A Visit to the Chapel of St. Pierre
By Boyd Rice
As I sit on the balcony of my hotel suite at Villefranche-sur-Mer, the sun
is setting on the Cote aAzur. Twilight lingers for hours,
and gazing out upon the mist-shrouded bay, the sea seems to
blur into the night sky. The visage is not unlike that of
the sea in Jean Cocteaus mural-covered Chapel of St.
Peter, in which the sky and sea seem to literally to bleed
into one another. Having just written an article about the
mural in Cocteaus chapel, and finding myself in the
Southeast of France, I couldnt resist making the pilgrimage
to this small port town. Id wanted to see the chapel
for myself, test my hypotheses about it and see if there were
any clues which had escaped my scrutiny.
This is not an easy place to get to. There are no exits for
Villefranche-sur-Mer on the main highway. To reach it, one
must drive to Monte Carlo and then turn back, taking a tiny
road that snakes along the coastline. The village is nestled
above a magnificent bay situated between Cannes and Monte
Carlo. Cocteau spent a great deal of time here, much of it
redecorating the estate of his patroness, Francine Weisweiller.
From the west side of the bay, one can spot the lighthouse
bordering his property - the one which figured so prominently
in his film Testament of Orpheus. Interestingly, her
property is not terribly far from an ancestral estate of the
Rothschilds. As the twilight finally vanishes, the bay and
night sky take on the appearance of a vast black abyss. I
The next morning, my companions and I forego breakfast to
go directly to the Chapel of St. Peter. We descend along narrow
cobble-stoned streets towards the seaside. Along the way,
we spot scenes from Testament of Orpheus, such as the
Rue Obscure where Cocteau passed his own double. If this passage
looked ancient in the 1963 film, it looked even more so now,
almost half a century later. We ask directions of the locals,
who tell us to go all the way to the sea. "Just before
you fall into the ocean, youll see it. You cant
miss it." Indeed, as we reach the dock, there it is.
Theres a life-size bust of Cocteau on one side, complete
with his signature and pentagram. It looks like a Giacometti,
but it was in fact sculpted by a man named de la Patelliere.
Its bronze has turned green from decades of sea mist,
and Cocteau is striking a familiar Masonic pose, with his
arms crossed above his chest.
Even before entering the chapel I spot things of which Id
never read about. Atop the steeple was an equilateral sun
cross composed of four fish, an emblem very much in keeping
with the basic premise of my analysis. Inside, the chapel
is much smaller than one would suspect; creating the effect
of being in the midst of an overwhelming phantasmagoria of
color, lines and images. The scenes seem so close that it
is difficult to take them in in their entirety. Everywhere
you look there are details that might well have gone unnoticed
in the published photographs. And to say that the photographs
dont do justice to the actual images is an understatement
of the highest order. The contrast between the soft muted
colors and the bold black outlines employed by Cocteau creates
an effect that is both striking in its intensity and understated
in its subtlety. Even Cocteaus style of painting seems
to evince a kind of Hermetic union of opposites.
On either side of the entryway stand enameled configurations
that Cocteau dubbed "The Candlesticks of the Apocalypse."
The candles are comprised of abstract elongated faces, with
a single eye perched at the top, where the flame should be.
This likely seems a reference to the Illuminated of All-Seeing
Eye. Some maintain that this is the ye of God, while others
claim that the symbolism is more specifically Luciferian.
In this context, in which the eye is substituted for the flame,
the latter explanation seems more feasible. But the All-Seeing
Eye is usually depicted as a single eye, and here we
have two. Could Cocteau be implying that the illuminated eye
has a dual nature, that it might represent both God and
Lucifer? These emblems, youll recall, are called the
"Candlesticks of the Apocalypse." Though in modern
usage the word "apocalypse" is synonymous with the
end of the world, in the original Greek it meant simply
revelation. Lucifer is the light-bringer, the fallen angel
who imparted wisdom to man, and wisdom often comes from revelation.
Elsewhere are other depictions which appear to echo this theme.
