Yesterday, we visited Our Lady of Jerusalem, a tiny chapel in the northern suburbs of Fréjus on the French Riviera.
What's special about the little chapel?
It was French poet Jean Cocteau's ultimate creation before his death in 1963. Jean Cocteau was famous in France as a prolific visual artist, poet, sculptor, author (Les Enfants terribles), playwright (Les parents terribles),
film director (La Belle et la Bete, 1946). He decorated many homes, offices and chapels and France.
On the French Riviera, you'll find Cocteau's pastel frescoes wrapping the interiors of the Chapelle Saint-Pierre in Villefranche-sur-Mer, at the Centre Méditerranéen d’Etudes Françaises at Cap d'Ail (not open to the public), in the Menton Registry Office in Menton, in the privately-owned Villa Santo-Sospir at Saint-Jean Cap-Ferrat.
For his final masterpiece in Fréjus, Cocteau drew up the plans for a small octagonal chapel with the help of architect Jean Triquenot. By 1963, construction began in earnest and Cocteau soon breathed life to his hundreds of sketches. Unfortunately, he died in 1963 before he could complete the chapel. His close friend Edouard Dermit picked up the project and completed it using Cocteau's sketches.
You reach the little building at the top of a hill after a hike of half a kilometer in the woods, with the Esterel Mountains in the distance, the twisted trunks and branches of cork oak trees dispersed in the forest and a group of cypress trees that line up like planted paint brushes.
By the time you enter the chapel, you're under the spell of everything around it: the forest away from the world, the building's soft green sandstone, the porch that wraps around it, the waves of its tiled roof.
Three doors invite the sunlight in through cubist-styled stained glass windows.
They transform the mood of sun and clouds into hues that bounce around the painted frescoes.
The frescoes cover the interior of the chapel with pastel colors in blues, yellows, greens. They illustrate the Christ's Passion theme (the Last Supper, the Arrest, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection).
You'll find a self-portrait among the apostles (second from the right when facing it, in blue with dark wavy hair) as well as a the recurrent presence of actor, colleague and lover Jean Marais (painted in this chapel with a generous wave of blond hair).
The chapel floors comes alive with deep blue ceramics that move like water! Ceramist Roger Pelissier designed these vivid tiles.
Cocteau died on October 11, 1963 of a heart attack shortly after learning of the passing of his long-time friend Edith Piaf.
On is tomb at Milly-la-Forêt, the words: "I am still with you (je reste avec vous)".
In this little chapel in the woods of Fréjus in the Var, Cocteau is alive.
More info: The chapel is open for visits from 9:30-12:30AM and 2-6PM daily (closes one hour earlier, at 5PM, from November to April). Closed on Mondays.
Getting there: is surrealist experience :). It's not that bad if you plug it on a GPS or plug your route on ViaMichelin.com, for example.
It's in the Tour de Mare suburbs of Fréjus 83600, Var, on Avenue Nikolai.
Phone: 04 94 53 27 06
For more info, you can also contact the fréjus tourism office at http://www.ville-frejus.fr/
Interested in a great half-day hike close by? Take a look at our latest hiking guide below on Amazon.com (and Amazon.co.uk too!)