Ronchamp: the architecture of wonder of Chapel of Notre-Dame

Until 1950, Ronchamp was a place as many others. Now, the profile that rises on the summit of the hill, the Chapel of Notre-Dame du Haut, surprises and fascinates. 

The Chapel of Notre-Dame du Haut, designed by the Swiss architect Le Corbusier in the 50s, is the prototype of the modern church: one of the few sacred spaces that upholds freedom from all preconceived schemes with its strong impressions. Colourful silence, I would say.

There is no one there, and I imagine sitting within the “greppina”, the chaise lounge on which sat the Greek philosophers and that Le Corbusier redesigned at the end of the ’20s, so slender, elegant yet strong and intimate. The long wall appears to me as a scenic backdrop. There is no more certainty. The architect was the mystery.

The light is dim, as in medieval cathedrals lit by torches on the bare walls, and the cracks change the external light that transfigures the interior space with changing reflections, intensity, colours, refractions. This wall is no longer a wall but a veil that transpires, that beats, that makes everything light. Large and small holes dig deep into matter. Small cuts, vertical and straights that give rhythm. You almost want to touch the surfaces wetted by the emotion of the colours, I would have a ‘Moduloir’ and climb up to get into the splayed openings and sit there listening to the silence in a sort of spiritual chromotherapy.

I’m thinking of the “cuts” by architect Libeskind in the Jewish Museum in Berlin, symbols of wounds of a tortured people when the light brings back dignity and hope. Or “cuts” of the refined architecture of the Ticino school of 1900, of Galfetti Snozzi, Vacchini, Botta. Slices that select portions of landscapes lit, like paintings to be enjoyed. How do you think of the views by Dali at his home in Port Lligat, which was not open to the sea but just to a slice of the sea – certainly most fascinating.

The plan has a single nave with a completely irregular form. It is in the shape of an eardrum to listen to the word of God. It is here there is destruction, loss. The irregular space involved in the search continues, anxious for an answer that is not, as usual, linked to the need for control, domination and possession.

It is attraction, that is not customary, and it searches not for weariness of the commonplace. It is mystery, not certainty. A curved wall you stroke, you approach, you do not reject. An oblique side is a segment that gives thrust, which starts a rhythm. The space widens and narrows, in a wave of contraction-expansion that takes energy. Life.

We are in the immediate post-war period and there are no more regular structures, logical, spatial, functional. Now it is the spirit that moves and each party is called to his own personal interpretation to a realization about life and human relationships.

A Church that asks you to participate, not to contemplate, that invites you to huddle together to regain a sense of community of the living, that whispers to you that there is a happiness, but that this is to be found in the truth of life and action.

Everything before this was clear and necessary, now it does not seem that way any more. The roof is no longer flat but a canvas that rests gently on different walls. There is here a sense of temporariness as in the church at the Autostrada Firenze by architect Michelucci: a tent symbolizing the journey of the wandering people, a sort of temporary roof to be removed immediately, as soon as the night passes.

It seems that this space that transcends is elevated, as if leavened, supported by the “stilts”. Underneath there passes no car, no traffic flows, but a silent crowd, who do not want deprive themselves of this lightness, this magic. It is as if they took the Notre-Dame du Haut by hand, with the happiness of the simple hearts, touched and not allowed to escape.

The lightness of these church doors in flight, free to soar in the sky like violins of Chagall.