Toussaint (All Saints’ Day) on 1st November is a big religious event in France. French people honour their dead relatives and tidy and deck their tombs. Even if the church at Teysseroles is in poor repair, the cemetery is still in use. Since our fundraising fête at the end of June, the team restoring it – which includes us – has not had much opportunity to work there. But it has been all hands to the pumps during the past fortnight to clear up the churchyard.
Toussaint was originally a celebration of all the saints, including those who had no special feast day of their own. The following day, All Souls’ Day, was for commemorating those who have yet to be purified in Purgatory and reach Heaven. Since only 1st November is a public holiday in France, people have come to honour both the saints and their dead on the same day.
Owing to the wetter than normal early autumn weather, the grass has shot up. Our main concern, therefore, has been to clear the path that leads to the main entrance and to tidy around the graves. At the same time, local families have been tending to their plots. They plant chrysanthemums in particular, which you see on sale in all the local markets and at funeral parlours. (We have three funeral parlours in our village of 1600 or so souls. What do they know that we don’t?).
Chrysanthemums are said to symbolise death but I have no idea why. Does anyone know? Whatever the reason, don’t ever buy French people a pot of chrysanths as a present.
Continuing the restoration work
Another good reason to get on with the work is that our appointed architect is visiting in mid-November, along with the architect from Bâtiments de France, who oversee historic monuments in France. We are hoping that this will result in a planned programme of work on the building itself so that we have tangible progress to show people at our fête next June.
At a meeting with the Maire last week, we learned that we have now amassed enough in the coffers through our own efforts to justify applying for grants and subsidies. This includes the Midi-Pyrénées region and the European Union. Assuming they grant us the dosh, it will be doled out in tranches to pay for each stage of the work. The small matter of the municipal elections next March (or the results) will not, we hope, set things back.
We have just about got to the end of what we can reasonably achieve as non-professional workers. Ten days ago, we hired a man with a digger, who relentlessly clenched his pipe between his teeth throughout proceedings, to carry out various works around the church.
The works included:
- Digging below one of the corners of the building to check that it is solid. It is. I dread to think what would have happened if it hadn’t been.
- Excavating a drainage ditch at the side of the church to stop damp seeping through the wall.
- Removing the stump of the smaller pine tree that we had cut down earlier this year. The larger stump was beyond his digger’s capacity.
- Neatening up various other parts of the churchyard.
It did look at bit like the Somme after he had finished but a spell of dry weather has sorted out the worst. In the process, he also managed to upset a couple of tombstones and knocked the cross off the top of another. But our president, Alain, a maçon, came to the rescue with masonry glue. We just hope no one leans against them on Friday.
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