Tracy and my most recent micro-adventure was joining 10,000 other spectators at the 600th observance of the annual Procession de la Sanch (The March of the Penitents) in Perpignan on Good Friday, 2016. (La Sanch is pronounced “lah sank.”)
Outside of Spain, the Procession de la Sanch isn’t really performed any longer. In France, it is only held in the southern Catalan country. The largest and most famous of the French penance processions still performed during the Semaine Sainte (Easter Holy Week) is the Procession de la Sanch a Perpignan. Nearby Arles-sur-Tech and Collioure also still perform la Sanch ceremonies, though on a smaller scale. The event was originally brought to Perpignan in 1416 by Saint Vincent Ferrier, a Valencian Dominican. (Remember, Columbus reached the “New World” in 1492, 76 years after the first Procession de la Sanch.)The Pyrénées-Orientales département (which includes Perpignan, Arles-sur-Tech and Collioure, sometimes referred to as Catalunya Nord) has strong Spanish and Catalan roots that has helped this French department retain a traditional event that is typical of the Semana Santa (Spanish Holy Week). The strength of this French-Catalan-Spanish blend can be easily seen in the departments’ flag, gold and red stripes, the same colors as those used in Catalan and Spanish flags.
The somber, masked procession began centuries ago as a method to support condemned men on their final march to execution and ensure their Christian burial. La Sanch’s robes and the conical hoods (the hood is called a Caperutx — today the entire ensemble is referred to as Caperutx)were worn by the executioners and the prisoners to conceal their identities. Apparently early on in history the victims and families of the victims were a bit too happy to pull them out of the procession and just beat them violently to death in the streets.
The Caperutx worn during La Sanch are either black (worn by the penitents representing death) or red (worn by the leader, the Regidor, representing blood), only the children and priests in the procession (representing the innocents and the saved) wear white. A Regidor, in his red Caperutx is at the head of the procession and rings an iron bell to warn of the coming procession. The robes worn in la Sanch, while reminiscent to the costumes worn by the Ku Klux Klan, actually predate the Klan’s by 500 years and have a completely different origin and meaning.
About 700 members of local associations, Confrérie de la Sanch, organize, march, and carry the approximately 35 “misteris” in the procession. (“Misteris” mean mysteries in Catalan.) The misteris are litters with life-size portrayals of scenes from the Passion of Christ. Weighing between 60 and 100 pounds, the misteris may be carried by up to eight persons. Some of the penitents in Caperutx carried drums and beat a steady, slow tattoo for the procession. Penitents also may sing”goigs,” traditional songs dating back before the 15th century, that recount the sadness of Mary’s suffering in Calvary. We didn’t hear a “goig” being sung while we were watching the procession.
The Procession de la Sanch takes three hours (from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m.) to circle the historic downtown of Perpignan and passing other parishes, starting and ending at Église Saint-Jacques(Saint James’ Church) which dates back to 1245.
Prior to the procession start, we visited Église Saint-Jacques. We found a beautiful 13th century church with a unique bell tower that was built in the southern Gothic style. Its most unusual feature is that there are two Catalan-styled altarpieces at opposite ends of the single nave with the organ at the center. Inside the church were many of the Misteris with their fresh flowers being displayed before the procession. We had a wonderful opportunity to see the Misteris up close and appreciate their size and weight. We spoke with another visitor to the church who was admiring the Misteris. He was French, but had completed his doctorate at the University of Minnesota. He recounted the history of the event with us and told us we were very welcome there and encouraged us to have a look around the church. Since Tracy and I share an appreciation of sacred architecture, his invitation was quite welcome.
We choose a location to watch the procession in Place Puig (Puig Square)in the Quartier Saint-Jacques which is also referred to as the Quartier Gitan because of its significant Gitan (Roma people, often called Gypsies or Gitanos in Spain) community. While waiting for the event to start we visited with a local Gitan man who explained the Gypsy history of the area and how the former military barracks adjacent to Place Puig were converted to public housing and was now home to primarily Gitan peoples.
