The 15th century chapel of Ben-Va (Bon Voyage in Provençal), 3km from Lorgues on the Entrecasteaux road, is dedicated to the protection of travellers by serving as a physical and religious shelter. This chapel is remarkable for the medieval frescoes that line its walls, unusual in the Var. It was classified as a historic monument in April 1929.
The chapel consists of a single nave, with a small cave at the end, used as a sacristy. Until 1942 the road passed under the chapel’s huge porch, which is supported on four pillars.
We do not know precisely the date of the frescos, the reason for the work, nor the artist, probably an itinerant Piedmontese painter. The technique consists of applying colour pigments to a fresh plaster. The use of a wide variety of colours – without gold, however – could suggest that the sponsor invested a large sum of money. Some of the painted details argue in favour of a date at the beginning of the 16th century, perhaps 1511.
The porch has a square plan, covered by a vaulted arch where there are traces of the symbols of the four Evangelists. Originally the road would have been at the level of the bottom of the pillars before being deepened to allow the passage of large carts and trucks in the early 20th century.
The south-east pillar represents Saint Fiacre (patron saint of gardeners), Saint Maur (reputed to cure the gout) and Saint Blaise (patron saint of weavers and wool carders). The south-western pillar represents Saint Christopher (patron saint of travellers) and the Holy Family. The north-western pillar represents Saint Bernard of the Alps and Saint Hospice of Nice on the east side. All these figures have connections with the rural occupations of the area or with pilgrims; the chapel lies on one of the minor routes to Compostella.
The tympanum above the doorway shows, on the left Saint George slaying the dragon and on the right the Annunciation. Originally there was an open arch where today there is a door and a window, allowing the traveller to look straight in at the altar.
The walls and barrel vault are dedicated to the triptych of the last things: hell, paradise and purgatory.
The right-hand wall, depicting hell, is mostly obliterated. A comparison with similar frescos in the Alpes Maritimes demonstrates that missing are the torments of hell and a procession of the seven vices underneath.
At the edge of the composition, the archangel Saint Michael in 16th century armour is weighing the souls of the dead in one hand and with the other piercing the devil with a pike. Next to him are demons fighting against angels at the Last Judgement, as well as other demons who lead the damned into the mouth of the monster Leviathan.
Facing hell is the fresco of paradise with the Holy Trinity and the Virgin Mary on heavenly thrones in the centre. Near the door, St Peter welcomes souls up the narrow path into the heavenly Jerusalem. On either side of the throne crowds of the temporal world of the laity and clergy are gathered.
Beneath paradise we can see St Sebastian, St Martha and St Mary Magdalene, as well as the seven virtues, represented by young women carrying different symbols of their virtue.
Purgatory occupies the top of the doorway between hell and paradise, in the symbolic form of a large open cage in which the souls waiting to enter paradise are crammed, and whom the angels relieve by offering them a little fresh water.
Visiting the chapel
Open for free visits every Thursday from 10h to 13h in July and August. It is also also open for the European Heritage Days (Journées du patrimoine) in September: Saturdays 10h-12h and 15h-17h, Sundays 15h-17h.
At other times, visits can be arranged by contacting the ASFVL or the Tourist Office.
- ASFVL: 06 12 89 43 51; firstname.lastname@example.org
- Tourist Office: 04 94 73 92 37; email@example.com