Sunday, 30 July 2006

The "Chapel Oak" is the most famous tree of France. It is located in Allouville-Bellefosse, a small village not far from Rouen in Normandy. Not only is it one of the oldest and biggest trees in France, it is also a religious monument and an object of pilgrimage. In it are two small chapels one above the other. Together with the large wooden staircase leading up to the chapels it is one of the most curious Roman Catholique sanctuaries all over Europe. As early as 1830, a description of the tree was published: "In the cemetary of Allouville, one can see this oak, one of the wonders of France. At its base it is 15.24 meters in circumference and at the height of a human, it is 7.32 meters. This tree is more than 900-years-old. Since 1696, the hollow base of the tree has been used as a little shrine to the Holy Mary.

In 1669 the priest of Allouville , Abbot Du D├ętroit and father Du Cerceau decided to build a chapel in the already big and hollow oak, with a small altar with an image of the Virgin Mary. The chapel was dedicated to " Our Lady of Peace ". Later on a second chapel was arranged above the first and an entrance - staircase added. A hermit seems to have lived for some time in it.

During the French revolution, some wanted to burn the tree, but the villagers opposed this. The tree is a greater monument than any building, and many generations of people may find a moment to reflect at its chapel and under its foliage" (Le Vieux Chene D'Allouville, 1830.)

Parts of the tree are dead, the crown has become smaller and smaller over the last century and dead parts of the trunk are sheltered by wooden slates. The oak is supported with poles and cables. Since 1854 the Mass is read twice a year near the oak: on the second of july ( the Patron-Saint's Day ) and on the day after the first Holy Communion.
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