The Chapel of Le Corbusier, Notre Dame du haut – Ronchamp: An Architectural and Spiritual Experience


Historical Introduction

The village was not unknown before the arrival of Le Corbusier. In fact, just as it is today, many centuries earlier, it was a place of pilgrimage. From the thirteenth century people have been flocking to this site traditionally associated with miracles of all sorts. The idea and spirit of pilgrimage has been preserved in the architectural form of the chapel itself. A "miracle of rare device", as Coleridge would perhaps have put it, conveying a sense of power, majesty and spirituality. The omnipotent power and majesty of the dove representing the almighty spirit and power of the Lord, the Holy Spirit.

The site of the church has known hard times but has triumphed over evil. During the French Revolution the church that once stood here was sold and became a refuge for animals and a deposit for fodder! It was later bought back by the villagers and restored to its former glory and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. However, this neo-Gothic church was destroyed by lightning in 1913.

The hillside was also the scene of fierce fighting during the Second world War, in Septembre 1944. The earlier structure was destroyed by the bombs that pounded down from the skies. Much of the stone from this building was used in the walls of this new structure of Notre Dame du Haut. From the ashes of the old church emerged this world famous and controversial replacement designed by the Swiss-born architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, known worldwide as "Le Corbusier" (October 6, 1887 – August 27, 1965). In many ways the fate of churches on this site has much in common with Coventry Cathedral which also emerged from the ashes of fire and destruction of war. This, too, is a masterpiece of architecture, thought provoking and controversial. Also the Church of Sveta Nedelya in Sofia Bulgaria suffered from bombing but all have risen triumphant and have become symbols of the fundamental event of Christianity: death and resurrection.

A turbulent and precarious existence. Once the scene of combat between the forces of darkness resulting in the old church being reduced, by the French Revolution to a deposit of fodder, it now becomes the site of the architectural incarnation of divine beauty, majesty and power. Once the scene of the destructive force of the bombs that wrought destruction from above it is now the scene where the spirit of man rises from the unspiritual, carnal everyday life below to the spiritual resurrection he often unconsciously yearns in his pilgrimage through this world. The elevation of the spirit of man to God replaces the forces of darkness.


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