The procession was preceded with a loudspeaker explanation about the history and meaning of the event. After the announcement we heard the tattoo of drums and the procession became a solemn, slow-moving parade. Approximately 700 men, women, and children participated in the procession. Although it is easy to fixate on the penitents wearing the Caperutx hoods and robes, there are a surprising number of women dressed in black marching in the procession. The misteris on their litters looked impressively heavy as their were carried on the procession. Both the men and the women carried misteris. The carriers had an unusual technique of using a forked walking stick under the carrying poles to support the weight of the misteris when the procession stopped and to trade carriers. The use of the forked sticks was performed without verbal direction with orders by tapped by the team leaders with their stick on the ground to alert the other carriers. Tracy noticed that several women were wearing heels up to 4 inches to allow all the women carriers to be the same height. Several of the hooded penitents wearing the Caperutx elected to walk the entire route and to carry the misteris in their bare feet.
I spoke with one of the marchers who was collecting charity contributions from the crowd. He attempted to chat with us in French, Spanish, Catalan, and, I think, Caló (Gitano-Roma) before I explained that our French and Spanish was very poor and that we were Americans. While saying he didn’t speak English, he spoke enough English welcome us, thank us for a supporting the procession,and gave us a prayer card with the “Our Father,” . . . in Catalan, of course. It is always amazing to us the number of multilingual people we meet in the Pyrénées-Orientales département, even though English is seldom one of those second languages, usually the French people in this area of the south will most often also speak Catalan, Spanish, or Maghrebi (Moroccan Arabic – Darija.)
At the end of the official procession pasted, members of the public joined at the end of the parade and followed the official participants.
In all, it was a unique opportunity to watch the 600 year old Procession de la Sanch in person. A chance to observe a traditional Catalan and Spanish religious ceremony performed in a very secular modern France. To be involved in the conclusion to the penance and atonement of the Lenten season in a historic ritual dating back to 1416. It was an extremely powerful experience.
Today is Saturday, August 1, 2015, the biggest traffic day of the year in France. Why?
“Samedi Noir” (Black Saturday) is the changeover between the juillettistes(families that take their annual vacations in July) and the aoûtiens (families that take their annual vacation in August). “Le chassé-croisé des juillettistes et des aoûtiens,” is the cross-over of July and August vacationers and an annual “event” usually on the last Saturday of July.
It’s like the US Memorial Day weekend traffic, squared, because of France’s centralized highway system. Millions of French travelers are on the road today, some heading home after holidays and others on the way to their vacation destinations. It is called “Les jours de grands départs” (the days of great departures) across France.
In 1496, the French army sacked and razed the village and castle of Salses which marked the northern boundary of the Spanish territory of Aragon, an area known as Roussillon. To block access between Roussillon and France more effectively King Ferdinand II (who married Queen Isabella in 1469) decided to rebuild Salses and make it a strong defensive barrier and a base for attacks. The construction happened in a relatively short amount of time between 1497 and 1504 (just 5 years after Columbus went in search of India and found North America). In 1503, the Spanish withstood their first siege although the fortress was not yet completed.
Isabella died in 1504, Ferdinand died in 1516.
In 1544, a peace treaty was signed bringing a century of tranquility to the area. The fortress gradually lost the military superiority its original, innovative design had given it.
During the 30 Years War (1618-1648), Salses was besieged three times in three years before finally being taken by the French in 1642. The Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 ratified Roussillon’s status as French property. The area where we live today is still called the Languedoc-Roussillon region.
The treaty moved border between France and Spain to the highest point of the Eastern Pyrenees and the fortress lost all military strategic importance. The only reason it survives is because of the cost of demolition, it was just too expensive to tear it down. It was partially restored by Vauban (you may remember we mentioned him in an earlier post about Port-Vendre) and became an observation post, then a State prison. Throughout the 19th century it was used as a gunpowder store before being classified as a historic monument in 1886.
The Exterior Layout
The Forteresse de Salses is a good example of the transition between medieval castle (with a keep and towers at the corners of long curtain walls) and the modern geometric fortress sunk into the ground and surrounded by a large moat. Many of the innovative features were necessary to keep up with changing developments in artillery, specifically the use of metal cannonballs.
