enamel painting by Le Corbusier on the main entrance door

get me to the church on time!

I was just going through some of the saved photos that were fortunately backed up onto my iPhone before the fire destroyed my vintage VW Canterbury Pitt camper. It seemed odd that these pictures and memories were not going to make it into the digital domain, so I thought I should try to finish off a couple of old draft blog posts that I had started (but not finished) before my european road trip was abruptly cut short…


OK, so Tuesday 24th March is not a traditional holy day to my knowledge, but today I had a bad urge to get to church today. Not just any church, but one which I feel could equally be described as the 8th wonder of the world, Le Corbusier’s world-famous Notre Dame du Haut (La Ronchamp).

my old camper photo bombs La Ronchamp
my old camper photo bombs La Ronchamp

The site is high on a hill near Belfort in eastern France. There had been a pilgrimage chapel on the site dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but it was destroyed during the Second World War. After the war, it was decided to rebuild on the same site, in the hill of Bourlémont. The Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Haut, a shrine for the Roman Catholic Church at Ronchamp, France was built for a reformist Church looking to continue its relevance.

life long ambition fulfilled seeing Le Corbusier's La Ronchamp (Notre Dame du Haut)
life long ambition fulfilled seeing Le Corbusier’s La Ronchamp (Notre Dame du Haut)

Warning against decadence, reformers within the Church at the time looked to renew its spirit by embracing modern art and architecture as representative concepts. Father Marie-Alain Couturier, who would also sponsor Le Corbusier for the La Tourette commission, steered the unorthodox project to completion in 1954.

The chapel at Ronchamp is singular in Corbusier’s oeuvre, in that it departs from his principles of standardisation and the machine aesthetic, giving in instead to a site-specific response. By Le Corbusier’s own admission, it was the site that provided an irresistible genius loci for the response, with the horizon visible on all four sides of the hill and its historical legacy for centuries as a place of worship.

Entrance to the main space of La Ronchamp is via a large pivoting main door that features a striking design painted in enamel by Le Corbusier.

enamel painting by Le Corbusier on the main entrance door
enamel painting by Le Corbusier on the main entrance door

The main interior space has a beautiful calmness and serenity about it. The space is punctuated by shafts of light through the main walls array of irregular shaped and coloured contemporary stained glass that adds dramatic coloured highlights to the largely monochromatic space.

wall of irregular shaped and coloured contemporary stained glass
wall of irregular shaped and coloured contemporary stained glass

The contemporary stained glass as well as adding warm coloured shafts of light to the main space of the church, sometimes also featured hand written text such as ‘etoile du matin’ (morning star) as part of the stained glass window detail.

etoile du matin (morning star) stained glass window detail
‘etoile du matin’ (morning star) stained glass window detail

Off the main central space of the church, were smaller chapels. Their simplicity and illumination were stunning. Above the small intimate spaces, towered large cathedral-like light towers that feed natural daylight into the space below…

the view up inside one of La Ronchamps light well towers
the view up inside one of La Ronchamps light well towers

The monumental grandeur above, was in stark contrast to the humble beauty of the intensely personal and contemplative space of the chapel below. Simply stunning!

small chapel within La Ronchamp
small chapel within La Ronchamp

If you ever get a chance, a visit to La Ronchamp is very highly recommended!

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