Extraordinary Chapels In France

By Carolyn Shields

Stained glass. Mosaics and marble. Tall, tapered candles. Organs to demand, pews to sprawl in, altars to behold. I will never forget when my big brother looked up at the beauty of our church and overcome with awe, he whispered, “All of this…it was made for you.”

And sure, sometimes our Churches aren’t the most beautiful places. Maybe it’s some funky 1970s carpet that’s too expensive to replace, or God forbid, wood paneling. Maybe your Church just needs some serious repair, but the most beautiful thing about these sacred homes are without a doubt what we find within the tabernacle.

Below are some seriously beautiful, though unconventional and sometimes dilapidated chapels, in France that will make you want to pack up and head out on a pilgrimage this weekend. (And if you want to read more, check out our previous article, Cathedrals).

  1. Vaux-de-Cernay Abbey

    Vaux-de-Cernay Abbey was a Cistercian monastery in northern France, situated in Cernay-la-Ville, in the Diocese of Versailles, Yvelines. The abbey was founded in 1118 and thrived for several hundred years until the French Revolution when its remaining abbots were dispersed.


2. La Chapelle de L'ange au Violon

A carpet of foliage, golden light, and breathtaking architecture makes this chapel the stuff of dreams. This chapel was built in the 19th century in France.


 3. The Chapel Notre Dame Du Haut

I can’t remember where I learned about this chapel, actually, scratch that. I just remembered. It was in some British renovation tv show. But it was built in the mid 20th century when the original chapel was destroyed in World War II. The post-modern chapel itself is a comparatively small structure enclosed by thick, white washed walls and attracts 80,000 pilgrims a year. (And psst, google Chapel Notre Dame Du Haut windows for some extraordinary photos!)


4. The Chapel de Royale

Did you know that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were Catholic? Usually they’re remembered for their ornate tastes that caused a revolution, but their rich preferences are on full display at their chapel in Versailles.


5. Sainte-Chapelle

I literally stumbled across this one when my plans were diverted years ago when I visited Paris, and I say so sincerely, thank God. This Gothic style chapel was built from 1248 and only took six years to build. It was originally constructed to house the Crown of Thorns, and the architect…is unknown.


6. Fontanges Monolithic Chapel

Located in Pays de Salers, at the entrance to the village of Fontanges, the Chapel of St. Michael was inaugurated in 1901 and is remarkable for being built into a huge volcanic rock with a statue of the Virgin Mary on top. The only one of its kind, the cross-shaped monolithic chapel includes not only a Romanesque archivolt decorated with Fontanges' coat of arms, but also an altar made of Volvic stone, a stained glass window and a wrought iron gate. After visiting the building, you will be able to ascend to the top of the rock to see the statue of the Virgin, and enjoy a beautiful view of the town and the green Aspre Valley.


7. Saint Michel d'Aiguilhe

Saint-Michel d'Aiguilhe (St. Michael of the Needle) is a chapel in Aiguilhe, near Le Puy-en-Velay, France. It was built in 969 on a volcanic plug 279 ft high and is reached by 268 steps carved into the rock. It was built to celebrate the return from the pilgrimage of Saint James. In 1429, the mother of Joan of Arc, Isabelle Romée, was said to have come to the site to pray.


8. Église Saint-Hilaire de Melle

Since 2011 an installation of the artist Rochefortais Mathieu Lehanneur, replaces the old altar. Designed as a multitude of layers of white marble from Namibia, a mound incorporating baptismal font and the altar now occupies the choir of the church. And I mean, come on. Woah.