August 26, 2009
France's Christian heritage is evident almost anywhere you go in the
city or in the countryside. Soaring cathedrals, village churches,
carved shrines, crosses large and small, public and private chapels,
and more are prominent in the visual space, witnessing a time when
faith and daily life were woven tightly together.
In Aix-en-Provence, one of the most beautiful and intriguing sacred
images is the oratoire, the small niche housing a figure of
a saint or the Virgin Mary.
Coming from the latin orare, meaning "to pray," the
oratoires were tiny places of prayer where the townspeople asked
God to protect their families, their houses, their harvests, and their
neighbors against the plague, sickness, drought, accidents and natural
disasters. As the oratoires urbains (city oratories-there are
also many out in rural areas along former pilgrimage routes) are affixed
to corners of houses and buildings, the penitent could pray from their
windows and avoid the contagion of the city streets.
Les oratoires began to appear at the end of the middle ages
and their construction flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Most often, the statues of these protector and healer saints were
brightly painted; only a few retain their color today. Many were destroyed
during the French Revolution of 1789 but began to be restored in the
19th century. At present, Aix is one of the cities in France hosting
the most oratoires urbains-there are more than 90 visible around
One of my favorite Aix activities is to walk the narrow city streets
and focus solely on les oratoires, contemplating the former
inhabitants who incorporated these visible reminders of faith into
their daily being. Here is a short parcours, or tour, of some
of the most striking oratoires in the center of Aix. Bonne
~ La France à emporter
the epic French film series Jean de Florette and Manon
des Sources, a village in early 20th century Provence is threatened
with famine when the local spring goes dry during the height of
summer. The townspeople begin to pray furiously for a miracle and
ultimately form a prayer procession through town, pulling the sacred
back into their lives and livelihoods.
I won't give away the ending but if you haven't seen this two-part
film series, it is a Provence cinema must. We'll view it in a "Travel
to Provence Through Film" offering during the French Affaires
Spring 2010 Spotlight on Provence, an array of classes, activities
and events designed to bring Provence here to us. You can also add
the film series to your home DVD library via www.amazon.com.
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