Friday, February 4, 2011

"It's Almost Spring Here" and now I can prove it.

Narcissus ready to bloom in a garden at the grotto on the face of the cliff.

A great day today. This picture above was taken this afternoon when I hiked up to the grotto. This little garden is at the base of the statue in the next picture - a "pieta", the traditional image of Mary holding the dead body of Jesus after he was taken down from the cross. This one is different because Mary Magdelene is included in the scene, in her usual position at Jesus' feet.

This is the "pieta" at the edge of the terrace, with the Dominican Priory behind, and all of it nestled on the cliff.

Here are a few more pictures from today.

A view of the grotto from the "hotelerie"

A view of the "hotelerie" from the grotto.
After the trail crosses the fields behind the "Hotelerie", it enters a historic woodlands. It is called "Le Foret Domanale de la St-Baume" (Forest of the domain of the St-Baume). There are 1000 year old oaks here. While forests were being decimated all over France, forests like this one were preserved because of the association with the holy sites. There is lots of ground water, and in the summer, the hot Provencal sun almost never reaches the forest floor. It is very moist and humid and a wonderful respite from the summer heat of Provence. 

Eventually the trail arrives at the base of the steps up to the grotto. There are 150 steps and over the centuries, many kings and popes have climbed these steps on their knees, saying all 15 decades of the rosary as they climbed - one Hail Mary per step.
The last section of steps are through this doorway. Signs leading up the trail and steps ask people to maintain a respectful silence for the benefit of those who come here to pray. Notice the picture facing you as you enter the doorway. It depicts a Dominican friar greeting pilgrims but with his finger over his mouth requesting silence as you enter the final climb to the grotto.

To the left of the gate is this plaque indicating the orders of monks and friars who have staffed the grotto monastery since the early 5th Century. The break between 1793 and 1840 are the years when the French Revolution interrupted the religious practice of many Catholics. Churches were destroyed, monasteries and convents were sacked, church records burned, priests and religious put to death. When it comes to this time in their history, there is little neutrality among the French even to this day.
Rounding the top of the stairs, you come upon this "calvaire". (tradition Calvary grouping). Again Mary Magdelene closest to Jesus feet. This one is unique for other reasons. The two "thieves" crucified beside Jesus are in different poses. The "bad" thief hanging to Jesus' left is in a restless position as he taunts Jesus into saving them all. The "good" thief, to Jesus' right, is calm as he glances peacefully over toward Jesus, who glances back at him. You can almost hear the dialogue between them as Jesus says, "On this day, you will be with me in Paradise." Also, the marker over Jesus head is not the familiar 4 letters, INRI, of the latin cross. The words "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" is written out in the three languages told by the gospel, Hebrew, Latin and Greek.

This is the view of the altar in the grotto. It is an 18th century construction.

A lone pilgrim rounds the top of the stairs and is approaching the building across the terrace from the monastery. This small building holds a small gift shop and the pilgrims warming room. I am stading on the top step in front of the entrance to the grotto. It is late afternoon and the sun is barely rounding the western end of the cliffs. There is a shadow on the terrace almost all day. But in the disance, the late afternoon sun gives a warm yellow glow to the landscape. The ridge of St-Victoire, made famous by the 19th century French painter, Paul Cezanne, is in the distance.