Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe Chapel – The Oldest Chapel of Le Puy, France

May 11, 2015
Saint-Michel d'Aiguilhe Chapel

Stepping through the doorway of the Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe Chapel to watch its cave-like interior is a mystical experience. Located in a place near Le Puy-en-Velay in France, the small chapel is a captivating little pilgrimage standing atop the zenith of a slender, obelisk-like volcanic formation.

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History

Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe is the oldest chapel of Le Puy. However, the rock needle on which it is standing has been revered as a sacred place for thousands of years. It was the home to a prehistoric dolmen, which the Romans dedicated to god Mercury. The Christians later Christianized the place and sanctified the rock to St. Michael the Archangel, the patron of many high places across the Europe.

Photo source: livejournal.com

Photo source: livejournal.com

Structure

The bishop of Puy, Bishop Godescalc, built the chapel in 962. The original shrine was very simple featuring a square sanctuary with small apsidoles on each side. The chapel was extended in the 12th century by adding two side chapels, a bell tower, an elliptical ambulatory, a small nave to the original sanctuary, a carved portal, and a narthex with an upper gallery. At that time, the original style was enhanced by repainting the 10th-century frescoes.

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Fresco on the walls. Photo Credit: Torsade de Pointes

The bell tower was reconstructed in the 19th century after falling down in 1275. Archeologists discovered a collection of sacred artifacts under the altar including a metal Byzantine cross and an 11th century wooden crucifix in 1955. The visitors today can watch those objects displayed behind an iron grate in the wall.

Photo source: livejournal.com

Photo source: livejournal.com

The rock needle that holds the chapel is about 280-foot high. The visitors can reach the chapel through 268-stone steps curving their way up a side of the rock structure. The volcanic core is 269-foot high while the diameter of the small pad atop is just 187 feet. It can be reached via 268 stone steps winding up the side of the rock. The original sanctuary and two of the apsidoles can still be seen.

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Zoomorphic statue decorating the façade of the chapel. Photo Credit: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT

The chapel’s architecture reflects Spanish influence and its stonework pays homage to the grand mosque of Cordoba. A walkway surrounds the chapel from which the spectators can enjoy the wonderful view of Le Puy. The chapel is a favorite pilgrimage and its popularity has increased since the city has become the opening point for one of the main routes to a popular pilgrimage destination, Santiago de Compostela. Many pilgrims start their journey after paying a visit to St. Michel’s chapel.

Beautiful Spots to See

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St. Clair Chapel. Photo Credit: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT

Chapel of St. Clair

The 12th century chapel is located near the base of the rock. With a structure featuring an octagonal plan, the chapel’s exterior displays wonderful mosaic decoration. An old curved lintel on the doorways shows the phases of the moon.

Bell Tower

Built in the 12th century, the tower adds extra height to the chapel. Its arches are made of stones of alternating colors, making it look visually attractive.

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Panoramic view of Le Puy city. Photo Credit: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT

Chapel’s Façade

Dated to the 12th century, the multicolor stonework and arches with a touch of Islamic design influence give the façade a striking appearance. The façade’s stonework illustrates themes from Genesis and Revelation.

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