Hey, “Mr. Blue Sky”

I’ve been wondering how to follow up last week’s Cassoulet – until it hit me just now – we’ll go for a walk, of course!!

There’s a great walk from St Chinian to the chapel of Notre Dame de Nazareth – why don’t you join me?   Put on your sturdy walking shoes, and bring some water, and perhaps your camera?

We’ll walk to the end of Rue de la Digue and on until we come to the Croix de Treize Noyes, which remembers a tragic episode in St Chinian’s history:  In 1875 a flood swept through the village and killed all 13 members of one family when their house was destroyed by the raging flood waters.

The low water crossing will take us across the Vernazobre River, and you’ll wonder how such a little stream could have been such a destructive force.

On our right we’ll pass a beautiful olive grove, and after that you’ll see vineyards in all directions – and you’ll get a good view of what is called locally the Rocher de Notre Dame, the Rock of Our Lady.  A geologist would be able to tell you exactly what this huge outcrop of rock is made of, and how it came to be formed; unfortunately I am totally lacking in that department 🙂  Perhaps someone out there would like to write a guest-post on the geology of St Chinian??

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At the end of the vineyards we’ll cross the river once more.  I know the iron bridge looks a little fragile, but I assure you it is perfectly safe!!  Just below the bridge there are some great river pools – make a mental note for your summer visit!

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On the other side of the bridge lies the hamlet of La Rive, a handful of houses, surrounded by vegetable gardens!

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Soon we’ll start our climb up to Notre Dame.  The paths are well-marked and well-trodden, both by walkers and wildlife; I wonder if that print in the mud is a wild boar hoof?

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Here and there wildflowers are already in bloom!

Just a little further up the path we’ll have a lovely view of this little mazet, a hut which would have been used to store tools and for shelter.  It looks very well maintained, so someone is still using it today!!

IMG_6636Well, we’ve made it – we are at the top!!  And here is a cross, the first of many crosses you’ll see on our way down!!

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The Chapel of Our Lady of Nazareth is a place of local pilgrimage. Legend has it that the Virgin Mary appeared on the rock (perhaps to a local girl, tending sheep or goats?) in 840 and left an image of her foot imprinted in the rock. I did look but could not see a footprint there…

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A chapel on the rock is mentioned in 1102, but the present structure dates from much later.

The views from up here are beautiful and sweeping – there’s a bench over there, take a seat and rest your feet for a little while.

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I’ve promised you some more crosses on the way down – we’re not using the same path we used for the climb up.  All the Stations of the Cross are along this path, which is used by the faithful when mass is being read at the chapel in May.  The crosses are made from cast-iron and the bases bear inscriptions, which explain the Station of the Cross they are representing.

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And look, here’s another little chapel, almost squashed by the cypress trees around it!!  I’m sure the trees seemed a good idea when they were planted about a hundred years ago, but today they look as though they are about to crush the little building.

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The chapel is dedicated to the memory of Monsignor David, “born on the 25th of March 1842 and buried in St Chinian on the 21st September 1915.  He was good and faithful.  He loved and honoured his country”.  He might also have been behind the Stations of the Cross along the path!?  The plaque on the first of the crosses bears the date 1897, so he almost certainly would have been. On one of the bases I was able to make out the name of the foundry: Corneau Freres a Charleville. Here are all the plaques:

And all the crosses:

The way back to St Chinian takes us along the D177, the road which leads from St Chinian to Assignan.  We’ll take a little shortcut at Le Martinet, another little hamlet, with what was once a sulphur mill at its centre.

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Where the houses end, the potagers start – these vegetable gardens have a good amount growing even in the middle of winter!  I am always impressed by the way some of these gardens are so incredibly tidy!

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So there we are, back in St Chinian, and back to where we started!  I hope your feet aren’t aching – it’s been a great walk!

P.S.  The “Mr. Blue Sky” of the title refers to a song of the same name by ELO…

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8 thoughts on “Hey, “Mr. Blue Sky”

  1. Andreas

    For the history of the place we once had M Pinel take us right to the top. He had some interesting ideas about the stone wall at the base of the mound where the cross is: Roman era stones, according to him, and also there may have been a Jewish encampment in the middle ages when the Jews were driven out of towns. That was rather speculative, but again who knows?

    You probably know Monsieur Pinel; he lives on rue d’Assignan and used to go around on a bicycle very slowly (beard, hairy, very chatty). I think he’s not so agile now.

    The other source of St chinian history is M Fieux who’s a sort of local notable. Hanne knows him from Richesses de St C and she’s been on several historical walks with him.

    Pinel opened the chapel and gave us a very boring talk about it. Really it was not worth visiting the inside. But its interest is as a venue for the annual pilgrimage and mass they hold outside in the summer, having struggled up the via dolorosa.

    Love

    margaret

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    • Hi Margaret, thanks so much – I knew there would be people who would know more about the history and geology of the rocher, but I never thought of those two! Will have to keep an eye open for the date of the open-air mass this year, sometime in May?

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  2. Andreas, I have been meaning to reply to this post for some time, but have at last got around to it. Thanks for sharing this walk as it is one that I have made many times and always enjoy. Now you have added some knowledge to what I have been seeing. Special thanks for sharing the background to the grinding wheels at Le Martinet as I have often wondered what the purpose of these wheels was.

    The journey to the cross at the top of the hill beyond the Chapel is a rite of passage for all family and friends who accompany us to Saint-Chinian. I can always recall my eldest son’s comments after he and I climbed to the cross. He told me that my way up the hill might have been safe and got us there, but that his way down the hill was a lot more exciting and challenging!

    Keith

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