The outer walls are 6 to 10 meters (20 to 32 feet) thick and are buried to half their height in a huge moat than could be flooded. Above the ground, buildings rise between three and seven stories, served by a maze of passageways.
The interior buildings are preceded by forward defense posts, three cylindrical flanking towers with a pointed bastion (making them resemble medieval helmets). The bastioned front, made by building a point in the outward facing circular tower wall, allowed for greater visibility of the surrounding area giving the guards a greater advantage to see enemies coming. These were connected to the main complex by caponnières — vaulted galleries linking the forward defenses and main buildings by way of underground tunnels.
Here is what they look like from ground level.
Entrance to the interior of the fort is gained by crossing the moat, passing through the defensive structure, walking through the barbacane, going through the south bastion, crossing the moat again and heading to the entrance gate, which has two guard turrets. Passing through this gate leads to a short labyrinth of interior gates, each of the two additional gates is 5 to 6 inches thick. Passing through the second interior gate and crossing one final drawbridge finally gains access to the large, paved courtyard with a well in the center.
The courtyard is bordered on three sides by an arcaded portico. The fourth side by an inner moat and a rampart that was never completed. The southwest tower was built over an existing artesian well which supplied much of the water for the fort.
The three arcaded wings of the courtyard contained basement stable facilities for the 100 horses who lived within the fort. Ramps at regular intervals allowed the large animals to come and go from their basement homes. The interior walls of the stable still have feed bins and an occasional tie-down ring mounted in the wall which can still be seen. There were also chutes between some of the feed bins which would have allowed fresh water to be dumped into a receptacle within the stables for the horses. The chutes provided the only light in the stables other than the gated ramps.
Above the stables inside the three wings were the remains of the barracks. Three stories of lodging would have filled up with the 1500 soldiers who lived in the fort. However, all that is still visible are the empty spaces in the walls where wood beams would have been to hold up the floorboards.
Inside the northeast tower is a spacious chapel. A two-story single nave construction with a choir loft to the rear and an ambo built along the edge next to the stairs. There is a large facade behind the altar. Behind the altar facade is a large storage space and a staircase which leads down to food storage and an another interior well. There are three small chapels built into the basement. These days the chapels hold a small display of artifacts depicting food storage and tools of the medieval fort.
At about the halfway point of the north wing and just before the small bridge to the gated inner keep area there was a grainery and the forge. Neither of which are accessible to tourists. Sometimes you just have to use your imagination!
The inner keep area between the unfinished rampart encompasses the entire west wing, part of the north wing, south wing and both the northwest and southwest towers. The southwest tower was specifically placed over an artesian well which provided running water for the entire fort, including the kitchen, the boulangerie (bakery) and what looked to be a bathing room with two stone tubs as well as the inner moat and both the central courtyard well and the chapel well. The area in front of the Chamber des Vannes (bathing room) had cool air blowing out, so cold that it was like standing in front of an air conditioner! And I always think of these old forts as hot in the summer and cold and drafty in the winter . . . hmm, maybe not so much!
Entrance into the inner keep was made through another huge gate in the wall of the unfinished rampart. I read later that this was the last line of defense if the fort were ever taken. All of the food and cooking areas are included inside as well as that hidden well in the southwest tower. So if the fort was taken by enemies the soldiers and others could barricade themselves in the inner keep where they might be able to hold off invaders. There was also an underground tunnel from the northwest bastion to the northwest tower, so I assume there may have been an escape route planned from there as well.
In the center of the west wing was the keep, a seven story building that housed the dungeon, food stores, kitchen staff, and artillery with access to the roof for guard duty. To the left of the keep was the shop, this may have been the weakest point of the inner keep as the west wing changed there to just the curtain wall — well weak is subjective, the walls are some 30 feet thick. To the right of the keep is a huge boulangerie (bakery) easily large enough to house 20 workers. There are hundreds of hand-sized terra cotta balls piled everywhere, on the floor, the large stone table, and inside the ovens.
