The inhabitants of France’s Réunion island are no strangers to volcanic activity. Since the 17th century, the island has seen more than a hundred eruptions from one volcano alone, the picturesque Piton De La Fournaise. So when the mountain rumbled in 1977, residents of the nearby village of Piton Sainte-Rose were prepared.
What came as a surprise, however, was that the flow of lava, which sped down the mountain’s slopes into the Indian Ocean, parted miraculously at the doors of a local church. Or so the legend goes.
According to a less poetic (but more accurate) account, the lava made its way inside and wreaked havoc to the building’s contents. Though it’s something of a miracle nonetheless that the church’s walls remained standing, considering the terrain around it was swept clean away, destroying many of the village’s crops and homes.
Today, the church’s name, which translates to “Our Lady of the Lava,” and a set of stained glass windows depicting the eruption serve as a reminder to the narrow escape. As for the volcanic rocks, many were removed in the post-eruption cleanup, but replaced later to provide a recreation of the scene after the 1977 event.
Painted in cheery pastels, the church stands out starkly against the sea of black lava, like a creation straight out of Wes Anderson’s mind. The Piton de la Fournaise volcano continues its regular eruptions (it’s active even as this article is being written), but wherever the lava flows, the photogenic miracle of Notre Dame des Laves will take some beating.
Know Before You Go
Our Lady of the Lava is easily accessible by car. It stands on the side of the major N2 road, and it is impossible to miss.