The Chapel that was attached to the dilapidated house in Saint Georges, in the Seven Valleys area of Pas de Calais was itself run down and in ruins. But for British couple Chantal and Paul Cox who bought the property in 2000 there was something about the tiny Chapel that really fired their imagination…
They were told the story of how a priest had returned to his family home in Saint Georges, near Hesdin after his retirement sometime in the late 1800s. He asked his family to work with him to create a chapel where he could continue to say mass and prayers. His mother was proud of her son and willingly complied and the little chapel with its vaulted roof, columns and stained glass windows was created. The priest was not allowed to conduct a public mass, only for family and close friends which he did until he died in 1899.
After that the Chapel wasn’t used very often and it became very run down over the decades. The last owners sold off almost everything that was in it and left it to rot and when Chantal and Paul bought it, only the big wooden altar remained in the crumbling ruin.
Undeterred by the work and inspired by how the chapel might look, they embarked on a sensitive and time consuming restoration process.
The capitols, the carved friezes at the top of the columns, were all but disintegrated – only one survived that was salvageable. Chantal and Paul restored the one good column and then managed to have others made to the exact same design by the company that made props for Star Wars and the Harry Potter films. You would never know which one is original and which are copies.
Every pane of glass in the gothic arched windows had to be restored or replaced. Chantal and Paul sought out experts to make sure that the substituted panes were a perfect match.
After several years of painstaking work on both the house and chapel, the restoration was finally completed in 2008. The chapel is tiny and has a solemn air of peace about it.
Paul says they thought about making it into a cinema room, a music room or even a library but ultimately they thought that it would be best to restore it and besides he laughs, as a “second hand car salesman it could be my best chance of getting into Heaven!”
Over the years that they had been working on the house and the chapel, their neighbours had grown increasingly interested and the couple decided that they would open it up to show everyone and hold an art exhibition in aid of their daughter’s charity in Kenya (www.soko-kenya-com)
The couple’s artist son-in-law David Maiden (www.davidmaiden.co.uk) and local artists Nik Meergans, Sally Deane, Hilary Garner and Jeanette Jones displayed their work and Chantal says that she was amazed to find the little chapel was inundated with visitors. Locals and neighbours were thrilled to see the work that had been done. Some bought flowers, others asked to make a donation towards the cost of the renovation and one said “Merci – pour la France”. Passers-by stopped in their tracks in amazement to see how much work had been lovingly carried out on this special place.
During the exhibition a man wandered in to have a look – he was the former Mayor of nearby Viel-Hesdin and he told them how he had been a chapel boy, right there in their little chapel, as a child. He had taken something from the chapel many years before when the previous owners had let it go to rack and ruin and started selling everything off. He wanted to return the lectern to its rightful owners and it now proudly sits in the chapel. He also mentioned that he had a book that went with it but sadly he passed away before he could return it to its original home.
Since then the chapel has been used to hold a blessing ceremony for Paul and Chantal’s gardener when he got married and Chantal’s mother regularly visits to pray.
Chantal and Paul are keen to learn more about the history of the chapel and they source old church relics at local brocantes and auctions. They say that they are determined to maintain it for future generations to appreciate – the whole village agrees – they’ve done a fantastic job!
Read about the “second Lourdes”, the Chapel of Embry
Read how Chantal and Paul found the chapel and renovated their home in France