Our Lady the Great, Poitiers, Poitou-Charentes, France 

The early history of this fascinating church is something of a mystery, but the first recorded mention of it dates from 924 AD. The present Notre-Dame-la-Grande is thought to date from the late 11th century to the middle of the 12th century. The facade dates from the latter period. The church is not particularly large, so the name probably indicates there were less impressive churches dedicated to Our Lady in medieval Poitiers.

Since at least 1428, every Easter Monday a miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary known as the “Virgin of the Keys” was carried in procession around the ramparts of the town. This statue survives today and is kept in the choir of the church.

The church was thoroughly cleaned and restored in 1996; its stone is now a gleaming white. Interestingly, most of the dirt and damage to the facade was caused less by pollution and pigeon droppings than by the salt from the nearby market, which seeped into the ground and up the facade.

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