Located in a French farming village, The Oak of Allouville-Bellfose is one of the biggest and oldest trees of France. In it are built two small chapels one above the other. Together with the large wooden staircase leading up to the chapels it is one of the most unusual Roman Catholic sanctuaries in Europe.
In the 1600s, the tree was stuck by lightning that burnt the tree right through its center and hollowed out the trunk. Instead of dying, the tree started to sprout new leaves. The tree’s miraculous survival drew the attention of the local Abbot, who determined that the lighting striking and hollowing the tree had happened for a holy purpose. So they built a shrine to the Virgin Mary directly into the hollow of the tree. Later another small chapel and a stair case climbing the outside of the tree was added. The chapels were named Notre Dame de la Paix (“Our Lady of Peace”) and the Chambre de l’Ermite (“Hermit’s room”).
During the French revolution, the tree became an emblem of the old system of tyranny. A crowd descended upon the village, intent on burning the tree to the ground. When a quick thinking local renamed the tree the “temple of reason” saving it from fire.
Today the common oak is showing signs of age and stress. Now held up by poles, part of the 33-foot trunk has died and the majority of the tree has been covered over with wooden shingles where the bark has fallen away.