Thursday, June 23, 2011

Went for a Hike Today

Today, I hiked not to just the grotto of St. Mary Magdelene, but all the way to the summit of the crest of the cliffs.

There is a group of pilgrims from the city of Langres in the northeast of France who are on pilgrimage here at La Sainte-Baume. They have a local parish priest and - get this - the diocesan director of pilgrimages. Here is an innovation that we can benefit from in the US.

They about 40 people travelling by bus to this region. I met some of folks last night and they spoke with the priest, Pere Phillipe and the pilgrimage director and they invited me to join them on the hike. Again, divine providence. I was intending to hike this trail alone today. But hiking this kind of trail with others is usually more prudent.

Here is the group sitting on the steps in front of the grotto. Frere Thomas, whose book, the Novena to St. Mary Magdelene I translated for you months ago, is teaching the group.
After the brief instruction by Frere Thomas, we went into the grotto for the celebration of Mass. Following we hiked up the additional 300 meters to the crest of the cliffs.
Yesterday I included a photo of the small chapel built at the summit. Today I have pictures looking down from that height onto the plain and the hotellerie.

From the summit looking down into the valley. The hotellerie is next to the green field beyond the woods at the upper center of the picture.
The 4th century chapel, St. Pilon, on the summit of the crest of La Sainte-Baume.

The chapel of St. Pilon perched on the cliff.

The trail along the summit.
The cliffs of La Sainte-Baume
The small group of the pilrims from Langres who continued past the grotto to climb to St. Pilon.
And just to remind you of where these last photos were taken, this is the cliff from the Hotellerie. The chapel of St. Pilon is the tiny square structure at the top of the cliff. The grotto is the small cluster of buildings just above the treeline at the base of the cliffs.
Tomorrow, after Mass and lunch at the Hotellerie, I will return to Marseille for two nights. I came to really enjoy Marseille so I want to spend another two nights there. On Sunday I will travel back to Paris.

I talked to Frere Thomas after compline tonight. I told him that I was thinking of taking the train for the day from Paris to Chartres, the last major cathedral yet to visit. He went on for about half-hour about the neccessity of visiting that cathedral and the surrounding town. Tuesday, I will take the train to Chartres and visit one of the greatest cathedrals of all.

Morning prayer at 7:30am. It is now 11:30pm.
Bonne nuit.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lovely Summer Day at La Sainte-Bame

This morning started with my oversleeping. I knew the bells would wake me in time for morning prayer. But apparently the bells somehow do not reach this room. The only bell I heard was the bell that the sisters ring at the bottom of the stairs to announce 5 minutes before a meal. So I rushed out of bed and made it in time for the Petit Dejeuner. But it was still the start of a good day.

Another day of catechesis at the tables of the Sainte-Baume. Another nature-loving non-believer to ply me with all kinds of questions. These are people who never get to talk to a priest. So the 8:00am petit dejeuner turned into a session until 10:30. It left me just enough time to walk faster than I hoped to to reach the grotto in time for Mass. About five minutes away from the grotto, the bells rang call to worship. I arrived at the grotto just as the first reading began. One might say, "the 11:05 bus arrived". Need I say more, SJN folks?

After Mass I hiked back down the trail in time for lunch at the dining room. The afternoon was quiet. I took one of the little pamphlets that Frere Yves-Henri gave me at Fanjeaux for some afternoon reading. "St. Dominic's 9 ways of prayer."

There is a seminarian here from Paris. He is part of a missionary order that will send him to Southeast Asia after ordination for the rest of his life. His is a real gift. We had some interesting discussions at lunch and again at dinner this evening. I learned that he is returning to Paris by train at the same time I am driving to Paris. I invited him to join me in the drive, but he already has his "no-refund, no-exchange ticket" for the TGV. I can't blame him really. He will make tthe trip in 3 hours; I will make the trip in 8 hours.
I don't think my little Citroen C3 will do 350 KM/hour.

At dinner tonight there was a group of French pilgrims who are planning to hike to the grotto and then up to the crest of the cliffs tomorrow. It should be interesting since I really think I will be the youngest among them.

Anyway, I'm sure there will be photos of that jaunt.

Here a few before and after photos. Some taken in the winter when I first arrived here in January, and the after taken today.

January 18, 2011
June 22, 2011
January, 2011
June 2011
Here are a few more I took today.

