The location of the Accoules was seen as an important place in the religious life of Marseilles. Here was located one of the oldest churches in the city: it had been a parish already before the year 1000 A.D. In 1060, it was entrusted to the nuns of the Monastery of the Holy Saviour. It had been rebuilt in the 13th century and was considered to be the finest gothic structure in the city. This sacred spot was venerated because of the miraculous statue if the Blessed Virgin. Some famous preachers like Saint Anthony of Padua and Saint Vincent Ferrer gave sermons here. The French Revolution demolished the church but did not have the time to damage the bell-tower which remained standing and the wall of the sanctuary against the rock face of the hill. Significantly in the remaining wall of the destroyed church was chosen as the place to erect the large mission crucifix.
It was a place that was to play an important role in the history of the Oblates. When future Missionaries of Provence arrived they put they hands in to hard word. Today there are still three buildings connected with the Oblate tradition.
The Calvary, built by Saint Eugene and his companions
Since the original statue from the church of the Accoules was destroyed by revolutionaries it was replaced by a Virgin and Child in gilded wood which was discovered in the ruins of the nearby church. The Accoules is a part of the Oblate Story. Most of the first Oblate priests celebrated in this church. They preached, taught Catechism and gave talks here. It was a popular shrine in Marseille at that time. It raised from the ruins as the fruit of the Mission preached by Eugene and others in 1820. Those who frequented the shrine were drawn by the memory and gratitude for the great graces of renewal of their faith that happened during that Mission. I find it fascinating that the miracles that promoted the church of the Accoules were the signs of conversion and repentance that occurred at the Mission and later. In the Catholic Church we have places where healings of various kinds happen and that brings people to those places. At the Church of the Accoules people came to appreciate and long for deeper healings that go to the very bottom of the soul, when a person hears God’s voice to repent and the person desires to respond to this voice.
The house that was to host the local community became the center of the Oblate life in Marseille. Although it had 50 rooms it was always full. Missionaries used it as their base from where they set out on the missionary trips across the region. At some stage it was the Novitiate and the Seminary too. The young Oblates stayed there awaiting their first assignment. Saint Eugene had a room here as well, though most of his time he live in the bishop’s house, first when he was helping his uncle who was Bishop and when he was bishop himself. However he would come frequently to be with his Oblates.
The fourth General Chapter met there in July 1826 when Eugene returned from Rome with the official approval of the Congregation. At the Chapter the Constitutions and Rules that gave the new name to the Missionaries of Provence, were promulgated and accepted. Now they were the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The house saw the Oblates gathering every year for their spiritual retreat and renewal of the vows. That’s why the house soon became known among the Oblates as “Our Sinai” In the Bible God gave the Ten
Commandments to Moses on Sinai, we Oblates treasure the Hill of the Accoules as our holy mountain where we accepted our Constitutions and Rules approved by the Pope. We look at them not simply some regulations but as guidance we are given by the Lord. Moses returned to the people of Israel with the Two Tablets Saint Eugene returned from Rome with the Book of our Constitutions and Rules and assuredness from the Church that living them we will reach heaven. The example of St Eugene de Mazenod, Blessed Joseph Gerard, Blessed Joseph Cebula and the Blessed Oblate Martyrs of Spain are reminder of that. They became saints because they practiced the Oblate way of life. Unfortunately
some 30 years ago the last Oblates left the Accoules. But an Oblate visiting Marseille will be always drawn more to the place than to the harbor that is such a tourist destination. The church of the Accoules will always remain our Sinai, the place when our first Oblates matured in their vocation and discovered that God was taking them further then the boundaries of Aix , Provence or even France.