Before the building of the temple of Jerusalem, and in idol moments, the Israelites were prone to erect altars in high places (‘nearer heaven’). The Christian church has neither forbidden nor promoted churches on hilltops, and indeed St Michael is often the patron of churches built in high places (think Mont St Michel, St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, Brentor etc.).
Nowhere can so many be seen as in the Massif Central region of France. Churches like S. Géraud at Dauzat sur Vodable (1: Puy-de-Dôme), situated on a pillar of solidified lava, are not uncommon.
Perhaps the most familiar of these is the chapel of Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe at Le Puy (2: Haute-Loire), some 88 metres above ground, where the 268 steps up (and down) must act as a powerful disincentive to long processions. Less well known is the chapel of la Madeleine (3: Cantal) on its basalt cliff some 200 metres above the town of Massiac, overlooking the A75 autoroute (4) on its way south to Montpellier and the Med.
Anyone for a high Mass?