The terra cotta balls were used to bake bread on. They were heated in a fireplace then placed onto the floor of the oven, when they started to cool they were removed and hot ones were added. There were six of the ovens, small fireplace/bbq size one of which still have black soot inside and on the ceiling above it. My guess is that’s where the terra cotta balls were heated. Three of the ovens were along the north side of the room above a huge stone table large enough to make hundreds of small bread loaves. Uneaten bread was left to harden and became bowls for the next meal, like how some restaurants use a sourdough bread bowls for clam chowder.
Built at the ground level of the interior rampart was the kitchen — with running water and a stone sink an enormous fireplace. The wall facing the courtyard had a long horizontal opening about 8 inches tall. This was to be used in case enemies breached the courtyard — soldiers could still shoot at them through the opening in the kitchen.
Next to the kitchen was the barn for horses and dairy cows. An opening between the two allowed air to flow but I can’t imagine in helped make things smell better. Though if they used the area to butcher the cows then at least the kitchen staff would have immediate access to begin cooking dinner.
The western side of the south wing that was part of the inner keep had a small residence for the governor and his family. These were the only windows with glass. Diamond shaped stained glass windows covered the first two floors of the residence. The southwest tower comprised the corner piece and was specifically built to be used to lift heavy things into the inner keep, the artesian well in the basement supplied water for the entire fort. The well served another purpose as well as the water helped to remove the smoke from firing the cannons. The rooms above the well were designed to allow airflow through a spiral shaft into the running water, apparently acting as a draw for the cannon smoke. (Not really sure how effective this was!)
The western side of the north wing that was part of the inner keep was one large room with a small room at the west wall with a small door and a small pass-through window, originally I thought it might be a jail cell but we read in the history pamphlet that the dungeon was in the keep. So we are still clueless as to what was kept in there. There were stairs leading down into an underground room, but it was closed to tourists.
We do know that there were two caponnieres from the northwest bastion to the northwest tower, perhaps the stairway lead to these underground passages.
In the months of July and especially August, it is not unusual for Tracy and I to see a local French businesses closed with a sign on the door saying, “Congés Annuels -Fermé” (closed for annual leave).
I was recently visiting our local pet store buying dog food for Sami the MinPin and the proprietors made a point of reminding me that they would be closed for the month of August for their Congés Annuels. So I purchased a second bag of dog food to get us through the month and wished them a bonnes vacances.
It is a norm for French people to take a month off in July or August for annual vacation with often entire businesses closing for the month. Tracy and I are learning to plan our shopping and dining accordingly around Congés Annuels. Some French people identify themselves as “Julyists” (who take their month-long vacations in July) and “Augustists,” (who take their vacation in August.) Since we currently live in a tourist town where many French people visit during their holidays, some businesses and workers will take their Congés Annuels later in the year, often over the Christmas/New Years season. Coming from America, it’s a major culture shift to see these annual month-long holidays in France (and there are additional holidays throughout the year.) The French have long cherished their vacation time with family and enjoying recreation prior to returning to their careers refreshed and rejuvenated.
While some businesses and organizations may believe they are enjoying short-term savings and productivity from unused vacation days, many other organizations are realizing the long-term costs of employee burn-out and increased attrition for their organizations. Some US businesses and organizations are now trying to create a culture of encouraging employees to make full use of vacation time or even requiring its use.
Some workers are able to “roll over” vacation time to their advantage for planning an extended vacation or an extended maternity/paternity leave. On retirement, Tracy had an exceptional option of having her remaining vacation days, along with her sick days, paid off at separation, an option she made full use of during our retirement planning. As faculty I had no vacation time or sick time at retirement (like many peoples’ excess annual vacation time) was “use it or lose it.”
In the mean time, Tracy and I are enjoying the phenomenon of “Congés Annuels” in France and thinking how we would have greatly enjoyed the extra vacation time with our children when they were growing up.
“No one ever said on their deathbed, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’ ” ~ Harold Kushner
Franco-Canadian artist Marc Walter created five large sculptures in Carcassonne as part of the annual Festival de Carcassonne.
