The amazing history of the crypt of the blessed Antoine-Frédéric Ozanam
There is a very special place for all Vincentians in the Church of Saint-Joseph-des-Carmes (Paris): here rests the body of the blessed Antonio-Federico Ozanam, the main founder of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.
Frédéric died in Marseilles on 8th September 1853, barely a week after arriving in France, already very ill after his trip through Italy. Funerals were held in Lyon, where his family wanted to bury him, and at the Saint-Sulpice parish church, where they temporarily hosted the body. His wife, Amélie, then insisted on burying him in a church, despite difficulties as it was prohibited to bury laypeople inside churches.
After much adversity and knocking on many doors, Amélie achieved her goal: with the verbal permission of minister Fortoul, a personal friend of Ozanam, and the essential support of Father Lacordaire, she was able to exhume the body of her beloved husband at the Saint-Joseph des Carmes church, where the Dominican priests were laid. The small crypt, which was dug out in the church basement in the same place where it remains today, was accessed by a staircase on the right-side of the church.
The following, recently discovered, undated image (see picture below) shows us the crypt as it was originally, albeit many years have passed. We can see the damp staining and mould which covered the walls and Amélie, in one of her writings from 1867, said: “The saltpetre has invaded the walls. The mould has affected the cement and ruined all that I asked to do and deteriorated all the sculptures and works”.
The crypt had two significant renovations: the first, on the 100th anniversary of Frédéric Ozanam’s birth, when the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul constructed a new marble tomb and renovated the crypt. The canonical exhumation was carried out in July 1929. New access to the crypt was opened and the altar was completely renovated. This is a photo after the renovation:
In 1953, the 100th anniversary of Frédéric Ozanam’s death, the shrine was remodelled again. The central columns were removed, as well as various decorations. A French artist, René Dionnet, painted the picture of the Good Samaritan which, even today, decorates the wall. This is the current appearance of the crypt, simple and humble, where thousands of members from around the world frequently come together to pray before the tomb of our beloved blessed Ozanam. Below is the current photo:
Kindly written by Javier Chento
Member of the Council General International’s International Commission for Historical Research