One of my favourite things about slow travel is the discovery. Sometimes, as humans, it would seem we’ve become far too conventional. We need a coffee so we get a coffee, we all drink it in an almost identical manner so why not do the same thing with our food, our clothes and our holidays? This is one of the main reasons that the beaches are full, why Barcelona is about to throw out half of its tourists, why English tourists all wear those silly, silly hats, and it’s the same reason why on a beautiful spring day, cycling Lake Annecy, we were the only two people scrambling around, what appears to be a long forgotten grotto (La Grotte de Sévrier) on the hill above Sévrier.
We spent more than half a year in Annecy, learning about everything – from the best way to spend a day on the lake, what cheese to take on a picnic, where to eat the best burgers and how to pronounce wine names correctly, and even (regrettably a few months late) how to correctly pronounce the name of the department we were living in – Haute-Savoie. For the record, if you sound like you’re off to a certain British hotel – then you’re not quite there yet. We suggest you drink a Roussette or two and brush up. However, one thing we didn’t learn, until mere days before we were due to leave – was that the gorgeous La Grotte de Sévrier was waiting for us just moments from the church in Sevrier.
I know that this pretty little religious-themed grotto is far from unique – but it is beautiful and so very quiet. We spent a good hour just looking at it, taking in the ambience, and admittedly, having a climb up to the top to see the wonderful view of Lake Annecy and the little towns that surround it. There isn’t very much information available but here’s what I’ve managed to piece together – mostly from old articles and the reveries of locals.
It seems clear that the cave was put together in 1898/9 by one Abbe Pierre Chapuis – a newly ordained priest, who taught in Sévrier. He was known to have a strong dedication, not just to the children to who he taught, but also to the Virgin Mary, and was exceptionally skilled in manual labour – including mechanical works, watchmaking, masonry, electricity and even astronomy. A man to whom the world held no secrets it would seem. It was with these interests and devotions in mind that on November 20th 1898, he along with two others signed a notarised deed to whit – Firstly: a chestnut of land with access to the local road, – secondly: a source located above, at a place called “The Combettes”. From then on the Parish of Sévrier was legally the owner of a 400 m² plot of land…where now stands La Grotte de Sévrier.
Later, the Abbot Chapuis, aided by the young people of the parish put his manual skills to work – he created by himself, the foundations of the cave. He then had stones from the river along with limestone blocks from Semnoz transported by trucks and the sand was extracted from a small quarry, which if you ever visit the cave, you’ll recognise as a small turning point for cars just a hundred metres of so away. According to local testimonies – the Abbot then made the plans and directed the construction.
From there on the story has become hard to follow – as it seems the good Abbot may have had his busy hands in the similar, much better known Our Lady of Lourdes grotto in Lourdes. Though that might just be my atrociously bad French letting me down (again!). However, regardless of the story – there is, as always with stories of religion, a moral to be learned – and that is rather too simply – please don’t travel to say you’ve travelled – travel to live, experience, explore and where possible, find wonderful, if slightly inaccurate stories.
The stone above appears to be a slightly edited version of a passage from Solomon’s Canticles of Canticles and roughly translates to “I am a dove in the clefts of the rock”
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