The Amazing Oak Chapel of Allouville Bellefosse

The French village of Allouville-Bellefosse is famous for the Chêne Chapelle (Oak Chapel), which is literally a chapel built into an oak tree. The amazing architecture consists of a wooden staircase spiraling around the ancient tree, leading up to a couple of chambers. These rooms have always been used as places of worship, by the village locals.

The age of the tree has been a subject of debate, but everyone agrees that it is the oldest tree in France, without a doubt. The tree is known to have been growing as far back as the thirteenth century, during the rule of Louis IX, when France was a truly centralized kingdom. It is also known to have survived the Hundred Years War against the English, the Black Death, the Reformation, and Napoleon’s rule. Local folklore dates it a 1,000 years old, when it is said that the acorn took root. However, tree experts say it could only be around 800 years old, which means the thirteenth century saw it’s origins.

Photo © Ji-Elle

The oak has seen its share of tough times. In the late 1600s, when it was around 500 years old, it was struck by lightning one stormy night. The bolt that struck the tree is estimated to have been around 30,000 °C, yet, the old tree firmly held ground, giving people the opportunity to witness a miracle. Although a hollow was burned right into the center of the tree, new branches and leaves continued to grow and acorns would be produced abundantly. In view of the miracle that had occurred, the tree was pegged as a sort of holy spot, deserving of a pilgrimage. The staircase and chapel were built soon after. The hollow in the tree was devoted to the Virgin Mary, and local Christians pay it a visit every year, on the 15th of August.

Photo © Le ghola

The tree makes for a very pretty sight, but of course, it is aging. Poles have now been installed to help keep the tree upright, and wooden shingles have been added to places where the bark is lost. The old oak is treated as a national heritage and is being preserved pretty well. A must-see place, if you happen to be in that region of France.

Photo © Le ghola

Photo © Jeroen Philippona

Photo © Le ghola