The top of this ridge is where I will be tomorrow, Thursday, June 23.
You can barely make out the little sqaure building at the very edge of the cliff. This is the monastery built by the Cassianites in the 5th century. That is my destination tomorrow.

Well that's all for tonight.
I'm sure after the hike tomorrow there will be more photos.
Bonne nuit all!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Back a La Sainte-Baume

I am back in the Hotellerie at La Sainte-Baume. I am looking forward to the three days of quiet here. Thanks to Frere Yves-Henri, I have some wonderful reading material, not that I haven't collected lots of things. I am especially going to concentrate on the little pamphlet he gave me by St. Dominic on the 9 ways of Prayer. There is something about going back to seminal writings by the great saints and mystics. I have done some of that in these 6 months. Dominic's writings are certainly among those that I should delve into.
The blog will be relatively quiet in the next 3 days. But just know that I am really ready to come homed.

Blessings all

Monday, June 20, 2011

Nantes, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Montpellier

Since my visit to Mont St. Michel, it's been long driving days. One night in Nantes, another important college town. They host many American students. American Universities have "french" campuses there. Maybe they are worries about letting them loose in Paris.

Then it was Bordeaux for one night. I had stopped into Bordeaux a few years ago, but not this Bordeaux. I had a hotel in a very different "quartier" and it made all the difference in the world. Tonight was a nice long walk along the quai of the rivers and canals. Bordeaux, which is a variance on an old french name which literally mean, "on the water's edge" is an apt name for the place. Bordeaux is located at the head of the Gironde, a huge wedge shaped bay which opens up into the Atlantic Ocean and it is at the convergence of 4 major rivers which drain most of central France - the Dordogne, the Lot, the Vezere, and the Garonne. A nice dinner and a quiet evening in.

From Bordeaux, it was a 5 hour drive to Toulouse. I had three evenings in Toulouse. Toulouse is another great college town. It is also very important in the tradition of the Domincans. St. Thomas Aquinas in buried there in the Church of the Jacobins. Here are some photos.

The austere exterior of L'Eglise des Jacobins. This is the abbey church for the Toulouse Dominican community in its early years. Dominic founded the Dominican Order, or the Order of Preachers, in 1216. Construction of this church began in 1229 and continued through 1350. 
It is a relatively simple contruction of two naves suppoted by a single central row of columns. The main altar is in along the side of the church and not at the end of a nave.
Under the main altar lies the remains of St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. Teacher and Preacher. 1215-1274. His writings form the basis of most of the catechism and theology taught in the church for 600 years.
An interesting way to look at the ceiling. Around the base of one of the pillars, there is a large circular mirror which reflects the ceiling.
The cloister of the abbey.
The bell tower from the cloister.
A stained glass window in a small chapel off the cloister.
A very simple entrance to this beautiful place.
The minimal decoration at the entrance of the Jacobins Church
On Saturday, as I was wandering around the city, I came upon posters announcing an organ recital at the Church of Notre Dame du Taur. I was in the neighborhood and the concert was to begin in an hour, so I went. The organ recital was the last in a series, every Saturday from the first week of Easter to Trinity Sunday.

This church is built on the place where St. Sernin, the first bishop of Toulouse, was martyred in 250. Actually his martyrdom covered lot of ground in a manner of speaking. He was dragged by his feet behind an angry bull through the streets of Toulouse. This church is built on the place where his body was deposited after his death. And so the name of the this church is really, Our Lady of the Bull. "taur" the latin word from which we get the english word taurus.

On Sunday morning, I returned to Notre Dame du Taur for Mass. Again I was asked to do a reading as I entered the church. This Mass at 11:30am had many catechumens attending. I spoke to a parishioner after Mass who he catechumenate is very active in France with nearly 3 generations of unchurched French. The "new evangelization" proposed by Blessed Pope John Paul II is an important part of the life of the church here.

After Mass I continued walking down Rue du Taur towards the Basilica of St. Sernin, where St Sernin is buried. There was a huge market going on; four rows of vendors completely encircling the basilica - a big place. So I made the rounds of the market. I think this is where most people in the city buy clothes, fabric, housewares, and everything under the sun. There was surprisingly little food except for a couple of bakers, and people selling snacks to eat on the run.

The basilica was open.

