A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Sacred Sites

For the next few days - the 2nd, 3rd and 4th days of my journey - Thierry and I crossed part of the old French province of the Gévaudan and the granite plateau of the Margeride. This is a depopulated, remote and beautiful area of heath and grassland, hills and forests, rivers and streams. Because of its isolation and inaccessibilty it became a stronghold for Resistance groups during World War 2. For the length of the Chemin - but especially this section - there are numerous old wayside crosses, many with countless stones crowding the base placed by pilgrims marking their passage.

Churches, chapels, crosses and calvaries materialise frequently along the Way like spiritual punctuation marks. These Catholic shrines force one to slow down, to stop a while, to reflect and concentrate the mind on higher things... I say Catholic, but it's worth remembering many of these ancient sites were pre-Christian in origin - pagan, druid, Celtic. It's no accident that a church altar table contains echoes of a Neolithic dolmen (a burial chamber formed of 3 or more upright stones or megaliths supporting a flat capstone or table) or the stones at Stonehenge. Spiritual sites remain sacred, and this divine genius loci does not depend on whichever religious cult happens to appropriate them for a period of time...

The photo shows a dolmen I passed near Gréalou. A hunter with his shotgun, dressed in the usual green and bright orange gear, had been leaning on the chamber just before I took the picture, but he was camera-shy. It was the French hunting season and I ran into huntsmen all the time stalking anything that moved. Thankfully I never saw pilgrim pie on any menu..! This particular huntsman was chasing wild boar. You could hear these secretive animals bellowing in the woods.

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