High on a hill

Art, architecture and religion come together in a very stunning was in the town of Ronchamp where Le Corbusier designed and built the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut, completed in 1954. Considered one of the most important examples of twentieth-century religious architecture, it is an active church, and the convent of the Sisters of the Poor Clare.

We could see it from several miles away, and the site dominates the area. It is considered to have been a site for religious celebrations since pagan sun worshipers were in residence. But this chapel was commissioned to replace one completely destroyed in 1944, and is thought by some to be the first post-modern building.

No matter what your architectural convictions are, this church astonishes with its shaping of space and light to create what can only be a holy place. Small pieces of stained glass are set deep within the walls, which are sometimes ten feet thick. The glass glows likes deep-set rubies and emeralds and amethysts and jewels of all colors.

Because it is a pilgrimage chapel, there are few people worshiping at most times. But on special feast days, large crowds of thousands will attend. To accommodate them, Le Corbusier also built an outside altar and pulpit, so the large crowds can sit or stand on a vast field on the top of the hill. A famous statue of the Virgin Mary, rescued from the ruins of the chapel destroyed during WWII, is encased in a special glass case in the wall, and it can be turned to face inward when the congregation is inside, or to face outward toward the visitors.

A beautiful place, which we saw on a beautiful day.

Our next and final stop for the day was the town of Langres, famous as the birthplace of Denis Diderot in 1713, whom we have to thank for the concept of the encyclopedia. (Wonder what he would think of Wikipedia.) This is considered one of the fifty most beautiful towns in France and it has a major focus on historical preservation. We know this from our hosts for the evening, whose lovely restored rectory is now an elegant B&B. We think the town is very pretty, and are crazy about their cheese. Our host says it is made with Champagne and raw milk. Whatever is in it, we are very much willing to settle for a pasteurized version when we return to New York!


2 thoughts on “High on a hill

  1. Visiting in the bleak mid winter as we did, we had the place nearly to ourselves which was helpful as I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the place and the purity of the vision I could scarcely speak. I’ll never forget it. Only place that came close was Falling Water.

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