Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Sacred Places in the Rain

Although the recent political events have occupied a lot of my thoughts recently, I've decided that, at least for now, I'm not going to comment about them here. I've written about them elsewhere but I'd like to keep this as a place where I write about things I enjoy, travel, writing and good books!

Languedoc, June 2016


one of Alet's city gates

The next day it rained. I wonder if there is something about rain that shrivels the memory, covers it with a wet rag so one is confined to a compressed vision, a shrunken horizon. Little can be seen outside the car windows except the wet green of passing trees and shrubs, and the hypnotic movement of the windscreen wipers. And when I think back to visits to various places in the rain, there is a sense of being in a small place, attention fixed on detail, usually of interiors. So it can be just the kind of day to visit inside places, which was what we did.

First of all, the church of Saint Polycarpe in the village of the same name.
The monastery and church of St Polycarpe was founded several centuries ago. You can read a detailed history in French here, and see various photographs, all taken in fine weather!

The monks built a wonderful aqueduct, and you can see that its arches are in two distinct styles, both romanesque and gothic.


The church dominates the tiny village. Like many French churches it has a bullet-proof look of walled fortress doubling as refuge and sanctuary.

But it is quite different once you step inside. It seems smaller, much more intimate and the walls are a pinkish colour. This and the simplicity of the interior – there's just a few frescos on the ceiling, and three small stained glass windows – give it an attractive and restful feel. 


And even its jewel at the far end, under the altar, could easily be overlooked if you didn't know what to look for. And in the dim light, they are hard to discern.
These are relics of Saints Polycarpe and Benoit, although the monstrance – relic holder and ceremonial object – which is studded with gems and held by silver angels at each end, was rather disappointingly empty.

In the porch, before going into the church itself, a spiral wooden stairway snakes up into the bell tower.

I climb up and there's a small square gap in the wall, which is where I took this photo, looking down on the church. 

After another fabulous
déjeuner, this time at Limoux, we visit the nearby Orthodox Monastery of Cantauque.

Monastery courtyard

The monk who shows us round explains that because there is no French Orthodox Church they had to choose which orthodox church to be under and decided to be under the Romanian Orthodox church because he said, they had many links with that country. They had previously been based in the Holy Land near Jerusalem but when their monastery there closed in 2002, they moved here. They have seven monks, most of them French, but there is also one Romanian and one Albanian. They try, he said, to be self-sufficient, and on the surrounding land they grow crops and have a flock of sheep.

This capital carving (below, on the right) depicts the legend of Saint Martin's cloak. Don't you just love those stories which become the best-known information about saints? Saint Martin, on horseback, on seeing a beggar in rags, apparently cut his cloak in two, and handed half of it to the beggar.

This wikipedia link also gives the derivation, which I did not know, of two familiar words. Apparently the priests who cared for Saint Martin's cloak in its reliquary were called cappellani from which we get the French chapelains and the English chaplain. And the small churches originally built as places to house the relic were called 'capella' from which we get the word chapel.

It wasn't raining any longer as we drove home through the damp and misty air. Leaves on trees and bushes were glistening with hanging drops of moisture. But the peaceful atmosphere of the monastery stayed with us.


Forest Dream Weaver said...

So many arches! I checked out the link.....a very comprehensive history in words and images. It's interesting how the energy of peaceful places stays for a while. I like the monastery courtyard.
Maybe the relics are invisible!

dritanje said...

Yes, the aquaduct is vast, with many arches. I always like to see the amazing things people did many centuries ago. And yes, maybe the relics are invisible! Maybe just the idea of them is enough to have beneficial effects.
M xx