The first and largest is the “L’embrassade” (“The Hug”) sculpture located on the tip of l’île de la Cité Park and below the Pont Vieux (Old Bridge.) The sculpture is 7 meters tall and 9 meters wide. Marc Walter uses natural materials like wood, rock and earth to create his “Land Art” sculptures. For this project he used tree branches collected from Carcassonne’s public works after pruning the local trees. The sculpture is made by weaving the branches and securing with twine to created a large figure of a man with arms outstretched to the sky. A bright red heart can be seen inside the sculpture. The image is very reminiscent of an 3-D version of a Keith Haring painting.
In Square Gambetta the artist created four additional sculptures. Standing five to six meters high, I thought these “Invités du Coeur” (“Guests of the Heart”) sculptures had a Native America feeling. The weaving of the branches creates a vision of Indian basket weaving and the silhouette reminds me of woman with a blanket draped over her shoulders. Again created using recycled tree branches and twine, the four figures allow you to step inside and experience the art from the interior. Each sculpture has a distinctly red heart like the “L’embrassade” sculpture, but these figures were somewhat more abstract in appearance. We watched the artist and volunteers from the community build the sculptures over the last six weeks. I spoke briefly with artist Marc Walter while he was working. He was very friendly, accessible, and happy to discuss his work. I was thankful because of Marc’s Canadian roots I was able to communicate in English. He works very hard to actively involved the entire local community in the work as a collective effort in the art. The completion of the project was marked with a picnic celebration with the community invited to attend.
In all, a remarkable exhibition of public art by artist Marc Walker using local recycled materials and involving community volunteers.
On May 30 through June 2, Cité de Carcassonne hosted Le 20e Festival Œnovidéo, véritable moment de rencontre internationale entre le monde du cinéma et du vin, vient de se clôturer (the 20th Annual Oenovideo International Grape and Wine Film Festival) and le 8e Torroirs d’Images Exposition Internationale de Photographies sur la Vigne et le Vin (the 8th Annual Terroirs d’Images Exhibition of Vine and Wine Photography.)
The Oenovidéo International Grape and Wine Film Festival featured 26 films from 14 countries competing for the title of best film on the vine and wine in 2013. The Terroirs d’Images Photo Exhibition hosted 105 photos from photographers from 14 countries on the theme “Enjoy and celebrate wines on five continents.
After going to the website I was able to request tickets to the film showings and to attend the photography exhibition. The event’s headquarter was at Hôtel de la Cité Carcassonne, a four star hotel located inside the medieval city and next to Basilique Saint-Nazaire-et-Saint-Celse de Carcassonne (the Basilica of St. Nazaire and St. Celse). The hotel has stunning private gardens where several events were held.
View from the garden in Hôtel de la Cité Carcassonne.
The garden in Hôtel de la Cité Carcassonne.
The garden in Hôtel de la Cité Carcassonne.
The garden in Hôtel de la Cité Carcassonne.
The garden in Hôtel de la Cité Carcassonne.
The films screened at the festival included several English language films including my favorite selection, “No Wine Left Behind,” a “kickstarter-funded” independent film which is described as, “When US Marine Sergeant Josh Laine returned from intense fighting in Iraq to his native Livermore, CA, he couldn’t find a job anywhere. When a girlfriend got him into wine, he decided to take a crack at winemaking and with the help of the other Marines that he served with, Lavish Laines Winery was born. The winery has since become a place where returning veterans can find a job, camaraderie, and a sense of purpose. The film follows Josh and his fellow vets as they try to take the winery from a garage start-up to a fully-fledged operation and in the process explores the challenges vets face in transitioning back to civilian life.”
Tracy and I really enjoyed the Terroirs d’Images Photo Exhibition. The gallery was set up inside leCité de Carcassonne’s Trésau Tower and the venue gave the photos a powerful setting. The images were suspended on thin wires to emphasize the photographer’s work. There was a “No Photos” inside the gallery rule, but I took one overall shot to give you an impression of the exhibition and the presentation of the art.
