WelCom December 2023
The Rugby World Cup may be over, but the Notre Dame du Rugby remains.
Step inside this medieval chapel and you’ll soon realise this is no ordinary church. Sunlight filters in through gorgeous stained-glass windows, all of which centre on an activity certainly not mentioned in the Bible: rugby. The glass artwork shows Jesus huddled in a scrum, throwing a ball, and even depicts him as a young child clutching a rugby ball while settled in his mother’s lap.
Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Rugby, situated in the town of Larriviere-Saint-Savin in the Landes region in south-western France, has been welcoming visitors for more than 50 years. The tiny chapel rededicated to ‘Our Lady of Rugby’ by the Bishop of Dax in 1967 draws pilgrims through its small wooden doors every day of the week.
The whole building is a shrine of sorts to the region’s favourite sport. In 1956, Michel Devert, a rugby fan, was sent as parish priest to the region, which also happens to be a part of France where rugby is revered. He found the old ruins of the church hidden beneath tangles of brambles.
Later, after three young rugby players from the area died in a car accident, the friar became determined to honour their memories and protect other players of the region’s beloved sport. He got to work renovating the abandoned chapel, slowly building it into the rugby haven it is today.
Creating this unique chapel was a community-wide endeavour. Regional rugby teams helped raise money to support the project, and players from various local clubs built the road leading up to the building.
Inside, rugby kit donated by players around the world lines the walls. A guest book lies open on the altar, its pages full of messages honouring lost rugby players, pleading for a particular team victory, or praying for loved ones to recover from rugby-induced injuries.
The chapel, also has its own prayer, a part of which roughly translates to, ‘Stand beside us to give us strength and desire in our quest for victory. But also stand beside us in the terrible scrum of existence until we emerge victorious in the great game of life.’
Devert himself died aged 88 in 2012 and is buried at the chapel, which continues to be maintained by Les Amis de Notre-Dame du Rugby.