SAVOIE: La Haute Maurienne



From Chambéry through Bessans to the Averole valley, the routes go over two passes on the territory of the Duchy of Savoy, the Arnès pass (3,010 m), and its descent into the Ala valley, and the Autaret pass (3,072 m), which descends towards the Viù valley. Turin is reached through ‘Marguerite’s Lands’. This territory, the Lanzo valleys (Alà and Viù), ruled by the Laws of Marguerite written in the mid fourteenth century, remained
faithful to the House of Savoy in the sixteenth century.
La Haute Maurienne – Site 06b

Termignon (1277 m)

The Chapel is located on the salt and cheese route that linked the Tarentaise and Maurienne valleys together through the Vanoise pass. A smugglers’ oratory? Tradition has it that spice merchants, indeed perhaps smugglers, used this side path to avoid having to pay taxes and other tolls, and that they allegedly built the original oratory at this location. Spices and especially pepper, which came from the East, cost a fortune at the time. Moreover, the merchants would ask the Virgin to protect them before setting off for the pass, hence the origin of the name “Our-Lady-of-Pepper”.
Shortly afterwards, in 1536, a local resident had the original chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Annunciation built on the site of the original oratory. An interior painting shows Archangel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she would conceive. A century later, the chapel was enlarged for the first time, as a sign of how important the building was to the locals.
The Chapel of Respite. The chapel houses a black Madonna to whom miracles have been attributed. In the 1600s, a new custom was established: when a newborn died before having been baptized, he/she was carried to the chapel because it was said that the Black Madonna would bring the child back to life for a brief respite to allow him/her to receive the sacrament of Baptism. Even though this belief in “Respite” was fought against by the Church, the Black Madonna kept generating particular interest. In fact, in 1710, she was placed in a monstrance as a companion piece to the superb reredos made by Sebastien Rosaz, a sculptor from Termignon. This reredos features finely chiseled columns but also a tangle of roses, vines and olive trees which symbolize the Virgin, the Blood poured out and Peace.
Our Lady of the Visitation. In 1841, the chapel was substantially transformed. Two lateral naves and a vault were added, as well as a hexagonal dome giving the building such a unique style. The chapel was then renamed “Notre-Dame-de-la-Visitation”, a change in words which is in keeping with popular tradition. The chapel is still today often called “Our-Lady-of-Pepper”.

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