Basilica of St. Sernin.
This pre-gothic architecture shows the heaviness and bulkiness that was replaced by the light and soaring gothic styles of two centurieds later.
The choir stall in the sanctuary at St. Sernin. Most cathedrals of this period have this seating at the side or behind the main altar. Cathedrals were staffed by "canons", from which we get the word "canonical", refering to something within the structure of the church. The canons were priests, brothers, and occasionally laymen who would run the day to day operation of the cathedral and the ministry from the cathedral. In many cases they were employees of the local town, who in most cases owned the cathedrals. In France today, the government owns all the major cathedrals.  
There was a museum across the street from the basilica which picked my curiosity. The museum of St. Raymond, which occupies an old hospital from the 15th century. Today it is the municipal museum of Toulouse. The large banner hanging in front of the museum was announcing an "'Ex-pot' de restauration". With this little play on words I was ancious to get into to see this exhibition of the history of restaurants. I paid my entrance and found myself in the middle of huge rom filled with hundreds of pieces of ancient greek pottery. The exhibit was not about restaurants at all It was about the "restoration" process of the ancient pottery found in archaelogical digs all over the Mediteranean. Oh well! It was a fascinating visit and I learned new things.

But I was now hungry and found a nice little brasserie.

Today I left Toulouse and headed towards Montpellier. Again I got sidetracked. There are just too many surprises happening on this experience. My GPS started to scream at one point. IT had detected an 85 minute delay ahead on the highway. If I took the next exit, I would cut the delay to only 20 minutes. That 20 minute delay turned into 3 hours. I took the exit and came across the sign pointing to Fanjeaux. Something in head said that this was vaguely familiar. And then it came to me. Sr. Joseph Marie asked me before I left if I was going to visit Fanjeaux. Frere Henri-Dominique at La Sainte-Baume had talked about Fanjeaux. A quick look in the guide book and there it was. St. Dominic had served as the parish priest there. The town is a classic small hill town in the French country side. The center of the cluster of buildings crowned of course by the tower of the church. It was 12:30pm and of course anything that would have been opened on a Monday was shut tight for repos. As I turned the corner near the church, a Domincan priest drove by. He stopped and I asked him if Dominic's house was open. He said no but he would open it for me. I introduced my self, and told him about my January/February retreat and my upcoming gthree days at La Sainte-Baume. He of course knows all the brothers there very well. My unexpected detour turned into a nearly two hour visit of the house, and the village. Fr. Yves-Henri Riviere, op. He showed the little oratory that is built in the house where Dominc is believed to have lived during his time in Fanjeaux. All that remains of the house is a large fireplace and some beams known to be 13th century.

The tiny oratory with its huge fireplace and beautiful old tabernacle made from gilt panels from the Basilica of St. Maximin. (Look up the blog from late February when I concelebrated Mass there with Bishop  Dominique Rey.)
The altar in the Oratory in the St. Dominic House. The altar is facing the big fireplace of the last photo.
The garden at the rear of the house.
After my tour, Fr. Yves-Henri and I exchanged information and he very kindly gave me some books as a gift. "St. Dominic en Lauragais" (The account of St. Dominic in the Lauragais region, Fanjeaux.), "St. Dominic, the Apostolic Life", "Saint Dominic and his brothers, Evangelization or Crusade?" and little panphlet, " The Nine Ways of Praying of St. Dominic". Also a prayer card with a photo of the beautifully carved door in the restoration of the Oratory.

Merci, Frere Yves-Henri, pour une belle visite cette apresmidi et pour le cadeau de les livres. Ces petites evenements qui ne sont pas part du plan de mon sabbatique sont les plus memorables. Je vous offert mes prieres pendant mon petit sejour a La Sainte-Baume cette semaine.

Frere Yves-Henri Riviere. OP
 Here are few pictures of the little village of Fanjeaux.

The church in Fanjeaux
Fanjeaux Main Street.
Le Halle: the covered market place a block away from the church.
The rest of the afternoon was on the road to Montpellier where I will spend the night before leaving for La Sainte-Baume Tuesday monrning.

As I'm thinking I am winding down on this sabbatical, the new discoveries and surprising events just keep happening.
Blessings all of them!

A demain.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mont St. Michel

This has to be one of the most extraordinary places I have ever visited in the world.

