For visitors to eastern France this summer, the village of Ars-sur-Formans opens a window on to the life of Saint John Vianney. Ars lies an hour's drive from Lyon and the village's two churches both bear witness to the works of this patron saint of parish priests, whose feast day falls on 4 August. There is a 12th-century church where Saint John preached and a newer basilica where his body is preserved in glass. In the nearby Presbytery of Saint Curé d’Ars – now a museum – the saint's enlarged heart is kept intact.
Saint John was raised in agricultural France during the time of the Revolution, when Mass had to be celebrated in secret. During his years studying to become a priest, he failed the necessary exams twice, yet from these humble beginnings this devout young man from Dardilly was sent to Ars and succeeded in restoring many souls to God.
From 1830 onwards, hundreds of people flocked to Ars to have their confessions heard. The self-sacrificing saint was known to sleep only a few hours a night, spending long days serving those who had travelled to the village. For more information, visit www.arsnet.org.