Monday, October 26, 2009

Our Lady Of The Boiling Oil

As I said, yesterday I went for a long walk to Celleneuve, and what had occasioned this was that the day before I'd gone on a much shorter walk to find out where this stream that is channelled through a part of town goes. Marie told me about a historical site on the river which I'm not sure I saw, and sent me to this site to read about it.

Well, I wasn't going to stop there. I started reading the Old Montpellier part of it alphabetically, and got down to the e's, e being for église, or church. As I'd thought, most of the churches here are 19th Century, even the Cathedral, which only has bits of the old building (most notably its towers), with the rest dating from the 1860s. They really didn't like Catholics here!

But one picture caught my eye, since the church in it was obviously very old. Aha! I said, I had to go seet this. And it was in Celleneuve. I'd been to Celleneuve before and it seemed like it took a very long time on the bus, but looking at the map, it didn't seem too much further than Castelneau, so off I went.

The church, for all that it's of imposing height, taller than anything around it, is still amazingly invisible. There's a parking garage named for it, so I knew to turn off the main road I'd come along at the right time, and I'd even seen a bit of it rising above the other buildings, but it took me a while to find it anyway, since the maze of ancient village streets surrounding it was so complicated. In the end, I turned a corner and there it was.

That's the tower jutting out into one street. The street to the left in the picture is narrow:

The fact that this makes it dark doesn't matter. The church has virtually no windows. I didn't get inside -- it's only open for three hours on the first Sunday of the month and this was the last Sunday of the month -- but I'd bet it's pretty gloomy in there. I tried a few more pictures, but there was no way to get the whole thing:

Just to get this much, I had to back up against a wall and hunker way down. That narrow window is some ways off the ground.

Walking back home, I reasoned that any church that well fortified had to have something to do with the Cathars, but I was wrong. Apparently the defense was there for when the Routiers hit town. These were bands of mercenaries in the employ of Henry II of England, who roved around the French countryside causing mayhem during the Hundred Years War. (For more on them, there's a Wikipedia article, of course). This fits: according to the entry on it on the historical website, the church was built in the 12th century as the Abbot of Aniane extended his influence into the area, but it was severely modified in the 14th century to defend the citizens, who could gather there when the Routiers were heading to town. According to the article, among the weapons used were large rocks and boiling oil.

At any rate, you should look at the historical website's page for a picture of the whole church, which must've been gotten from the telephone tower or maybe a balloon. I certainly couldn't have taken it from anywhere I was. The entire little neighborhood around it, though, seemed much more ancient than most of even the center of Montpellier, and I wondered what the housing in some of those ancient buildings was like. Probably awful, since the French mostly don't want to live in these old buildings.

They might, just barely, want to live in one of the old "folies," built in the 18th century by nobility eager to show off, however: I passed one, which seemed deserted, except for a bunch of construction equipment, which, according to the notice posted on the gate, had something to do with the new tramway, which is headed out that way. It's called Domaine de la Piscine, and given that a lot of wines have named beginning with "domaine" I'm glad they don't make it there because "piscine" means swimming pool.

On the way, back, I discovered a hiking trail which follows an 18th century aqueduct. Hmmm, might be time to see what that's about...


  1. You know what? I learn a lot about my city on your blog. I have not seen the church yet, and I have never seen the folie either..............

  2. The thing is, sometimes it takes "foreign" eyes to see a place. I'm quite sure I could turn you loose near where I grew up and you could find tons of stuff I just either took for granted or never knew.


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