A sanctuary weaving family ties
Set in the heart of Normandy between Mont Saint-Michel and Paris, the country town of Alençon is the birthplace of Saint Thérèse de Lisieux. It is also famous worldwide for its exquisite lace and the Alençon needle point, part of the ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ initiative by UNESCO.
Louis and Zélie Martin first met in 1858 on a small bridge crossing the river Sarthe in Alençon. It was love at first sight. Both deeply religious, Zélie was a gifted lace maker running her own business and Louis, a watchmaker, later became her associate. Of their union came 9 children, 4 of whom died in early infancy. The youngest, Thérèse, became Saint Thérèse of Lisieux in 1925. She wrote of her parents: “God gave me a father and a mother more worthy of Heaven than Earth”.
Despite the hardships of life, Louis and Zélie Martin brought their children up in God’s love, teaching them the importance of respect and helping the less fortunate. Seen today as role models for Christian families, they were canonised by Pope Francis in 2015.
The renowned technique, point d’Alençon, is a highly-skilled and rare technique of needle lace-making. Invented by Marthe La Perrière in 1660, it takes on average 7 hours per square cm. To fully master this art requires seven to ten years of training through instruction and practical experience.
Message and Pilgrimage
In many ways, Louis and Zélie Martin led an ordinary life, filled with love but also deep sorrows. Their experience resonates with today’s modern families and couples who come to Alençon to seek guidance in raising children, or when facing difficulties at work or in their personal relationships.
The Birthplace of Saint Thérèse
Louis and Zelie Martin’s house where Saint Thérèse was born and grew up with her siblings with the shared values of love and mutual respect. Open all year except January.
Once a prison, this 500 year old castle and public park in the centre of town have been recently renovated, bringing the legend of the White Lady back to life, the siege of William the Conqueror and the Nazi occupation of the city.
Le musée des Beaux-Arts et de la Dentelle
An art and lace museum. Great insights into the technique of the famous Point d’Alençon needle point technique throughout the centuries. Open all year.
In the city centre, the 16th century basilica where Zélie and Louis Martin were married in 1858. Saint Thérèse was also baptised there and her baptism gown is on display.
10 km from Alençon, this is one of the “Most Beautiful Villages in France” with a little stone bridge over the Sarthe River, many medieval buildings and an 11th century Roman church. A favourite place for art lovers and painters alike. On the opposite bank, a miraculous spring is said to cure eyesight problems.
Nature all around
Alençon is a peaceful town boasting many public parks and gardens for the visitor to enjoy, as well as a different market selling local produce almost every day of the week. Sport enthusiasts can also choose from a wide range of activities, from canoeing and golfing to hiking in the remarkable Natural Regional Park of Normandie Maine.
The feast of Saints Louis and Zélie Martin
They were married on the 12th July 1858 in the church of Notre-Dame d’Alençon. Couples come to celebrate this event every year through prayers and a 7km pilgrimage walk between the church and the bridge where the saints first met.
Les Echappées Belles
Theatre and music throughout the town for a week-long festival. Some shows are offered free or at reduced cost.
July and August
The heart of the city turned into a sandy beach with water fun, concerts, sports events and outdoors cinema. Free entrance.
A break from the fast pace of modern life for families with a week-end celebrating the canonisation of Zélie and Louis Martin. A family orientated relaxing time away with organised events, visits and events for children.