The Chapel of Saint-Michel d'Aiguilhe is a fascinating little pilgrimage chapel perched atop a rocky needle of volcanic formation jutting dramatically high into the sky, at a place near Le Puy-en-Velay in France. The basalt needle on which the chapel is built rises approximately 280 feet, and is reached by 268 stone steps that wind their way up the side of the rock. The chapel is surrounded by a walkway that provides a beautiful view of the city with its Puy Notre Dame Cathedral and the old bridge crossing the cusps terminal .
The chapel was built in 962, but the rock needle itself has been a sacred place for thousands of years: a prehistoric dolmen was built there and the Romans dedicated it to Mercury before the Christians built a chapel to St. Michael.
The Chapel was built by the bishop of Puy to celebrate the return of St. Michael who was on pilgrimage to Saint Jacques de Compostela. It was a simple shrine built on a central plan: a square sanctuary a tiny apsidole on each side. This original sanctuary and two of the apsidoles still survive today. The chapel attracted many pilgrims, especially since Le Puy was the starting point for one of the main routes to Santiago de Compostela.
In the 12th century, the chapel was significantly enlarged by adding a short nave west of the original sanctuary, an elliptical ambulatory, two side chapels, a narthex with an upper gallery, a carved portal, and a bell tower. The 10th-century frescoes were repainted in the original style and more were added. A century later, in 1955, archaeologists discovered a treasure trove of sacred objects in the altar, which are now displayed behind an iron grate in the wall.
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