Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe in Le Puy en Velay

Rocher Saint-Michel D'Aiguilhe, Le Puy-en-Velay, Francija

Website of the Sanctuary

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February 1. to March 14: 14.00 to 17.00 March 15 to April 30: 9.30 - 12.00 and 14.00 to 17.30 May 1 to July 9: 9.00 to 18.30 July 10 to September 30: 9.00 to 18.30 October 1 to November 15: 9.30 - 12.00 and 14.00 to 17.30 Christmas time: 14.00 to 17.00

Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe

Aiguilhe means “needle”, and like many lofty Christian sacred spaces, the chapel atop it is dedicated to the Archangel Michael, likely because of his propensity to appear on mountain tops and other high places.

The small town of Aiguilhe nestles around the foot of Saint Michael rock. It proudly protects the entry to the village with an intricate web of alleyways. Wander into the labyrinth and look for the magic square, the Crozatier fountain, the St Clair chapel, the crooked bridge. To top it all off, enjoy a relaxing break at a café terrace while thinking to yourself that truly strong faith was necessary to build a chapel on top of this rock !

A sacred place since the dawn of time, the summit of the volcanic cone was crowned in the 10th century with the chapel dedicated to saint Michael. A magical moment as you climb up the steep rock, a feeling of intense emotion on entering the sky high sanctuary…

See Top 15 Catholic shrines.

Reminding books of images from ancient times, the decorations of the pillars and vaults speak to us of nature and fantasy, of horses and people ; even the Virgin Mary fades away to leave the ultimate glory to the King of Earth and the majestic Heavens…

THE MAID’S JUMP

There is another legend that has been attached to the area from an early date. Médicis, who documents the tale, creates more questions than he answers in this story which is typical of St. Michel sites. A maid is accused of misconduct.

In order to prove her purity in this period of ‘Judgement of God’ style punishments, she is thrown into the air from the top of the Rocher (this supposes that the Rocher was accessible and therefore that the tale occurs after the fitting of the staircase.)


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She survived without injury and is, therefore, proven to be pure. She even manages to survive a second time when she is asked to jump again as confirmation. Becoming conceited, she arrogantly decides to jump a third time and, this time, loses her life.

Pilgrimage site – Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe

Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe has remained a pilgrimage site for centuries although it is rarely distinguished from the Notre Dame du Puy, forming one single monument.

Though accounts of pilgrimages to the Notre Dame are rarely detailed, they sometimes include reference to Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe. These records are such that it is known that kings Charles VII, Louis XI and Charles VIII have all climbed the Rocher and Charles VIII is also known to have taken collation at the top. See other Catholic sites in France.

For centuries, the Hôtel-Dieu in Le Puy, situated under the Notre Dame cathedral, had a monopoly over selling metal piety images to pilgrims.

During his pilgrimage to Le Puy in March 1476, King Louis XI made a large monetary donation to the Saint-Michel Church. Nothing less was to be expected of the King that founded the order of Saint Michel.
These hints suggests that devotion at Saint-Michel had moments of some importance, separate to those of Notre Dame, but that often they were closely associated, as could be seen during the jubilees of Le Puy.

Origins and history

Gallia Christiania (an encyclopaedia of all Catholic dioceses in France), which transcribed the founding charter of the first Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe shrine, informs us that on July 18th of the year 961, Godescalc, the Bishop of Le Puy, agreed to the building of the first Pre-Roman sanctuary on the Rocher d’Aiguilhe. It is to this same bishop – considered as the first ‘French’ pilgrim to have visited Saint- Jacques de Compostelle – that the rise of pilgrimages from the town is accredited.

It is impossible not to link the above facts and it’s within this context that the origins of contemporary Aiguilhe are fitted.

Despite this, the charter states that the initiative to build Aiguilhe is not attributed to this bishop, but to the Dean of Le Puy, named Truannus.

Truannus is not only merit-worthy for having managed to build a church on top of the Rocher, but also for making it accessible by building a wide staircase into the hard rock.

The Dean gave the rights to the Chapel as a gift to the Cathedral. He required permission from Bishop Godescalc, firstly, to build the Chapel and, secondly, to do with it as he wished after his death.

However close the relationship between the Bishop and the Dean and however subordinate the Dean was to the Bishop’s wishes, Truannus was not simply the executor of the Bishop’s project in this case. It was not necessary for the two dignitaries to ‘get on well’ for the work to go ahead but, the terms agreed in 961 remained respectful.

In any case, a written agreement became necessary which created the possibility of conflict. The difficulty never arose however, as Godescalc was replaced by his successor Guy d’Anjou shortly before 961 and the latter validated the act of donation to the cathedral after Godescalc’s death.

Bishop Godescalc’s early involvement in pilgrimage to Saint-Jacques de Compostelle, and its implications on the development of pilgrimages from Notre Dame du Puy, has been explored by several authors.

