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Sacred Provence

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 town.

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 promenade!

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter™

In 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

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