In 1870 France was badly defeated by Germany, which had taken over the regions of Alsace and Lorraine, and with the French Second Empire collapsing miserably. The French people saw that defeat as a punishment and a certain desire for atonement began to spread. Edouard Pie, the learned and holy Bishop of Poitiers, proclaimed: “France as a nation has committed a crime. Let us now make a consecration to the Sacred Heart, which will constitute a public and nationwide act of reparation; and let us make Him reign upon this whole land of France.”
Two laymen, Legentil and Rohault de Fleury, suggested the idea of building a basilica that would represent a “national vow,” manifesting the French people’s desire to pay the Redeemer the tribute their leaders had refused. In January 1872, Msgr. Hippolite Guibert, Archbishop of Paris, authorised a collection of funds for the construction of the basilica of reparation, choosing a place on the hill of Montmartre, just outside Paris, where early French Christians had been martyred. The bishop added: “This sanctuary of the Sacred Heart will become before God the expression of a popular supplication that the days of our trials may be abbreviated…so that, from the adorable Heart of Our Redeemer may emerge our spiritual and temporal regeneration.”
Public support was enthusiastic and the project was approved by the National Assembly itself (i.e. the Parliament), which was not yet dominated by an openly anti-Christian majority as happened shortly afterward. In 1873 a group of deputies consecrated themselves to the Sacred Heart at the tomb of Saint Margaret Mary, pledging to promote the construction of the basilica. So, on 5 June 1891 the imposing Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre was finally inaugurated. In it was established the perpetual adoration of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus. On its facade was engraved this significant inscription: “Sacratissimo Cordi Christi Jesu, Gallia poenitens et devota” (To the Most Holy Heart of Jesus Christ, dedicated by penitent and devout France).