Notre Dame Du Brusc Chapel
Follow a narrow, winding road, crowded at the edges with trees jostling for space, and you will discover the ruins of an ancient chapel, squatting quietly in a forest clearing near the perched village of Châteauneuf-de-Grasse. The stony hills behind the bustling Cote d’Azur hide many unexpected discoveries like this chapel. If you walk through the forests that cover the hills, you often run into half-destroyed stone cottages, crumbling arches, and broken-down oil mills: vestiges of long-gone civilizations who once farmed here and fought battles to defend their villages. These encounters always make me feel like I’m walking in some sort of magic land: I become a child on an adventure. Maybe there will be hidden treasure in one of these abandoned ruins, or perhaps the ghosts of those who lived here will be disturbed and rise again to protect their homes. There is always a frisson of excitement in coming across some lost, bramble-covered ruin that seems to have been left to its own devices for years.
The ruins of Notre Dame du Brusc chapel are said to date back to the paleo-christian times. I looked that one up….that’s the period between 250 A.C and 500 A.C. That makes this site staggeringly old! From archaeological excavations carried on on the site, they have discovered artifacts dating back to the Bronze Age. The first recording of the chapel itself is in the 1100’s, but it’s possible it was there earlier. Is your mind boggling with age yet?! It was partially destroyed during the Religious Wars in the 15oo’s, and was reconstructed using the original stones in the 17th Century, so even the restoration work is terribly old, especially for someone like me who comes for a new country like New Zealand. The oldest, still-standing building in New Zealand was built brand-new in 1822. Think about it: that’s AFTER the “modern” restoring work happened on the ruins of this chapel!
I love these ruins that appear to be forgotten by the world. It is a peaceful place that very few people visit. You can sit on the golden stones under the venerable olive trees and imagine the past life the chapel had; when it was a bustling centre on the Roman road between Arles in the West and Antibes, on the coast. It was one of the largest places of worship in the region. No doubt, it was known far and wide. Now it has faded into obscurity, lying dormant in the forest which tries to engulf it.
Why did this chapel fall out of favour? Something that would have seemed so necessary and eternal in its time is now crumbling and deserted. The people who worked and worshipped here all those centuries ago cannot have possibly imagined that this important hub would lie in ruins a few hundreds years later. It makes me wonder which modern buildings we now see as permanent fixtures will fade away to nothing in time. Will the people of the future sit in the ruins of the Eiffel Tower or the Burj Khalifa and wonder what those in the past did there and why they built these structures?
When you are walking around the ruins of the chapel, you are placing your feet on paths that have been walked on for more than a thousand years. I know that this is the case in most places in Europe, but somehow, here in the ruins of the Notre Dame du Brusc chapel, the connection with all those long dead people seems much more substantial than if you go somewhere like the Colosseum in Rome, or Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Maybe the chapel’s isolation and lack of visitors have helped preserve the spirit of its past. Whatever the reason, I selfishly hope that it continues to be a forgotten place so it remains a preserve of peace and tranquility.
By Lisa Watson