The Story of Notre-Dame des Grâces

Notre-Dame des Grâces 1

Notre-Dame des Grâces

Set at the edge of a grassy plateau overlooking the verdant Bonnette Valley, this little chapel is visible for miles around. It commands a magnificent view of the countryside, with the ancient province of Quercy on one side and the Rouergue on the other. The River Bonnette is the dividing line between them. Not far away is the village of Lacapelle-Livron, the site of an important former Templar commandery.

IMG_3021

View of the wooded hills of Quercy-Rouergue

If you’ve seen the film ‘Charlotte Gray’, based on the Sebastian Faulkes novel, you might recognise this spot. The film is set during World War II and was shot mainly in Saint-Antonin, not far away, but some action took place around the chapel.

Our walking group started from the chapel this week and descended to walk along the thankfully shady Bonnette Valley before a steep climb back to Lacapelle-Livron. Before we set off, we heard a little about the chapel’s history, and this whetted my appetite to find out more. As is often the case, there’s a story.

Notre Dame des Grâces 2

Notre-Dame des Grâces, from the Bonnette Valley below

Catherine de Gorsse was the widow of Pierre de Pause, a rich merchant of Lacapelle-Livron, who had recently been ennobled. In 1471, she drew up her will and made provision for a funerary chapel to be built, dedicated to the Virgin.

What is rare about this chapel is its site. It was quite common in the Middle Ages for wealthy notables to build chapels to house the family tomb. These were normally situated near the parish church or in the cemetery. Catherine chose this isolated spot about half a kilometre from the village itself.

Château de Montdésir

Château de Mondésir, visible from the chapel

People have speculated that this might have been because the Château de Mondésir in the lower village of Saint-Pierre de Livron is clearly visible from the hill. The château belonged to the de Pause family and family members were buried in the chapel for some time. Was she establishing a rather unusual visual link between the living and the dead de Pauses?

It appears that Catherine died not long after drawing up her will. Respecting her wishes, her son, named Pierre de Pause like his father, commissioned two master masons to build the chapel. The contract specified the dimensions of the building and said that it must be constructed of good quality stone. The result is a robust little structure with sturdy buttresses, built to withstand all weathers.

Notre-Dame des Grâces doorway

Flamboyant Gothic doorway

The chapel has been restored at various times over the years. The stained glass windows were made in the 19th century by a master-glassmaker in Toulouse. It also appears that the chapel may have had wall paintings at one time, but these no longer exist.

Notre-Dame des Grâces interior

Chapel interior

This is a lovely place for a picnic, with the rolling countryside of Quercy-Rouergue spread out before you and little disturbance except the cries of buzzards. Someone has even put two picnic tables there, although there is no shade, so it’s not advisable on a hot day.

And, of course, a visit to the ancient alleyways of nearby Lacapelle-Livron is a must. The commandery is now privately owned, although the church attached to it is usually open, and the village has its original market hall.

Lacapelle-Livron - Templar commandery

Church next to the commandery. A walkway once went around the top.

Lacapelle-Livron - halle

Market hall in Lacapelle-Livron

You might also like:

Of Knights, Damsels and Dragons
Watery Walk: La Vallée de la Bonnette
Celebrating the Past at our Village Fête

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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9 Responses to The Story of Notre-Dame des Grâces

  1. Kerrie Roberts says:

    I have just discovered your blog and I can see that I will enjoy the experience. I too live in southwest France, near Bergerac, and as an australian, I appreciate the history surrounding us. Many years ago we discovered the little chapel of Notre Dame de Rugby outside Grenade-sur-l’Ardour. It is also out of town, on a hill surrounded by forest, and very tiny. Surprising how many of these chapels have survived and it would be fascinating to know the stories behind them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Good to meet you, Kerrie, and thank you for commenting. What a strange name the chapel has that you mention! It’s good that many of these chapels are being restored, although sadly some of them have gone beyond the point of no return. If you are interested, we are involved in helping to restore a chapel near our house. Just look up Teysseroles Chapel under the categories in the RH sidebar to read the posts about it.

      Like

  2. Osyth says:

    Fascinating as usual. I must say that the theory that the site for the Chapel was chosen to be in sight of the house does sound very plausible. I have long noted the number of French cemeteries that are sited in beautiful spots with lovely views around them. Does Lacapelle mean ‘The Chapel’ by the way …. there are a number of villages in the south west of Cantal called Lacapelle this or that and I have often wondered but never actually done the research to find an answer ….

    Liked by 2 people

    • nessafrance says:

      You’re right about the cemeteries. The chapel we are helping to restore at Teysseroles is set on a mound and the cemetery has a lovely view to the south. I think Lacapelle probably does mean chapel. I did a bit of scouting around on Google and the village was first named La Capèla after the Templars had been granted possessions there and had built their chapel. Before that, it was probably a collection of small hamlets without a village centre, but once the Templars settled there it quickly expanded. It’s been called variously La Capelle and later Lacapelle. It’s more than likely that the names of the Cantal villages have a similar origin.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Osyth says:

        I read a post from a lady way back who said she doesn’t like French cemeteries… ever since then, I have meant to write a piece about how lovely I find them. Thank you for sharing your researches about Lacapelle. It firms up my thoughts. One of my favourite place names is in Haute Loire … La Chapelette which is very tiny and you could blink and miss the tiniest of chapels on a little mound – you would be pushed to get more than two people in with the priest. Just down the road is Pont de l’enceinte and I have always wondered if the little chapel was built for shot-gun weddings!

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        I think French cemeteries are often in lovely settings, but I must say some of the monuments are a bit over the top for my taste. I love the sound of La Chapelette. A nice idea about le Pont de l’Enceinte, but I’m afraid the reality is more prosaic. I Googled that and found this explanation of its name: Cet ouvrage porte son nom à cause de l’endroit où il est construit. Jean Chervalier apporte les détails dans son ouvrage Pont de Haute-Loire : « A cet endroit, le Lignon enserre, dans la boucle à peu près complète qu’il forme entre les Issards et la Baraque, une colline escarpée sur laquelle est situé un minuscule hameau (…). So it appears that the river formed an almost complete circle or “enclosure” around a hill.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Osyth says:

        Damn. I guess that was probably what kept me from ever googling it … the fear that the truth would be so dull! The monuments? I don’t do well with religious architecture and monuments so I tend to be less than admiring of them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        Oh dear! Sorry to have burst the bubble. You can still imagine that was the real reason for the name, though.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Osyth says:

        And I surely shall!

        Liked by 1 person

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