Erupting like a strange fungal outcrop from the top of a hill in eastern France, Le Corbusier’s chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp has been a place of pilgrimage for devout architects and Catholics alike for 60 years, largely considered the finest work of the 20th-century’s most influential architect. Last week, one of its windows was smashed by unknown vandals, who broke in and threw the (almost empty) concrete collection box outside. The action caused international outcry about the protection of historic monuments – for this was not any old window, but the only pane bearing the mark of Corb himself, a small blue square showing the howling man in the moon.
“They broke into a thousand pieces the only glazing signed by Le Corbusier,” said Benoît Cornu, deputy mayor of Ronchamp. “He painted all the other glazing but on this clear panel, where he drew the moon, he had written his signature.”
Set deep into the battered rubble walls of the chapel, which extend up to 3m thick, the stained glass windows twinkle like tiny jewels beneath the heavy hull of the concrete roof. The multicoloured panels, which feature a range of the architect’s wild, primitive scrawlings, are set at the end of broad tapering apertures that puncture the south wall in a random scatter, like the windows of an advent calendar. But to one nun’s shock last Friday, there was no moon to be seen – only a jagged hole and a pile of glass shards.