It’s been an eventful 10 days or so. My latest novel is now out, involving quite a lot of last-minute effort. And the Irish Embassy in Paris phoned on Tuesday to say that my citizenship application had been accepted. My certificate arrived yesterday and was, in fact, a bit underwhelming. It bears a photo of me looking as if I’m going to the scaffold as usual, plus some bare personal facts. It doesn’t even mention my grandmother, by virtue of whose birth in Ireland I became eligible for citizenship.
However, this culminates a 7 ½ month wait, prompted, I will admit, purely by the spectre of Brexit. It will, of course, be ironic if Brexit never actually happens. If it does, I will at least continue to be a citizen of an EU state. I could have applied for French citizenship, but the Irish route was a line of much less resistance.
Weather for walking
Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to write about. We are spoilt for beautiful countryside and lovely walks in this area. And this is a good time of year to walk – when it’s not raining, that is. By the time you get to late June, it’s becoming a bit hot, unless you can find a shady walk.
Last week, our walking group did a randonnée around Caylus that took in natural as well as historic sights. We started at the Caylus lake. This is man-made, although it looks natural, surrounded as it is by tree-clad hills. From there, the route took us along the Bonnette Valley (pausing for a welcome coffee and cake first at the house of the walk’s leaders).
We stopped at the cascade pétrifiante, a waterfall that can be a raging torrent in spring or dry as a bone in summer. In previous years, it has been so powerful that the opposite side of the road was soaking wet.
The church of Saint-Pierre Livron towered over us from its perch on the edge of a rocky bluff. A church has existed there since at least the 12th century, although at that time it was small and square. It was extended later and then rebuilt in the mid-19th century. This proved to be something of a mistake, since the rock on which it’s built is honeycombed with caves, subterranean passages and streams. In fact, part of the cemetery went over the edge in 1897.
The church’s precariousness came to the fore again in the late 20th century, when the whole thing was in danger of collapsing, until work took place to shore it up. At night, it’s even more impressive, since the bell tower is lit up.
I discovered that Saint-Pierre Livron also has an old chapel that once served a leper colony, la Chapelle de Saint-Etienne-des-Cannabals, in the centre of a former cemetery. I have still to locate this chapel, so if someone can tell me exactly where it is, I’d be grateful.
I had previously heard about a léproserie, or leper colony, also called a maladrerie, on the causse above Caylus, although nothing of it appears to remain. This unpleasant disease reached its apogee in Europe in the 13th century. It is not especially contagious and it’s not exactly clear why it became such a scourge in the Middle Ages, but factors such as poverty, genetic disposition and the use of fabrics such as wool, which could trap the bacterium, may have been involved.
Suffice it to say that the hapless souls afflicted with this disease were shunned. As well as being a physical ailment, it was also considered to indicate moral corruption. For that reason, the church was often involved in dealing with lepers.
Suspected lepers were required to undergo a physical examination. If they were found to be affected, they were isolated in a leper colony. Sources indicate that there may have been several thousand such colonies in France in the early 13th century. When out and about, the lepers had to ring a bell or shake a wooden rattle to warn others of their presence.
From the sanctuaire de Notre-Dame de Livron, at the other end of the village, we had a steep climb up to the causse. On the top, we walked along level paths bordered by ancient stone walls and punctuated by wayside crosses, before descending again to Caylus.
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