The first mention of a church of Our Lady of the Heights, on the hill in Ronchamp, dates from 1092 and pilgrimages started in 1494. But it needed Le Corbusier’s reinterpretation in 1955, after the chapel was destroyed in the war, for it to be listed by UNESCO. I had wanted to visit this mythical place for a long time but it is so out of the way in Les Vosges mountains that I only managed to see it recently. If you want to make it a destination, you can sleep in the monastery of Sainte Claire, recently designed by Renzo Piano where clarisses from Bezançon moved in 2011. Sister Brigitte de Singly worked with the architect on the project.
You first climb with your car for a few short kilometers from the village and then you ascend by foot to contemplate the chapel. As soon as you penetrate the Renzo Piano ticket office and start walking, the sacred nature of the place overcomes you and it is lovely to find just a few tourists who silently déambulateur and marvel at the strange monument. I loved the outside altar designed especially for the large crowds which attend pilgrimages to the Virgin Mary. Concrete and stone are the general materials used and a few colorful stained glass windows glow inside. There are three side chapels with light coming from above which reminded me of Rothko’s chapel in Houston. The same silence and meditation spirit reign inside the small space. Linear benches are made of wood and concrete.
A pyramide of peace was commissioned by war veterans and built with stones from the old chapel. it is designed after Mexican pyramides and serves as seating space for pilgrims during mass. A dove for peace was designed by André Maisonnier, Le Corbusier’s assistant. The architect did not want any bells and had thought of an electro acoustical system which was never created. So after his death, Jean Prouvé was commissioned to build an independent Campanile with three bells which ring every day at 9 am, 12 pm and 7 pm. The sound is very profound.
The new buildings for the nuns designed by Renzo Piano is very discreet and buried in the hill. I tis very successful especially their small chapel with pale wooden furniture. the Clarisses are famous for guaranteeing good weather and it was customary to offer the eggs before weddings and special outdoor events. Nowadays, the custom has remained and they accept checks…
The visit can be very short and yet it is incredibly powerful. Especially in our times of heavy tourism. I had passed different mountain passes and beautiful lakes around Geradmer and Saint Dié, Munster and Les Ballons des Vosges, with various gastronomic specialties like mirabelles and blueberries which attract millions of tourists. Landing in this peaceful and almost deserted spot was a beautiful surprise.
You can further your discovery of the local beauties with the visit of La Saline Royale d’Arc en Senans built by Ledoux in 1774, the abbaye of Fontenay and slowly drive into Chablis and all the Burgundy vineyards. It is a fabulous region, on the road from the Flanders to Italy, where commercial and spiritual life were very active in the Middle Ages.
On Sunday, September 13 between 3 pm and 5 pm, a concert of Oriental sacred music will take place outside the chapel. Middle Eastern, Jewish, Chinese and Transylvanian music will be sung and played. Entrance is free but you need to book at 06 72 02 51 46 or email@example.com
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