As the clock strikes twilight in Lyon tonight, the city will burst into a kaleidoscope of light and color, marking the start of La Fête des Lumières, a traditional celebration that transforms the city into a spectacle of light and artistic installations. The festival, which runs until Sunday, December 10, invites artists from around the globe to illuminate the city's streets and buildings with their creative endeavors.
A Tradition Rooted in Hope and Devotion
The origins of La Fête des Lumières date back to 1168, when an church dedicated to the Virgin Mary was built on Fourvières hill. Over the years, it became a beacon of hope during epidemics, with the citizens and elected officials making successive vows to protect the city. The first 'miracle' occurred on September 8, 1643, when the city's officials and notables sought the Virgin's protection against a looming plague epidemic. Their promise to honor the Virgin annually on September 8, if the city was spared, was kept when the epidemic miraculously missed the city.
Lyon Illuminated: A Promise Kept
Fast forward to 1850, when religious authorities held a competition to create a statue that would serve as a religious signal atop Fourvières hill. The inaugural planned for September 8, 1852, was delayed to December 8 due to a flood. Despite the weather's whims, the skies cleared at the eleventh hour. The people of Lyon responded by placing candles in their windows at dusk, illuminating the entire city. This tradition continues today, with Lyon's residents placing lights on their window sills every December 8, aiming to light up the city.
From Humble Candles to a Global Spectacle
In 1989, the decision to illuminate certain heritage sites and neighborhoods allowed tens of thousands of people to stroll the city at night. Since 1999, La Fête des Lumières has evolved from a single candle on a windowsill to a four-day festival. The event owes its origin to the inauguration of the golden Virgin statue at Fourvières in the mid-19th century. On December 7, 8, 9, and 10, 2023, one can't help but marvel at an illuminated building while walking the streets of Lyon, whether at the Place des Terreaux, Parc de la Tête d'Or, or Basilique Saint-Jean.