour opening on May 4th 1897. (Middle-age style, decorated with «papier mâché») 150 charity organizations were to be represented.

The Charity Sales

The main alley of the Charity Sale Bazaar just before the fire

The main alley of the Charity Sale Bazaar just before the fire

In1885, under the Third Republic the first Charity sales appeared and aristocrats like Mme Lebaudy (the Sugar Company) took part in them. 150 charity organizations were represented and among them, the Rescue Company of the War Injured, the St Ambroise Parish Church (whose representative was Mme de Laigle), Sainte Clotilde Charity Organization, the Raincy Orphanage.

Duchess Sophie Charlotte of Alençon, previously engaged to Louis II of Bavaria, married the duc d'Alençon Ferdinand of Orleans, son of the duc de Nemours, and grandson of Louis-Philippe. Their spiritual ascension remained very personal and their complicity very discreet and full of respect. She fell into religious matters to make up for the various psychological problems the Wittelsbachs had to face up. Part of the Dominican Third-Order, she became entirely devoted to her charity organizations.

She was to be one of the first victims of the big fire.

On May 4th 1897, the Charity sales received the blessing of the Archbishop of Paris at 3 p.m. At 16.15 p.m. the fire started to demolish the entire structure.

Everything went so fast. 112 corpses were first found. Finally, 140 corpses were to be discovered in the terrible disaster. 250 injured were saved but remained hurt in body and soul until their last living day. Whole families were in fact completely ruined and destroyed by this dramatic disaster.

The dead corpses were quickly carried to the nearby Palais of industry for identification.

Notre Dame-de-Consolation Chapel

The Petit Journal newspaper

The "Petit Journal" newspaper

The grounds were re-bought by Mrs. De Castellane for the building of the Chapel.

The Figaro newspaper launched a national subscription. Many offers fluctuated to help towards the building of the site. The Chapel, being over the Seine river bed (then the Bièvre), the foundations had to be stronger than first planned. Its building took longer than anticipated.

The Chapel, neo-Louis XVI (fleurs de lys) style was inaugurated on May 4th 1901.

It contains the funerary stands (heavy urns) made of Valais, Pyrenees marble.

The main cupola was restored. It is a private monument and remains to the victim families’ charge.

In 1950 it was rented to the Italian community and has, since, become the shelter of an Italian community of priests. It houses today a cultural center and offers various activities. It also provides Italian lessons.

The Remembrance Gallery

Artifacts found after the fire

Artifacts found after the fire

Classified historic monument in 1982 it includes a vast corridor where many cenotaphs of the victims can be seen. On a marble wall one can read the names of the various dead families who perished that day. Most of the victims were women and small-age children.

In the side gallery one can see photos, various documents explaining the tragedy. Several artifacts supposed to be sold in the Charity Sales, which were found on the actual site after the fire is also shown there.

A bust of the Duchess of Alençon also stands there.

On several wooden panels one can read various newspaper articles written of the "Petit Journal" and also other newspapers, which were released the days subsequent to the disaster and also several feedbacks from neighbors or rescued witnesses.

This chapel opened on May 4th 1801, four years on the anniversary date of the disaster.

It remains today a place of worship but is, before all, a place of commemoration to the families of victims who gave their lives that terrible day of 1897.

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