"An extremely ancient place of pilgrimage with a curious Baroque-style oratory, covered with Renaissance frescoes and gilt, in the purest tradition of Savoie's religious heritage..." wrote Roger Frison Roche in Mont-Blanc aux sept Vallées.
We have no certain information on the origin of Notre-Dame-de-la-Gorge: it is said that 900 years ago, a hermit settled in this valley bottom, to welcome and comfort travellers who passed through this place... The path led to the Bonhomme pass, and from there, one reached Italy. The pious hermit had organised a sanctuary for the "spiritual rehabilitation" of travellers. He dedicated it to Saint Anthony, the patron saint of muleteers and guides. The archives reveal that the small sanctuary became a parish. The bottom of the valley was inhabited: in 1338, the "village" of La Gorge had thirty "fires" (households).
A VERY SPECIAL ALTARPIECE
Originally, the group of statues on the upper level of the altarpiece illustrated the Coronation of the Virgin, the fifteenth mystery of the Rosary. Mary at prayer, flanked by Christ and God the Father, occupied the central part of the decoration.
For some unknown reason, the altarpiece was taken down between the end of the 18th and the middle of the 19th century. Perhaps to protect it during the revolutionary period? When it was put back in place, it was thought to be a good idea to place the statue of the Eternal Father in the centre of the decoration... But the scene thus lost its original meaning!
For a long time, art historians, disconcerted by this four-figure Trinity, spoke of "theological boldness". It was only by chance, in 1998, that the original meaning of this composition was understood, when one observed the direction of the cherubs' gaze under each statue!
A LATIN VERSION OF THE FAÇADE
The façade of the building, protected by its large decorated roof overhang, is comparable, in a slightly simplified version, to those of other churches in the valley.
Two stuccoed cartouches with Latin inscriptions are visible: on the left, it is written "He who has found Mary will find life" and on the right "Her foundations are established on the holy mountains". A final inscription can be seen on the transverse band between the cornice and the oculus: "I am the Mother of beautiful goodness".
The statues on the left and right of the main altarpiece evoke Saint Anthony, the first patron saint of the place, and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the preacher of the Blessed Virgin. Little by little, the church was enriched with five other altars, three of which had gilded altarpieces. They have now disappeared, except for the openwork columns of the left-hand altar and the magnificent frieze in relief, which represents the angels consoling the souls in Purgatory. The flowery, colourful and gilded ensemble is characteristic of the Baroque style. On the left, a statue of Saint François de Sales - bishop of Geneva and great promoter of the reform of the Catholic Church - holding a flaming heart, alludes to his "Traité de l'Amour de Dieu" published in Annecy in 1616.
Take a virtual tour here: https://drone-de-regard.fr/VR/FACIM/74_Contamines.html
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