Chapelle de la Santonne
One man's desire to transcend art led to the construction of this outsider chapel.
On the outskirts of the provincial town of Apt, France sits the Chapelle de la Santonne, a home-made chapel that aspires to nothing less than transcending art itself.
Local English teacher and passionate modern art amateur Roger Petit started to build this strange chapel. Constructed against a little hill, the chapel’s unusual shape and aesthetic make it a unique vision of devotional art. From the stylized stone fish that is spread out across the building’s facade to the windows made of brightly-colored shards of uneven glass, every inch of the hand-made church has an artistic flourish. Even the roof is covered with unique zinc plates.
Petit used to welcome visitors with a smile and stories about the sacred sanctuary but he has since passed away. However the chapel is still accessible to visitors through the always unlocked front door. Inside, abstract mosaics decorate the curved walls, illuminated by the sunlight passing through the windows which cast a colorful light across the slightly surreal atmosphere. The centerpiece of the chapel is a strangely shaped wooden sculpture which some might see as a humanoid creature crying in pain while others might recognize the Christ crucified.
A three-page manifesto explaining the site can usually be found on the altar. Written by Petit in June 1959, the document supposedly details the rationale that led him to design and build his work of art. Although it can be quite cryptic even for native French speakers, the document explains that the chapel is intended to be “a possible beginning of a superior form of art.” The building was to overcome the limitations of common art fields like sculpture or painting and would be “to the scale of Nature, and fully integrated in it.” Petit chose to build “a sacred monument, a chapel […] to induce lucid and profound meditation towards nature and creation.” Whether or not the chapel transcends art, the piece definitely recalls lucid dreams.
Know Before You Go
From Apt, follow the D113 south, then go past the Saint-Massian Church and take the Chemin de la Santonne on your right. There are two entrances to the path and although the second one is closest to the chapel, it is easier to take the first entrance. Follow the path until spotting the stone sign displaying "La Santonne" on your right. Leave your car on the path and enter the property on foot, you should be able to spot the chapel on your left.
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