We got taken to a rather extraordinary site today, one that we didn't even know existed, despite having lived in the area for more than a decade.
|A calvary, constructed of reinforced concrete.|
It is a faithful copy of the grotto at Lourdes, built in the 1860s out of reinforced concrete, hidden away in the woods in the park of the Chateau of Paulmy, 20 kilometres away from where we live.
The grotto was commissioned by Gertrude Stacpoole, Marquise d'Oyeron, just a couple of years after the original sanctuary was created, and made by a master rocailleur (landscape scale artificial rock artisan) from Tours. She had visited Lourdes often, and so decided to have her own version made. In addition to the grotto there are rustic bridges crossing the carefully landscaped stream, a circular basin and a mound that acts as a calvary.
|Bridge with faux wood rails and a cascade.|
The site now belongs to the municipality of Paulmy, but can't be accessed without permission. These days it is like walking into an ancient Mayan site, barely cleared of the encroaching jungle. Fallen trees lie at all angles, victims of a hurricane in the 1990s.
|The replica shrine, with a mature oak tree fallen on it.|
Gertrude, who was the daughter of a duke, came from a fabulously wealthy but disfunctional Anglo-Irish-French family. Her father abandoned his English wife and numerous children in Rome. He then went on to set up home with a couple who were close friends in England and left the bulk of his fortune to them. Much of his collection of art and fine objects is now in the Wallace Collection in London. Gertrude married Auguste Fournier de Boisaigrault, who inherited the Chateau of Paulmy estate, and whose mother was a member of the powerful Voyer d'Argenson family, who owned multiple grand properties around Les Ormes.
A stained glass window made at the end of the 19th century by the famous Tours based artisan Lux Fournier depicting the grotto can be seen in the church in Paulmy. There was an annual pilgrimage to the shrine on 15 August from 1885 to 1955, which several thousand people participated in. I was interested in how much at pains my French companions were to let me know that this was a Catholic tradition and not something they knew much about.
|The stream is divided to create islands, with the shrine in the background.|