Notre Dame du Haut de Ronchamp is a small Catholic church in the commune of Ronchamp, France. The church is famed for being designed by the prominent Swiss Modernist architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret AKA Le Corbusier. It is a major tourist attraction in the area.

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Notre Dame du Haut de Ronchamp

History of the Church

The building was one of Corbusier’s later designs and is seen as being a more extreme example of his work. Ordered by the local church association, construction began in 1953 and finished in 1955. The church was consecrated on the 25th of June that year.

The chapel that had previously occupied the same site was destroyed during a bombing raid in World War Two.

The new church was designated an official French historical monument in 1967, and became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016.

The building was also broken into in early 2014. A collection box was stolen; the thieves threw it through one of the stained glass windows (the only window on the church signed by the architect), and shattered it.

Architecture of the Church

Le Corbusier is most famous for his harsh, concrete brutalist style, involving large, plain rectangular structures, completely grey with square windows and no ornamentation. Notre Dame du Haut departs from these aesthetics principles, as the environmental circumstances meant it was not possible for Le Corbusier to construct the building is his normal standardised, machinic way.

The building is made mostly of concrete and stone. The walls are thick, and the columns holding up the roof are embedded in them. The roof has a curious shape, resembling a sail billowing in the wind. The windows are small and unevenly spaced at varying angle, causing a gentle light to filter down into the interior.

The church has been described as both the first postmodernist building and the first expressionist building. The aesthetic is unique and seems to defy easy categorisation.

Inside the floor is sloped upward with the natural slope of the hill underneath, meaning one has to walk up an incline to get to the altar at the end of the nave. The inside walls are white and the ceiling is grey.

Le Corbusier spent a lot of time perfecting the south wall. This wall starts 10 feet wide on one side and then gradually narrows, tapering to a point as it reaches the other side. The inside of the wall is filled with rubble taken from the wreckage of the previous church.

Chunks of stained glass have been embedded in the wall around the inside, and they glitter with various colours, looking like jewels.

The roof looks like it is floating above the rest of the building, a trick that was achieved by using hidden columns to support it rather than making any load bearing walls. The floating roof allows additional daylight to filter in around the top.