La Chapelle de Pennacorn (Penacorn Chapel) is a small chapel located in the woods near Neuvic, France. Despite its modest size, La Chapelle de Pennacorn is a place of great religious significance. There’s even a special organisation that cares for the chapel. It’s called the Amis de Notre-Dame de Pennacorn (Friends of Our Lady of Penacorn).
La Chapelle de Pennacorn was built in the 1930s, but the events that were the inspiration behind its construction occurred in the 15th Century.
The Legend of Pennacorn
According to legend, there was a terrible storm towards the end of the 15th Century and a servant from Pennacorn Château was unlucky enough to become caught in it.
When the storm hit, the man was travelling through the forest in a cart pulled by two oxen. All the crashing thunder and swaying trees scared the oxen so much they stopped in their tracks and refuse to proceed.
Not surprisingly given the circumstances, the driver was filled with fear as well. All he could do was pray so he offered a prayer to Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours (Virgin Mary) asking for help. As soon as he did this, a mysterious light appeared at the foot of a nearby tree and took the shape of a lady dressed in white. The presence of the apparition had a calming effect on the oxen. They began moving again, suddenly oblivious to the lightning, crashing thunder, and falling trees.
When he reached the château, the servant began sharing the news of his mysterious encounter but everyone thought he’d been imagining things due to his fright. This scepticism proved to be short-lived.
The following morning, some shepherds were leading their sheep through the forest on their way to the pastures in the mountains and were surprised to see a stone statue resembling the Virgin Mary at the base of a tree. The shepherds were so overjoyed they rushed to the Château to tell Lord Pennacorn about their discovery. On hearing their tale, the local landowner was quick to investigate. He rushed to the spot, taking Lady Pennacorn and many of his servants with him.
When they arrived in the forest, the statue was still there, standing in the very place where Lord Pennacorn’s servant had his mysterious encounter the night before. This turn of events filled everyone with awe.
Lord Pennacorn decided to take the statue back to the château. However, this proved to be no easy task. Despite its small size, the statue was too heavy to lift. It was as if it was rooted to the spot.
Faced with this dilemma, the Lord, sought the help of his chaplain and, miraculously, the man of prayer was able to lift the statue and carry it to the château. On its arrival, the statue was placed on a magnificent throne in the chapel. Then something strange happened. The statue vanished and was later found to be back at the base of the tree.
Lord Pennacorn was so perplexed by this turn of events he consulted with a wise, local hermit who was honoured with the gift of miracles. The hermit told him the statue must go to the Church in Neuvic.
Theft of the Statue
The statue remained in La Église Saint-Étienne in Neuvic (for many years. Unfortunately, it was stolen from the church on April 22, 1983. The statue that’s presently displayed in a small alcove in the church wall is a replica.
Not far from the main entrance to the church, there’s a small photograph of the original statue of Notre Dame de Pennacorn (Our Lady of Penacorn) and logs the date of the theft.
Chapel Construction and History
The events that happened in the forest encouraged many people to make a pilgrimage to Neuvic to see the holy relic.
At some point, a statue of Madonna and Child was placed one a pedestal in the woods at the spot where the apparition appeared. Not surprisingly, this was also a place the pilgrims wished to see.
During the 1930s, people decided to build a chapel on the spot where Lord Pennacorn’s servant had his mysterious encounter.
The chapel has no wall at the front, but it’s protected by tall iron railings. There’s an altar behind the railings and, above it in an alcove on the wall, stands an impressive statue of Madonna and Child.
How to Find La Chapelle de Pennacorn
Walking by the quickest route, La Chapelle de Pennacorn is around 2 km from the centre of Neuvic. If you are reasonably fit, you should be able to walk there in less than half an hour. Of course, if you have access to a car, your journey will be a lot quicker than that [MAP].
However, if you want to visit La Chapelle de Pennacorn and are coming from further afield, a car is probably a must. Neuvic does not have a train station. Nor do any buses service the town. The nearest train station is 22 miles away in the town of Ussel. It’s possible to get a taxi from Ussel to Neuvic, but that’s not going to be a cheap way to travel.
I’ve been told many of the locals travel by BlaBla Car, so that may be an option if you are happy to use its carpooling service. I don’t like BlaBla Car so I walked from Ussel to Neuvic. It took me around five-and-a-half hours, but I did stop for a rest a couple of times along the way.
So, if you are already in Neuvic, getting to La Chapelle de Pennacorn shouldn’t be too hard. If your not, you will probably need a set of wheels. Either way, the chapel is signposted so it shouldn’t be too hard to find.
What to Expect
If you make the trip to La Chapelle de Pennacorn, don’t do so in with the expectation of going inside. It’s not that kind of chapel. It’s more like a shrine than a traditional place of worship. You’ll be able to admire the statue of the Madonna and Child, and maybe even take a photograph through the bars, but the door at the rear of the building will probably be locked. That’s nothing to worry about. There’s nothing of interest inside.
Although La Chapelle de Pennacorn stands in a place that was once surrounded by trees, the area in front of the chapel has been cleared and there’s a little wooden picnic table where you can sit and have something to eat or simply enjoy the tranquillity and take in the natural beauty that’s all around.
The chapel faces Neuvic but, despite the fact the area in front of the building is free from trees, it’s not possible to see the town when you are standing in front of the chapel. As you stare across the fields all you can see in the distance is woodland and some mountains on the horizon but it’s a lovely view.
It seems probable the chapel was built facing Neuvic in an effort to send positive energy towards the town. The statue of the Virgin Mary that stands in an alcove at the front of the chapel certainly appears to have been carved with this sentiment in mind. It has one hand raised in benediction as if it’s sending a blessing on its way.
If you visit the La Chapelle de Pennacorn, take note of the plaque on the wall, to the right of the statue. It states the population of Neuvic thanks Notre Dame de Pennacorn (Our Lady of Penacorn) for her motherly protection during the Second World War.
My Opinion of the La Chapelle de Pennacorn
La Chapelle de Pennacorn is an interesting place. I’ve never seen a chapel like it and the sculpture at the front of the building is incredibly good. It’s also very peaceful there. I like it and have walked to the chapel more than once.
As for the holy relic, I’ll be honest and say the statue that was stolen doesn’t bring to mind pictures of the Virgin Mary. The face has quite a masculine appearance and its figure is more portly than feminine. Nevertheless, given the circumstances surrounding its discovery, it’s easy to understand how it gained this significance and it’s a great pity the statue was stolen. It was obviously very important to a lot of people.
However, the fact that the statue of Notre Dame de Pennacorn was stolen seems strange. It could be seen to contradict the legend.
According to the legend, the statue was too heavy to lift. The only person who could do so was a worthy servant of the Lord. If the statue had this ability, how could it fall into the hands of thieves?
There’s something else that doesn’t sit straight with me. When Lord Pennacorn took the statue to his château, it would not stay there and promptly returned to the forest. The hermit said the only place for the statue was La Église Saint-Étienne in Neuvic. It remained there for several centuries. After it was stolen, why did it not just transport itself back?
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