By Kelly Legg
Perhaps one of the most remarkable sights in France is the ancient chapel of Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe (St. Michael’s Chapel). This is a fascinating little pilgrimage chapel perched high on top of a rocky of volcanic formation, jutting dramatically high into the sky, at a place near Le Puy-en-Velay in France.
The base on which the chapel is built rises 269 ft. high, with a top diameter of 187 ft. The attractive 12th-century bell tower of St. Michael’s Chapel adds further height. The chapel was built in 962, but the volcanic rock needle itself has been a sacred place for thousands of years.
In the 12th century, adding a short sitting area west of the original sanctuary significantly enlarged the chapel. The bell tower fell down in 1275 and was not reconstructed until the 19th century. Removal of the plaster in the chapel in about 1850 revealed the magnificent 10th and 12th-century murals. A century later, in 1955, archaeologists discovered a treasure trove of sacred objects in the altar, which are now displayed behind an iron grate in the wall.
Inside, the stonework illustrates themes from Genesis and Revelation. At the top are five wall sculptures beneath arches held by four open hands. In the center is a sculpture of Christ holding the Book of the Life. On the right are the Virgin Mary and St. John and on the left are St. Peter and St. Michael.
The upper walls of the 10th-century sanctuary are covered in murals of the same period. The murals are not in great condition, but enough survives to recognize the subjects and admire its historical beauty.
There is an admission fee of 3.5 euros (approximately $4) to tour this amazing chapel. The movie in the visitor center gives visitors an overview of the place, history and the murals. The climb is moderate and there are several switchbacks where visitors can stop and rest and take in the views. The chapel itself is viewed in silence with no flash photography. Many still pilgrimage to chapel of Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe to pray and meditate.