Truannus made his decision to make a gift of the Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe at a time when he was worried about what would happen to his assets after his death. His decision to leave the Chapel to the Cathedral chapter was not his original plan but, whether through repentance or as a result of other people’s influence, this was the choice he made. He kept the benefits for himself until his death by demanding daily mass for himself and Godescalc, costing three pence per day to be paid by the chapter. Godescalc suggested that the chapter, who would be in charge of the offerings of the whole church, should pay.

Following Truannus’s donation, Aiguilhe became the property of the Cathedral chapter at the same time that it acquired legal rights.

From then on, the chapter was, and always would be, the lord of the Chapel and the surrounding area, the town taken in by the Rocher, and all that immediately adjoins the cloisters in Le Puy. As frequently happens with ecclesiastical lords, he was attentive to his rights and this lead to, during the Ancient Regime in Aiguilhe, a lack of municipal liberty. He, therefore, decided to build ramparts around his property before the 15th Century.

Images: © Sébastien FALCON – www.rochersaintmichel.fr/

The volcanic core is 269 feet high, and the tiny pad at the top is just 187 feet diameter. It can be reached via 268 stone steps that wind up the side.

Opening times:

  • February 1. to March 14: 14.00 to 17.00
  • March 15 to April 30: 9.30 – 12.00 and 14.00 to 17.30
  • May 1 to July 9: 9.00 to 18.30
  • July 10 to September 30: 9.00 to 18.30
  • October 1 to November 15: 9.30 – 12.00 and 14.00 to 17.30
  • Christmas time:  14.00 to 17.00

Entrance fee: 

  • Adult(s) 3.50 €
  • Child(ren) and youth(s) (6 to 18 years inclusive) 2.00 €
  • Student(s) (< 25 years) 2.00 €
  • (Job seekers, disability cardholders, Welcome checkbook holder) 3.00 €

An essential visit for coach parties and travel agency led holidays, the site can provide a guided tour with a member of the Rocher Saint-Michel staff all year round.

For the less agile, there is an 18 minute video at the bottom of the Rocher allowing you to discover all the essential information about the Rocher and the Chapel.

By car
• 1 km du Puy-en-Velay
• 75 km de Saint-Etienne
• 129 km de Clermont-Ferrand
• 134 km de Lyon

By plaen

• Aéroport du Puy-en-Velay – Loudes
à 20 km
www.hexair.com

• Aéroport de Saint-Etienne
à 89 km
www.saint-etienne.aeroport.fr

• Aéroport de Lyon – St Exupéry
à 148 km
www.lyonaeroports.com

by train

• Gare SNCF du Puy-en-Velay
à 2 km
www.ter-sncf.com

• Gare TGV de St-Etienne – Châteaucreux
à 75 km
www.tgv.com

St Michel

The builders and painters did not fail to represent the Archangel prominently in their work, both in the Roman facade and in the mural paintings in the central chancel of the Chapel where he is surrounded by two seraphim, each with two pairs of wings.
These, however, were not the main objects of worship; an undated statue of Saint Michel was conserved in the Chapel until 1562 when it was destroyed by Protestants.

The dedication to Saint Michel places special emphasis on certain events in the Chapel’s history such as the steeple being struck by lightning in 1245. This lead to a formal celebration of the Chapel on the 29th of September, but written evidence is limited and remained so until after the Revolution.

Whilst there are some written references to the inauguration of the Chapel at the summit of the Rocher and to other chapels on the proposed pilgrimage route, there is little about a specific liturgy or the worship of Saint Michel, and the other revered saints on the site.

Gallia Christiania (an encyclopaedia of all Catholic dioceses in France), which transcribed the founding charter of the first Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe shrine, informs us that on July 18th of the year 961, Godescalc, the Bishop of Le Puy, agreed to the building of the first Pre-Roman sanctuary on the Rocher d’Aiguilhe. It is to this same bishop – considered as the first ‘French’ pilgrim to have visited Saint- Jacques de Compostelle – that the rise of pilgrimages from the town is accredited.

It is impossible not to link the above facts and it’s within this context that the origins of contemporary Aiguilhe are fitted.

Despite this, the charter states that the initiative to build Aiguilhe is not attributed to this bishop, but to the Dean of Le Puy, named Truannus.
Truannus is not only merit-worthy for having managed to build a church on top of the Rocher, but also for making it accessible by building a wide staircase into the hard rock.

The Dean gave the rights to the Chapel as a gift to the Cathedral. He required permission from Bishop Godescalc, firstly, to build the Chapel and, secondly, to do with it as he wished after his death.

However close the relationship between the Bishop and the Dean and however subordinate the Dean was to the Bishop’s wishes, Truannus was not simply the executor of the Bishop’s project in this case. It was not necessary for the two dignitaries to ‘get on well’ for the work to go ahead but, the terms agreed in 961 remained respectful.

In any case, a written agreement became necessary which created the possibility of conflict. The difficulty never arose however, as Godescalc was replaced by his successor Guy d’Anjou shortly before 961 and the latter validated the act of donation to the cathedral after Godescalc’s death.

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