online: 24 june 2010
modified: 23 june, 2 july 2010

18 june 2010 a modern church

Chapelle Notre-Dame Du Haute a Ronchamp

...after witnessing a choral service... performed by six women in the church designed by Le Corbusier... at Ronchamp in eastern France...

...six women in religious dress... one of whom said (with many smiles) yes we are going to sing... as we do every day... and yes you may stay for the service... we like that...

...then they sat near the front and quite soon after praying they began to sing words i did not understand... but that did not matter... the sounds echoing about the interior were enough... and the long silences between songs or hymns or prayers or readings... or whatever else followed... the service progressed a few people entered... two walked about for a minute or two and then left... three others sat on one of the benches until the service was over...

...the sister who had smiled smiled again as she left... and one sister stayed sitting or kneeling in silence...

...i have known of this church for most of my life and visited it before... this visit was for several hours and included looking at this amazing building from all sides and from within... somewhat baffled by its form and intentions...

...what's amazes me is that a church designed by someone who was a notable humanist (and who i imagine did not believe in Christianity) could make so sculptural and profoundly religious a building... one of the most convincing church buildings at a time when that seemed to me culturally impossible:

And now Ronchamp. What does this symbolise? It is so complex that it does not fall into any of these categories

[i had compared the main types of religious or sacreligious building to aspects of the forest, for instance the resemblance of the interior of a gothic catherdral to a forest path, or the interior of a north-lit factory to the forest as a whole].

The paradox of finding such a humanist as Corbusier discovering a form that speaks so directly to our spiritual condition, yet does not explain or clarify it, is puzzling. Perhaps it is not to be explained.*

*from Churches and Beliefs, unpublished essay that i wrote in the nineteen-fifties soon after the chapel was built

...i've not described the appearance of the building.... only the activity and thoughts it provoked...

...but the rain has now set in and it's time to move elsewhere...

22 june 2010

...return visit... expecting to witness another evening service... instead there are many nuns and others leaving after a memorial service... Sister Marie-Des-Anges (Armandine Drogrey) who was born on 2 decemer 1921 and died on 19 june 2010... 'after 66 years of a life totally dedicated to the service of the Lord and the others'... (in the community of clares, who are Franciscans)

...the chapel is now empty except for a few visitors walking about.... one of whom is sitting beside me and has fallen asleep as i write...

...still i can't describe this chapel (of humanistic Christianity?) except to note that it seems to lack (thank goodness) any concept of the whole... only a wealth of visual forms (a boat-like roof... an inclined wall... randomly placed windows cut into the deep and varying wall thickness... the separation of each wall from the others... and a cave-like interior lit by daylight-catching windows and towers that convey diffused or strong daylight from outside to specific parts of the dark interior... and most of the floor-space is clear... with seating for about fifty persons

..on the door are some words by Le Corbusier:

I have intended to create a place of silence, of peace, of inward joy
(no mention of dogmatic belief of any kind!).

peace of silence and prayer
(words on a notice board on the grass outside the door)

my cap fell onto the ground as i wrote these last notes:


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