Thursday, October 23, 2014


Autumn in my neighborhood

After a long spell of Indian summer, we're beginning to ease into fall here in southwest France. Some of the trees have already dropped their brown leaves, but others are just beginning to turn their autumn colors. The days are gradually getting cooler and that morning river fog is lingering a bit longer each day. This weekend France falls back into standard time which means the days will feel shorter and darker. After a burst of color, everything will snuggle into winter-mode for a long rest. But I intend to enjoy the color while I can!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Chapel Notre Dame des Graces

Chapelle Notre Dame des Graces
If you're a fan of the film, 'Charlotte Gray', you may recognize my second stop during patrimoine weekend. This is the Chapel Notre Dame des Graces. It sits just outside Lacapelle-Livron and was used in one of the last scenes in the movie. (The chapel was the place where Charlotte and Julien met for the last time before she escaped from France) It sits perched on an isolated promontory called Pech Jonquieres overlooking the Bonnette Valley. Built in 1471 by Catherine de Gorsse, its served as a private funeral chapel for the family of her deceased husband, Pierre de Pause, a rich merchant of the village.
It's unusual for its isolated location away from either a parish church or a cemetery. I was surprised as well by its light, airy interior quite unlike the damp, dark Templar church in the village. There are 5 lovely stained glass windows which face the east. Morning light floods the small chapel.
The altar is filled with ex votos
This lovely carved bench and the well-worn prie-dieu offer places to sit, ponder and pray.
Welcoming the morning sun

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Templar Church

During Patrimoine Weekend (the third weekend in September each year) I try to visit historic sites which are normally not open to the public. This year both places I wanted to see were in the tiny village of Lacapelle-Livron in the Tarn-et-Garonne. The 13th century Templar Commanderie here is privately owned, but this year the church was open for visitors. The exact date the Commanderie was built isn't known, but we do know the lands were given to the Templars in 1225. By 1268 records show that 16 men lived there...the Commander as well as knights, priests and servants.
The fortified Templar church

The inside of the church was a bit disappointing as there is really nothing left to indicate its Templar origins. As you can see on the right side of this photo (greenish columns), there is a problem with damp mold. Maybe a leaky roof?

The domed ceiling vault is beautifully constructed of overlapping stones.
The church walls, arches and simply carved columns are also quite lovely.

As I was searching the internet for information about the Commanderie, I ran across this YouTube video. The music is a bit annoying and the beginning and end are a little corny, but it does give you a nice tour of the church and also takes you into the some of the privately owned parts of the building. There are also stunning views of the Bonnette Valley below the village.

The last two minutes show the second stop of my visit to Lacapelle-Livron, the Notre Dame des Graces chapel. I'll blog more about that in my next post.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

C'est quercy rouergue!

Photo from Sue Carter
I live on the very edge of the Lot Department. (Departments in France are kind of a cross between a county and a state in the US). Right across the river from my house is the Aveyron Department. Drive a bit further and you come to the Tarn-et-Garonne Department. This little corner of deep France is sort of no-man's land. There are a lot of things going on, but no one knows much about them. Publicity for French events is notoriously bad, and English sites often concentrate on the bigger events in bigger towns. Frequently a really cool local event comes and goes and I lament...'wish I'd known about that; I would have gone.'

Enter my friend, Sue, who had the brilliant idea to put together a Facebook page, 'C'est quercy rouergue' ('It's the quercy rouergue.' The quercy rouergue is what this geographic area is called) She invited a few of us to follow the page with instructions to invite others we think might be interested. From a handful, we are now up to 54 members and growing! The page is a place to publicize local events, offer things for sale, and share news of our villages. I've already learned about two events I would otherwise never have heard about. Sue will monitor the page for spammers and inappropriate content, but otherwise it's up to us to make it a go. Here's the link if you're interested: C'est quercy rouergue.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

St. Brigit's Cross

The Roundhouse
After wandering through the Celtic seasons at Brigit's Garden, our last stop was at the Roundhouse in its center. This space is used for art and music events as well as a meditation center. Here Jenny spent a few moments telling us about St. Brigit's Cross. The cross probably pre-dates Christianity, but today is associated with St. Brigit. Hanging it in your kitchen protects your home from fire and evil. Crosses are traditionally made on Feb. 1st, St. Brigit's feast day. Our driver, John, remembered making them in school when he was a child. The cross in his house was changed every year when he made a new one. And I have to give credit where it's due....making the cross looks easy; it's not. It is definitely an acquired skill to get it tight and tidy. John was a real expert! His was the best cross of the day!
We laid our finished creations in a circle on the floor, and I was able to snap a quick photo before everyone snatched theirs away. My cross made the flight home tucked in my suitcase and is now hanging on my kitchen door. It's not very pretty, but I hope its protection against fire and evil works anyway!
Crosses on display in the Roundhouse

Monday, October 13, 2014


Lughnasa Garden
As we complete the cycle of the Celtic year, we visit the Lughnasa Garden (pronounced loo-na-sa). It was my favorite garden because it designates my favorite time of year...autumn. It's celebrated on August 1st with feasting and dancing; it signals the beginning of the harvest. At Brigit's Garden, the area is surrounded by standing stones. Inside are two intersecting circles... one for dancing and one holding a long stone table for feasting. The mounds outside the circle represent the stars of Orion, one of my favorite constellations and one associated with the Celtic god, Lugh. The ancient festival has been Christianized with today's pilgrims climbing holy mountains like Croagh Patrick to honor the saint and the season.

In a previous post, I shared the movie, "The Quiet Man" with you. When I bought that video in Galway, the store had a special on...two DVD's for 10 euros. So I purchased "Dancing at Lughnasa" along with it. This 1998 Irish film based on the Broadway play of the same name features an ensemble cast that includes Meryl Streep. Set in County Donegal in 1936, it's  the story of the five Mundy sisters and their brother, Jack, a priest who has been relieved of his missionary duties and sent home from Africa. Life is hard in these pre-war years and the sisters struggle that summer trying to keep the family together. It's a bitter-sweet story. Watch it for the gorgeous Irish countryside and a glimpse of  the quasi-Christian Lughnasa festival.

Friday, October 10, 2014


Bealtaine garden
Bealtaine (pronounced Belt-an-a) marks the beginning of the light half of the Celtic year. It's traditionally celebrated on May 1st which is considered to be the beginning of summer. It is a time of fire and light, of love and marriage and the time of coming of age. Cows were turned out into summer pastures and Irish houses were decorated with flowers, many of them yellow to signify the light during this festival time. \ In the Bealtaine Garden, standing stones make a path from a fire source to a bonfire in front of a throne formed from bog wood.

Path to the throne with embedded stones representing fire
And yes, we all took a turn sitting on the throne!