Julie Billiart, 1906
A work of pure gothic art, the reliquary of Saint Julie Billiart is made entirely of copper, gilded in fine gold with contrasting reliefs in silvered copper. The making of the reliquary was entrusted to the firm of M. Dehin at Liège on the occasion of the Beatification of Julie Billiart, which took place on May 13, 1906.
The double-sloped roof is divided on each side into 2 compartments presenting, in relief, at the bottom of the enamels, the symbols of the four evangelists.
On each facade, there are two scenes:
On the face in front, at the right-hand side, a very young Julie teaching the children of her native village, Cuvilly in Picardy. The scene on the left hand side tells the story of the vision at Compiègne in 1793: the bed-ridden Julie sees a cross round which she distinguishes religious whose habit she does not recognise: “These are the daughters I am going to give you in the Institute which will be marked by my cross.”
On the opposite face, the right hand side shows Julie in ecstasy at Amiens on the February 2, 1806; it is revealed to her that her daughters will cross seas to bring the light of the Gospel. The scene on the left shows her death on the April 8, 1816.
The gable on the right shows a seated Julie holding in her hands the Constitutions of the Sisters of Notre-Dame; at each side of the saint, an angel carries a banner with the inscription: "Ah ! Qu’il est bon le bon Dieu" - How good God is. And "il a exalté les humbles" (he has exalted the humble) on the other.
On the left hand gable, Our Lady is sitting with the child Jesus on her knees.
The whole structure rests on six lions rampant, with a copper plaque bearing the following Latin text: “Corpus Beatae Juliae Billiart, quam Pius P.P.X, III idus Maii MCMVI inter coelitis retulit, a Thoma Lud. Heylen, Nam. Apô V idus Aprilis ejusdem anni, reconditum in hàc lipsanotheca” (The body of Blessed Julie Billiart, whom Pope Pius X, on the May 13, 1906, declared Blessed, and whose remains Thomas Louis Heylen, Bishop of Namur, placed in this reliquary on April 9 of the same year.)
In 1910, a vast fire ravaged the stand of the Dehin firm of Liège at the international exhibition in Brussels. The casket was miraculously saved although the fifteen hectares were completely razed to the ground by the fire.
During the two world wars, the garden chapel where the reliquary is kept was not destroyed. In 1940, the sisters had removed the relics of their foundress and these followed them to the different lodgings they were able to find. But the reliquary which was too heavy to carry, remained in its normal place. On the occasion of great celebrations at Namur in honour of Saint Julie Billiart, the reliquary is carried in procession from the mother house to the Cathedral and then back again.