Amongst the angels that cover the ceiling are strange creatures
that have human heads and bodies like serpents. Their faces
look similar to those of the angels, and they too are bald,
androgynous, and somewhat inhuman-looking. These creatures
appear to be amongst the angels entourage, and would
appear to support the idea that these angels are of a Luciferian
rather than heavenly variety. In fact, not far from one of
the serpents is an angel depicted upside down, clearly
falling from the sky. The hypothesis, then, that these are
fallen angels would seem to be borne out. Furthermore, the
angels in the primary mural would appear to be looking at
& gesturing towards the serpents, and not (as Id
previously assumed) the sun. This, however, is not at all
inconsistent with my overall conclusion, sine the serpent
was in ancient times a solar symbol. Since snakes shed their
skin, they represented eternal life, and of course, the dead
and resurrected god whose genesis was in the solar cult.
In connection to this idea we turn our attention to an icon
that dominates the altar. Directly in front of the large crucifix
is the figure of a bird constructed of metal. Metallic rods
emanate from it, seemingly representative of rays of light.
On its breast is a triangle. It looks, at first glance like
an eagle, but clearly it is not. Nor is it a dove, the representation
of which one might expect to find in a chapel such as this.
Given Cocteaus interest in phoenixology ( the art of
death and resurrection), it seems likely that the bird is
in fact the mythical phoenix arising from the flames. Juxtaposed
as it is with the image of a crucified Christ, it could be
emblematic of his resurrection. Viewed in the context of this
chapel, however, its undoubtedly an allusion to something
far more profound than the stories of Christ or St. Peter.
the phoenix on the huge trapezoidal altar are priests
vestments designed by Cocteau. They are made of red velvet
embroidered with gold geometric patterns that seem to mimic
those painted upon the walls. And the angles of the altar
itself seem to coincide with those of the inverted pentagonal
grid discussed in my other article about the chapel, Secret
History and Sacred Geometry. If one were top construct
a pentagram based upon the angles of the altar, and using
the altars surface as the base of the internal pentagon
thus created, the only figures to appear inside that pentagon
would be David (the youth in the center of the painting) and
the Poseidon mast on the ship. In photographs, both of these
figures seem tiny and insignificant. But photographs give
a false impression of this mural. They show it in its totality,
and it appears as one might see it painted on a flat surface.
This is deceptive because the mural is in fact painted on
a wall that is totally curvilinear. From the chapels
north end, one cannot even make out the figures of Christ
or St. Peter - they are painted high up on the archway of
the ceiling. One only notices them as you draw nearer to the
altar. It would appear as though there is but a single spot
in the whole chapel from which to view the mural without the
distortion inherent in its curved surface. It is from this
vantage point that Cocteaus deft use of geometry can
be discerned. Stunningly, this point seems to be fixed by
the inverted pentagram defined by the trapezoidal altar. The
top four points of the pentagram are defined precisely by
the width of the archway. The bottom-most point of the pentagram
falls at a point in front of the altar - the very spot the
viewer would have to stand for the geometry encoded in the
mural to be discernable. A few feet closer or further away,
or to one side or the other, and the perspective of the scene
The sheer depth of ingenuity exhibited here by Cocteau boggles
the mind. His assertion that certain of his works rivaled
the murals at Knossos may once have been dismissed as a braggartly
conceit. In point of fact, it was more of a humble understatement.
Indeed, it is the height of humility to create a work so complex,
so rich in symbolism and content, and not even so much as
hint that it might be more than merely decorative art. In
the Chapel of St. Pierre, Jean Cocteau left behind a symbolic
time bomb. He went calmly to his grave not knowing whether
its secrets would be unraveled in ten years, twenty years,
or even a century. A prediction: in the coming years the work
of Jean Cocteau will be wholly reevaluated and viewed in a
radically new light. At that time he will assume his rightful
position alongside the great masters like Leonardo. And if
youre interested in a good investment, now would be
a good time to pick up some Cocteau limited editions, while
theyre still relatively affordable.