The Virgin Project of Nice, France

Did you know that the city of Nice, France almost had a 49 foot (15 meter) tall statue of the Virgin Mary standing atop the Colline du Chateau (Castle Hill)?

rio de janeiro, Nice France

Nice Needs a Virgin

In the 1980s, the idea of the “Virgin on the hill” came to the Abbey Royal of Nice, who may have been inspired by the huge “Christ the Redeemer” statue that stands watch over the city of Rio de Janeiro.

The colossal Virgin Mary would be placed on the top of the Colline du Chateau (Castle Hill – where no castle actually exists) and would be facing out toward the sea. She would welcome those who approached Nice by boat much like the Statue of Liberty does in New York. Nice’s statue would be called Notre Dame de la Baie des Anges (Notre Dame of the Bay of Angels).

The abbey went to see the mayor, Jacques Médecin, who agreed that it was a brilliant idea. However, because of the French laws separating church and state, the giant virgin couldn’t be built with state or city funds. If she was to be, the people of Nice would have to fork over the money. The two men had high hopes of public support and thought the project could start in November 1983 and be finished by February 1988.

Preliminary drawings were done, and the local newspaper published them along with an invitation to the public to give their views. The people responded with their comments, both positive and negative. They thought the face of the Virgin was charming and they liked the idea that people could go up into the statue and look out over the sea, much like in the Statue of Liberty.

But then, the newspaper published the view from the back, the part of the statue that much of the city would be seeing. People were not happy to see an exterior elevator shaft running up the folds in the back of the Virgin’s skirt. And, even worse, it entered the statue at a point which caused many readers to question whether she was really a virgin…

After five years of debate, the plan was abandoned and the Niçois contented themselves with their original, tried and true heroine, Catherine Ségurane, who had gained fame by chasing off the Turkish army using pretty much the same part of her anatomy.

Even though Nice doesn’t have a 49 ft Virgin with an elevator shaft going up her backside, there are other interesting statues. This is the Apollo fountain in Place Massena’s view from the back.

Further reading: Catherine Segurane and The Apollo Statue


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Margo Lestz


  1. Funny story! Who would’ve guessed that elevator shaft could be so contentious? I wonder whether there is any shadowy history around the virgin on the Fourvière cathedral overlooking Lyon…?

    1. Well, you just have to be careful where you put those shafts… You should look into the history of the Lyon Virgin – maybe there is a story there too, who knows.

  2. This is really amusing as well as interesting. It had not occurred to me that separation of church and state could cause problems with statues of the Virgin. #AllAboutFranace

  3. As always – an interesting and funny story. Do you think Christ the Redeemer has the same problem? Pretty sure he doesn’t or we’d have heard about it.

    1. You’re right, there is no elevator in the Rio statue – just an interior staircase used for maintenance and not open to the public. I did find an interesting fact, though, it seems the plaster moulds for the head and hand of the statue came directly from France, where the sculptor Paul Landowski lived.

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