Mont St. Michel is located in the north of France right at the border of Normandie and Bretagne. It is an island which was has had a monastery built on it since the 8th century. For centuries it stood in resitance to all the wars waged against Normandy and northern France. It has never once been the victim of attacks by anyone until the Second World War. The primary reason is that until hu,anity had the technology to drop bombs, it could not be successfully attacked because of the tides. Every twelve hours, the tides, some of the highest in the world, rise up to 12 meters and inundates the marshes which separate it from the coast of France. IN modern times a causeway has been built and that is no longer an issue. But in the days before mchanized war, no army could succeed in taking it in the short time required by the tides. And so it is safe.

I have tons of pictures. I will simply post them with brief  captions. I think the pictures will speak for themselves.

Mont St. Michel. The monastery and the abbey church are built at the crest of this rock island starting in the 8th century. Later the village surrounding the base was built in the 11th and 12 centuries.
The gate which millions of visitors must pass through to get into the village and climb up to the abbey and church.
Looking down on the main street from the ramparts.
Major side streets look like this.
After passing all the restaurants, tourist trap shops, and hotels, the street becomes a stairway with about 200 steps up to the entrance of the abbey.
The abbey entrance perched on the edge of the cliffs.

Once inside, more steps up to the terraces in front of the abbey church.

The terraces in front of the abbey church with the tidal basins below.
Terraces in front of the abbey church.
Parking lots are not my favorite things to photograph. But I think this is important to give you a sense of the height which the ground floors of the abbey church are located. Tour buses below.
The church and tower.
Nave of the abbey church with the tower.
Facade of the Abbey Church. The facade is 16th century so it has the later classical lines rather than the medieval austerity.
This photo shows the two styles which co-exist in a wonderful way. The nave, foreground, is the 11th century roman style. The sanctuary at the rear is the early gothic of the 12th century.
The sanctuary. The utter simplicity of the rows of arches with no ornamentation emphasizes the height and draws the eye upawards to the light provided by large expanses of windows. It is very reminiscent of La Sainte Chapelle in Paris.
Detail of the nave with the round romanesque arches and the simple wooden barrel vault at the ceiling.
This is very rare and was used here to simplify the building process of carrying wood rather than stone across the tidal flats.
Views down to the tidal flats rom the terraces.
ONe of the most beautiful cloisters I have seen in all of my travels. The gardens ofo this cloister were replanted when the benedictine sisters, who now staff the abbey returned.
To understand the history of these amzing monuments requires knowledge of the events of the French revolution. The religious imagery on the right, an image of St. John the Baptist was destroyed, while the the floral design was left. This is the case all over France. There was a systematic effort to blot out the signs of faith all over the country.
The roof of the cloister is supported by very slender columns. They are doubled, alternating one after the other to give great support but with the illusion of lightness.
The beautiful cloister. Notice the double rows of slender columns holding up a very heavy roof.

The refectory of the ancient abbey.

Now that's a fireplace. And there are two of them. These are in the Pilgrim's Hall which were used to feed the thousands of pilgrims who came to St. Michel. St. Michel was both a stopping place for pilgrims on the way to Spain to Santiago Compostelle, and a destination unto itself.
Here is something you don't see every day. This huge wheel (see the man standing behind it) was used to operate an elevator to bring supplies and building materials up to the abbey. Men would walk inside this wheel and it would turn to raise the sleds up an incline on the side of the mountain. Think of human hamster wheel.
This is the ramp which guided the specially built sled which was hoisted up by the wheel located in the openning which you can see in the wall at the top of the picture.
Views of the ramparts built right down to the edge of the sea.
The abbey gardens below the terraces in front of the abbey church.
Rooftops of the village looking down from the stairs approaching the abbey entrance.
Village scenes.
Village street.
Looking up the steps approaching the abbey from the village.
A look back at the island as I am leaving to head down to Bordeaux.
This was a remarkable day. Mont St. Michel will be one of the highlights of this whole experience. I was at Motn St. Michel on Wednesday, June 15th.
Incase you may have noticed that I have slowed down in the postings on the blog, you are right. I am counting day at this point. There are so many things I wanted to see. It is becoming clear that I won't get to all of it. It just may require a return to Europe at some point in the near future. Quel surprise!

Tonight I am in Toulouse. I will visit the tomb of St. Thomas Aquinas tomorrow. Then I head back to La Sainte Baume for a few days of final retreat. Before coming home on the 29th, I will spend three nights in Paris.

I am not promising any more blogs after this - well maybe after the tomb of Thomas Aquinas tomorrow.

The three days at La Sainte Baume will be one's of quiet.

Three nights of Paris will not!

In any case. I will home next week.

Blessings to all

A bientot.