The Charmaix chapel in Valfréjus
Prayer, miracles and devotion
The origin of the original sanctuary and the statue of the Virgin is very hypothetical and, one could say, "lost in the mists of time". It was probably at the time of the introduction of Christianity in the Maurienne, in the first century of our era, a simple oratory leaning against the rock. An oratory with a statue of the Virgin to which travelers prayed before crossing a particularly dangerous passage over the Grand Vallon torrent (the magnificent stone bridge did not exist at the time).
The road led travelers or pilgrims to present-day Italy through the Narrow Valley Pass or the Pass of the Wheel (passes at an altitude of just over 2000 m), giving quick access to the Bardonnechia Valley.
Chapel and Black Madonna
Historical accounts attribute the accomplishment of many miracles to the Black Madonna who stands at the back of the chapel in sumptuous embroidered clothes. Numerous ex-votos fixed to the walls of the chapel (there were even so many that the walls were covered with them, some were removed and transferred to thechurch of Modane) testify to the prayers made to the Black Madonna of Le Charmaix and the thanks that were addressed to her.
Pilgrimage in September
The altarpiece was offered by the Marquise Barolo of Turin in 1850. From 2008 to 2009, it was beautifully restored by Marie Christine Guilloud (Restorer of wall paintings and polychrome sculptures). In 1918, Abbot Demaison, parish priest of Modane, had a bronze statue of the Virgin placed on the roof of the chapel.
A pilgrimage is organized every year on the first Sunday of September. Every year, this pilgrimage, presided over by a bishop, attracts many faithful from Savoy and Piedmont, from the Briançonnais and the Dauphiné. The procession starts in the morning from the church of Modane. Along the way up to the chapel of Charmaix, 15 oratories line the route for prayer and meditation.
The legend: in the Middle Ages, in Savoy, near Modane, the statue of the Black Madonna of Charmaix already existed. She lived modestly in the rock, in a small oratory carved in the mountain. It dominated and overhung a strong and capricious torrent (the torrent of Charmaix).
The shelter was basic but the place was so famous that all those who went from the Maurienne to the Piedmont went to kneel there. This modest oratory attracted processions, pilgrimages and daily devotions. So much so, that the inhabitants decided to offer the Black Madonna of Charmaix a more suitable shelter. She was therefore installed with great pomp on the altar of the church of Modane. But astonishment, the next morning the Virgin had disappeared! Finally, a person who arrived from Charmaix announced to the general astonishment that the Virgin was in her original niche, in the small oratory of Charmaix.
Convinced that the Virgin was showing them her attachment to the mountains, the inhabitants of Modane decided to find a more suitable place, less isolated and wild than Le Charmaix. They found a small esplanade above the river Arc. Once the work was well underway, it was decided to move the statue of the Virgin Mary to a new oratory built next to the chapel that was being built next to Modane. But the next day, the Virgin had vanished again!
The inhabitants found the statue again, in its original shelter at Charmaix... But to top it all off, the Virgin had brought with her the materials needed to build her chapel! The Modanese took back the statue and recovered the materials. But the next day, the statue had disappeared again, returned to Le Charmaix. A worker, wanting to know what was going on during the night and to unmask the little joker, stayed on the construction site. Tired of waiting, he fell asleep ... He too was miraculously moved to Charmaix!
Finally, the parish priest of Modane took a stand: "The Virgin is quite clear: it is at Charmaix that a chapel is needed. She protects the travelers who cross the Alps and therefore wishes to remain there. So the inhabitants brought the Virgin back to her little Charmaix oratory and the chapel was built on the spot. The chapel was then enlarged and the stone bridge was built. A chapel which today offers a superb site to discover in summer and winter.