In the small town of Allouville-Bellefosse, France, you can find one of the world’s most peculiar tree houses. And what makes it even more interesting is that’s used as a Catholic chapel!
The big oak tree is believed by scientists to be at least 800 years old – making it the oldest known tree in all of France. However, local lore says the tree began growing during the reign of Charlemagne, and that William the Conqueror prayed before its base. That would make the tree more like 1000 to 1200 years old!
However old the tree is, we do know that it was struck by lightning sometime in the 17th century. The lightning strike started a fire inside the tree and burned the tree hollow, leaving the shell of the tree still standing.
The local priest, Fr. Du Cerceau, thought the tree might be miraculous, or at least providential, and built a small chapel inside. Years later, a second chapel was built in the upper portion of the tree, with an exterior staircase to access it. The chapel has been known as the Chêne chapelle, or oak tree chapel, ever since.
Here’s is a drawing of the tree-chapel from the mid-18th century:
During the French Revolution, the tree chapel was almost lost. An angry crowd showed up to burn it to the ground, but a local man told them he had converted it to a “Temple of Reason,” and so it was spared. At some point afterwards, though, it was returned to being a chapel.
Today, the tree can no longer stand on its own strength. Poles have been added to help keep the tree standing. And those wooden shingles you see on the outside? Those have been added over the years in places where the tree bark fell off.
Nonetheless, the chapel is still a place for prayer. Catholic Mass is celebrated inside at least twice a year.