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Chapelle Notre-Dame des Flots


Chapelle Notre-Dame des Flots

The chapel of Notre-Dame-des-Flots has overlooked the cliffs of Sainte-Adresse since 1859 − part of our landscape, history and religious tradition. Like the Sugarloaf memorial a few metres further down, it is now swamped by houses and blocks of flats. Yet it has not lost its charm, with its dramatic position, romantic garden and evocative inscriptions, thank-you messages, pictures and scale models that still remain.

The coast is dotted with numerous churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary, including Notre-Dame-de-Grâce in Honfleur, Notre-Dame-de-Salut in Fécamp, and Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde in Etretat. Sainte-Adresse is thought to have had a Marian chapel since the fourteenth century, with a ceremony held every 11 September. The current chapel was built by the Abbé Duval-Pirou, a distinctly unconventional clergyman who owned a loat of money and had a pragmatic, enterprising and thrifty way of thinking. He was to hire out the chapel's chairs to a dance hall on Sunday evenings and in 1857, launched a fund-raising appeal to cover half of the building costs, which he publicized in the daily papers, promising the generous benefactors (sixty individuals and six families responded favourably) that their names would be engraved on a picture hung in the vestry. The building was designed in the fashionable thirteenth-century Gothic style by a young architect called Théodore Huchon, who was later to build the Villa Mon Désir (sadly now destroyed) for the exiled Queen Maria Christina of Spain. His first project made such an impression on him that he asked for Notre-Dame-des-Flots to be depicted in a medallion on his stele in Sainte-Marie Cemetery. The building work was carried out by the firm of Pupin, as recorded in an inscription on a stone in the facade, left of the portal. Always on the look-out for a bargain, the Abbé Duval-Pirou cleverly managed to get Caen, Ranville, Caumont and Vernon stone from the demolished fortifications of Le Havre half price from the City Council.
Artists and craftsmen generously helped embellish the interior. The chapel took two years to build, from the laying of the first stone on 20 September 1857 to the consecration of the building on 11 September 1859, on a gorgeous fine day, in front of nearly ten thousand people. The chapel has changed somewhat since then. In 1861, it underwent major alterations involving the addition of two small transepts. The south transept is a chapel dedicated to Saint Henry, the patron saint of the Countess da Silveira's only son, who died in 1857 and whose recumbent statue is housed in the chapel. By agreeing to add a chapel, the parish priest of Sainte-Adresse not only granted immense consolation to the grieving mother: he also gave himself an excuse to erect the chapel of Saint Denis (also known as the Priest's Chapel) on the north side, to house his own tomb.

The chapel's original design, As conceived by the Abbé Duval-Pirou, was simple/has a simple layout consisting of a nave flanked by two pinnacles, with a crypt underneath. Its most unusual feature is the axial chapel known as the Sanctuary − a huge recess containing the statue of the Virgin Mary, illuminated by bay windows and painted with stars on an azure ground. It is built over the vestry and is a continuation of the choir, making clever use of the space and placing the statue of the Virgin in a dominant position. The impression of depth as you raise your eyes from the altar to the statue of the Mother of God is quite extraordinary, considering how small the building is (the nave is only 13.4 metres long).

Although, when all is said and done, this is a fairly humble monument, it continues to attract a constant flow of visitors. Believers, tourists and the simply curious come here for a moment's contemplation, to look at the building and to think of the seafarers who have been saved or lost forever.

In his “chats with Raoul Dufy”, Pierre Courthion records:
“In his luggage he asked to have packed his tubes of tempera, sheets of paper, and a small painting by himself of a Virgin with the legend 'Notre-Dame-des-Flots', which he always took with him on his travels.”

rue Charles Alexandre Lesueur  
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