The church of Notre Dame de L’Epine (Our Lady of the Thorn) was built in the 1400s and is a flamboyant Gothic styled church in the center of L’Epine, France. Its size is overpowering for the size of the village and it truly stands out – you literally cannot miss this church if you are in L’Epine. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one look at the exterior shows you why, with its profusion of gargoyles and creatures among other exterior decorations.
The interior of the church is typical of many Gothic cathedrals; this is probably a bit smaller than most cathedrals, but the look is very much the same and could easily be confused with the more famous Notre Dames in France. During our visit there was a group of six nuns praying, singing, and chanting in the front rows of the nave and in front of the altar, so we tiptoed around. I tried to be careful about not taking too many photos since my camera does make some noise; I did not want to disturb their worship. There were other tourists in the church as well as us so we all just looked around quietly.
There is an old well in the aisle to the left of the high altar. Cups are provided if you want to try the water. The church has been a pilgrimage church since the 15th century and contains a rood screen from the 1600s.
Famous writers such as Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas, and Paul Claudel have visited the church and written about it. Well worth a stop if you are driving by. If you are passionate about art and Gothic style churches, then this is a must-see, if only for the exterior.
The gargoyles on the exterior of the Church of Notre Dame are the main reason to stop by this church. And the church doesn’t even need to be open in order to see them. Park along the road and take a walk around the church.
The first one to capture my eye was the alligator. Really, how many times do you see an alligator as a gargoyle? There were dogs, cows, pigs, and a profusion of various people doing various things such as holding a chalice, throwing another person off the edge of the church, laughing, crying, two men climbing on each other, and many other interesting ones. There are over 100 gargoyles to look at situated on two levels around the building.
If you have a zoom lens for your camera or a pair of binoculars, bring them along so you can get some close up views of these amazing works of art. One has to wonder what the stone carvers were thinking when they created these gargoyles!
For more photos of the gargoyles, be sure to check out my two Travelogues.
In the center of the village of L’Epine stands the magnificent Church of Notre Dame. It is overpowering on this small town and if you are not careful you may not even notice that there is a hotel, a café and a small antique shop right there at the center of town. If you are looking for an off the beaten path stop for lunch or an overnighter, you may want to consider L’Epine. It is on the main road out of Chalons-en-Champagne, but definitely quieter and less busy than the city.
Parking in town is free for the first 30 minutes. There are a few spots near the hotel and café with more just down the street next to the church. It was not difficult for us to find a parking space.