There’s a sacred energy in this pretty town of Rochefort-en-Terre. I found it in the quiet arbor leading up to a tiny chapel, on a hill, away from the main part of town. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
On our trip around rural France, I’ve noticed that the French have a great respect for St. Michael. Almost every town has a Rue de St. Michel, and every church has a statue or image of him somewhere. Here, in Rochefort-en-Terre there’s the St. Michael de la Grȇle Chapel, a separate chapel dedicated to him, away from the main parish church.
We found the main church, called Notre Dame de la Tronchaye, Our Lady of the Tree Trunk, on the first day. The story goes that during the time of the Norman invasions in the 9th and 10th centuries, a monk hid a statue of the Virgin and Child in a tree trunk to prevent it from being pillaged. Centuries later, a shepherd girl found the statue, and the town decided to build a church on that spot.
A beautiful stained-glass window commemorates the moment, and a statue of Mary stands at a side altar in front of it, where we lit some candles. Literature at the back of the church mentioned the separate chapel.
Curious about it, I found the chapel the next day, a quiet retreat away from the shoppers and visitors in the streets. I walked through two parking lots, and then a picnic area, finally finding a wide path that led to the chapel with trees on either side. There’s a sign posted at the beginning, “Espace du Souvenir Francais,” a place to remember France. The feeling created was one of peace and tranquility. There it was, the little chapel at the end of the path.
But I was disappointed to find the heavy entrance door locked. While it’s common to find churches locked in the US during non-church hours, our experience in France is that they are open during the day. So it was odd that the chapel was closed to visitors. But a tiny grill in the door allowed me to peek in. There he was, St. Michael, the main figure on the altar.
I walked back down the path to the nearest bench, where I sat down and began to meditate and pray. This was where I felt the sacred energy. I’m not going to attempt to describe it, as I will surely sound stupid to most readers. But I know what I felt, peaceful and tranquil. It was easy to spend an hour there.
We learned that the main church uses the chapel on only one day in the year, on the Sunday after the Assumption of Mary. By coincidence, the next day was that Sunday. I thought about attending the service, but decided no – it seemed to be a personal service for the parishioners of that church. From our gite that morning, we could hear singing as the parishioners walked from the church to the chapel, and again several hours later, as they returned.
I went to the church just after noon, and saw that the statue of Mary had been removed from the side altar, and placed on a carrying platform. She was surrounded by flowers, honored on this Sunday after the celebration of the Assumption. Apparently, the parishioners had carried her in a formal procession to the chapel for the service.
So I walked back to the chapel once again, slowly allowing the sacred energy in the arbor to soak in. The heavy red door was open this time. Inside, I found an elderly man, methodically sweeping the rug that had been laid down for the service, and I watched for a while.
Then he was having some trouble rolling it up, so I entered and helped him. With many ‘Merci’ declarations, he took the rolled rug outside to a waiting van. I was alone in the chapel. I looked at the statue of St. Michael, perhaps my favorite so far, and felt a connection. Then the man came back in, motioned to me, and I had to leave.
He closed the door to the chapel behind him. And that is the last anyone will see the inside of the chapel for another year. Grasping the St. Michael necklace that I’ve worn since purchasing it in Le Mont St. Michel, I closed my eyes to savor the moment and the sacred energy.
For other essays on our rural France journey, see:
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