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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Chapel of Arboreal Apotheosis

Photo courtesy of Ji-Elle/Wikipedia.

The Chêne chapelle, or chapel oak in English, is a unique oak tree in Allouville-Bellefosse.  This is the oldest known tree in France.  Allouville-Bellefosse is a small farming village.  According to legend, this tree goes back in time to Charlemagne, and William the Conqueror supposedly knelt in front of it.

Both photos above courtesy of Le ghola/Wikipedia.

Scientists claim the tree is only 800 years old, too young for William the Conqueror to have seen it in 1035 C.E.  But it is still very old.  The tree is almost fifty feet high, and has a base circumference of fifty-two and a half feet.  Its hollow trunk accommodates two chapels.

Photo courtesy of Vincent Mauritz.

Both the Notre Dame de la Paix ("Our Lady of Peace") and the Chambre de l'Ermite ("Hermit's room") were built in 1669.  A spiral staircase that encircles the trunk of the tree leads to their entrances.

Photo courtesy of Paul Munhoven/Wikipedia.

The hollow was created in the 1600s when lightning hit the tree, burning right through its center.  Abbot Du Détroit and Frere Du Cerceau saw it and were inspired to build a different kind of sanctuary.  They proceeded to built the sanctuary to the Virgin Mary in the hollow.  Later the Chambre de l'Ermite and the staircase were built.

Photo courtesy of Paul Munhoven/Wikipedia.

The tree was almost destroyed during the French revolution.  A crowd incited by the revolution was going to burn it as a symbol of the old ways and of the church, which was abhorred at that time.  But a local resident quickly came up with a new name - "The Temple of Reason".  This appeased the crowd and the tree was saved.

Photo courtesy of Le ghola/Wikipedia.

The tree may not be alive for much longer.  It shows signs of age and stress, and parts of it are already dead.  It has lost much of its bark and in those places it is covered with wooden shingles.  Poles and cables support the tree.

Photos by Luc Doudet.

Each August 15th, the oak is the destination of a pilgrimage for the Assumption of the Virgin.  A local congregation holds mass here twice a year.  As the tree slowly passes away, the site retains its holiness, and chances are it will remain an important sacred spot.  May all trees be venerated!


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