In Allouville-Bellefosse in Normady, stands a tree with character.
It supports and is supported by a wonderful old norman church, the two looking like two old cronies sitting in the sun, in the middle of the village square. Traffic and shops circle these two venerable old gents, but neither pay any attention. The tree, seemingly the oldest tree in France at between 800 and 1200 years of age, is called Chêne Chapelle. It is nearly wider than tall, at 15m high and nearly 16m wide. When it was about 500 years old, lightening struck, and the resulting fire burned its heart out. The local Abbot, Du Detroit, and a village priest, Father Du Cerceau, made the claim that lightening striking the tree was a holy event, and devoted the tiny wooden chapel later built into the hollow trunk space, to the Virgin Mary.
A staircase which is still open to the public was added later too. The tree nearly got burned down to the ground even after all these miracles, during the French Revolution, when some thought it was an emblem of the old system of governance and tyranny (possibly due to the link with the wealthy church which aided and abetted the nobles.)
A furious mob intent on burning the tree to the ground were only stopped at the last moment by a local villager, whose name is now lost, who quick-thinking renamed the oak the “Temple of Reason”. With such a great name, it automatically became a symbol of the revolution’s new ways of thinking and was spared.
The age of the tree means it now has some “medical support”: poles shore up the weight of some branches, and wooden shingles cover areas of the tree that have lost their bark, like a soft felt coat placed on a muchloved grandfather dog; but in spite of all the attention part of its trunk is already dead.
Twice a year, mass is celebrated in the tiny chapel in the centre of the oak. It is the site of a pilgrimage on August 15 (Assumption of Mary)