Chene Chapelle, which translates to mean Chapel Oak is located in Allouville-Bellefosse in northern France. Like something straight from a Disney movie, the Chene Chapelle takes up its residence in an ancient oak tree trunk, containing two tiny chapels, and is reached by a spiral staircase surrounding the trunk. This oak is the oldest known tree in France and is still standing tall after more than 800 years.
Although trees have been used as a place of worship in many places, this tree’s chapels came about in an unusual way. According to local legend, the tree is as old as the kingdom of France itself, and William the Conqueror prayed under its branches before he left for England. In the 17th century, lightning struck the tree, burning the inside. This left a hollow but still-living tree.
Taking this as a sign from God, a local priest had the shell of the tree converted into a chapel and began building a shrine to the Virgin Mary directly into the hollow of the tree. Later another small chapel and a staircase climbing the outside of the tree were added.
During the French revolution, an angry crowd came to burn the tree, as it was a symbol of the old and unwanted church during a tumultuous time in history. However, someone from the chapel’s congregation saved the tree by renaming it a ‘Temple of Reason,’ which somehow spared the tree.
Today, the oak is beginning to show signs of age. Portions of the 33-foot trunk have died and part of the tree has been covered with wooden shingles where the bark has fallen away. Although Chene Chapelle’s host tree has begun to deteriorate, its congregation still gathers twice a year for Mass, and the tree is still the destination of an annual pilgrimage on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin.
For more information, visit www.historyandotherthingsweb.wordpress.com/2018/07/03/chenechapelle.