Welcome in Capelou
Travellers, friends, tourists, pilgrims ... when you arrive on the hill of Capelou,
2 km from Belvčs, one of the most beautiful villages in France, you will be struck by the peace and spirituality that emanates from this place.
In a natural preserve of hills, meadows and forests, you will discover the shrine of Notre Dame de Capelou, which has been a place of worship since pre-Celtic times and is now a Christian sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Historians maintain that the site, with its grove of trees and its natural spring, was sacred to the Druids and very likely before them to pre-historic man whose traces abound in this region of France rich in history and natural beauty. On the site of the spring, which is believed to have curative powers and which attracts pilgrims to this day, a Romanesque chapel was built in 1153.
The current chapel was built in 1873 by Jean-Jacques Valleton – a disciple of the architect of the Sacred Heart basilica in Paris. The original religious buildings were lost during the many conflicts of French history, the Hundred Years War, the Wars of Religion, and the French Revolution. For many years the pilgrimages to the shrine took place amongst ruins until, in the hollow of the surrounding hillside, this Neo-Gothic chapel was erected.
In the chapel, do not fail to see:
- The remarkable set of stained glass windows, exceptional for its iconography and its aesthetic quality: the work of the glass painter Jean Beysserias, depicting a complete cycle of the life of the Virgin.
- The high altar of Gothic style is quite beautiful, in fine stone of Poitou.
- The tabernacle is surmounted by an exhibition with 4 angels. It is the work of Victor Barriler, a sculptor from Angers.
- In the choir, the crowned statue of the Virgin from19th century is the one that is on show during the annual pilgrimage processions. The first statue, which is thought to have been a Virgin in Majesty or a Virgin and Child in stone or wood, dated from the Middle Ages but this too was destroyed during the French Revolution. It has been replaced by a Pietŕ (a Virgin holding the dead Christ at the foot of the cross) which is in a niche in a side chapel. This 15th century statue comes from the nearby Fongauffier Abbey.
Other features of the site worth seeing:
-- the fountain of the natural spring, found just below the church and along the road, which is surmounted by a stone Madonna from the 17th century, from the Fongauffier Abbey which itself was destroyed during the French Revolution. As in many sanctuaries dedicated to the Virgin Mary the waters of the spring have been credited with many miraculous cures. Its waters continued to be prized by the local community and travellers alike.
- The park planted with many trees which surrounds the chapel. The altar on the hillside dominating the esplanade is where the annual pilgrimage is held; It is attended by 1000-1500 people on the Sunday closing the week of September 8.
- A Way of the Cross which meanders up the hill above the altar.
--The tables and benches along the hillside which allow pilgrims and visitors to rest, picnic and contemplate.
--The nearby Pilgrim's Shelter which is a large hall that can hold several hundred people in case of bad weather for celebrations and festive meals.
-- The House of Missionaries which belongs to the bishopric, which hopes to restore the main building where missionaries from the countryside have lived for 45 years.
- The small neighbouring house which has been allocated to the association of the Friends of Notre Dame de Capelou to create a refuge and overnight shelter for walkers and pilgrims on the paths of Compostela and Rocamadour.