Chapel Notre Dame du Rugby - a pilgrimage for all true fans
Rugby and religion collide on a hillside in South West France, creating a treasure for followers of the sport the world over.
Nick Purewal discovers why rugby fans make the pilgrimage to a joint labour of love between rival clubs Mont de Marsan and Dax.
TO CROSS the white line is to accept the rules of combat.
To tread any rugby turf is to face the risk of serious injury.
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Every club in the world plays witness to career-ending accidents on the field.
And some suffer greater tragedy still.
But the bonds of that physicality form a camaraderie that transcends competition.
When Jean Othats, Emile Carrere, Raymond Albaladejo died in a car crash in 1964, their club side Dax and neighbours Mont de Marsan put rivalry aside.
The Bishop of Dax rededicated the chapel at Larriviere-Saint-Sevin to Our Lady of Rugby in 1967, with the help of both local clubs.
Today the chapel Notre Dame du Rugby sits in the hills above Mont de Marsan, as a shrine to all those seriously injured – or worse – through connection to this most brutal of sports.
Mont de Marsan captain Pierre Lisse designed statues and stained-glass windows that can only be seen to be believed.
At one turn the visitor will catch sight of an image of a young child offering a rugby ball to the Virgin Mary – only to spin round and see the stain glass of 'The Virgin Mary at the lineout.'
Baby Jesus, held by his mother, throws a rugby ball to six waiting players.
The adornments are wonderfully bizarre – but there is no doubting the conviction or the reverence.
Teams from all over the world make this rugby pilgrimage, and the walls of the chapel are lined with shirts left as offerings.
A separate facility faces the chapel, housing the most high-profile donations.
Curators keep everything left at the church, but there is simply too much to display.
World stars from every imaginable country have donated shirts, with jerseys from locations as exotic as the Ivory Coast on proud display.
Nestled among them all is perhaps the perfect offering from Kingsholm though – a playing shirt from one Philippe Saint Andre.
The Frenchman left a lasting impression on the Cherry and Whites, as first player then coach, so it makes complete sense he should be the man to do the Kingsholm honours.
This is not just a memorabilia store though. It is that vulnerability of any player in any rugby skirmish, anywhere in the world, that allows this chapel to endure.
Melodramatic maybe, and few think about it regularly, but any entry into contact could be a player's last.
This chapel was committed to all who held rugby dear, who lost more than can be expected through the game they loved.
To honour and uphold the memory of those who have lost or had their lives ravaged through the sport, that's why this building not only endures but also draws visitors from across the globe.
A triumph of one small community in South West France now treasured anew by every fresh discoverer: such initiatives enlighten and enrich the rugby world.