Some of the photos were “blown-up” and displayed outside the gallery so I can share some of those below.
We discovered Jardin du Calvaire (Calvary Garden) located inside one of Carcassonne’s three remaining bastions. The “Big Tower” (also called the Bastion les Moulins [Tower of the Mills]) was built after 1359 and was part of the walls and fortifications that used to surround the Bastide Saint-Louis (Ville Basse) of Carcassonne. Located on the Southwest corner of the city, the bastion was later covered with windmills in 1599 to power mills grinding grain into flour for bakeries that would supply the city with “300 breads everyday for the poor.”
In 1825 a group formed to create the Jardin du Calvaire within the bastion. The leader of the group was Canon Cazaintre who is now buried on the site. The garden’s design was created by architect Jean-François Champagne. Jardin du Calvaire is circled with “Station of the Cross” shrines on its perimeter, has cypress and olive trees and laurels, and impressive sculptures reenacting the crucifixion on Calvary Hill. The crucifixion tableau is shielded by trees and cannot been seen from the regular garden; the sculptures can only be viewed after climbing to the top of the small hill in the garden. There is a small chapel built into the hill that represents the Holy Sepulcher and is illuminated with natural light from the crucifixion scene above.
This urban garden is very peaceful with many benches along its paths. The restful quiet can make you forget that Jardin du Calvaire is situated alongside the major avenue of Boulevard Barbès.
One of Tracy’s favorite things about the garden are its numerous feral, but friendly cats cruising the garden and serving as unofficial “guardians” for the garden.
I had a run in with a little old lady the other day at the market. It wasn’t verbal, otherwise I would not have been able to participate anyway. It was all about the squint of her eyes.
Alan and I were walking through the stalls at the market. It was a nice warm day — this is the rainy season so we enjoy them when they happen — and we were without jackets. Alan’s permanent press shirts get wrinkled here, not exactly sure why but assume it’s the tiny washer/dryer combo and no room to fluff clothes.
As we were passing a group of three older ladies, he was in front of me, one of the ladies caught my eye, she gave me a look of disapproval, pointed at the back of his wrinkled shirt, then tsk-tsk’d me as she shook her head from side to side, her curly gray hair bouncing around her frowning, squinty-eyed face.
Her disapproval of my duties to Alan’s laundry kind of amused me at first. I mean, for heaven’s sake, I’m married to a full-grown adult who can wash, dry and iron his own clothing. We’ve been married nearly 13 years and the only time I’ve ironed something for him is if I was already using the thing for myself and asked if he needed anything pressed. Alan is fully capable of ironing his shirts in France, too.
But by the following Saturday, when Alan was getting ready to hit the market and pulled a shirt out of the closet that had a wrinkle on the back, I grabbed it and said, “hold on, just let me hit it with the iron first, can’t have the little old ladies at the market tsk-tsk’ing me again.”
I’m still a little amazed that I caved to peer-pressure from a little old lady. But, I alao avoided looks of disapproval from the gray-haired crowd at the market this time, so . . . win-win, and Alan gets wrinkle-free shirts!
While enjoying a cup of cafe kreme (France’s version of cappuccino) we were treated to a concert via the bells of Saint Vincent’s Church just a block away.
The bells of the local Catholic churches ring hourly around here. We often find ourselves counting the chimes to tell the hour of the day. Every once in a while it sounds like the bell ringer (or electronic system used to ring the bells) goes haywire and you get 20 chimes at 1 p.m. It’s taken us a while to realize that the two Catholic churches, Saint Michael’s Cathedral and Saint Vincent’s Church have over 50 bells between them. That’s a lot of church bells.
Thankfully being raised Catholic I love the sound of bells. According the the Catholic Liturgical Calendar [courtesy of CatholicCulture.org] today is the Solemnity of the Ascension, the day when Jesus returned to his Father in Heaven, which would explain the joyous noise we were treated to this morning from this gorgeous Gothic church (see photo below) while we were enjoying our morning coffee.
So regardless of your spiritual beliefs or mine for that matter, here’s a clip of this morning’s impromptu concert. Enjoy!