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

Friday, 31 October 2008


At 9.30 the next morning I walked back down the avenue of tombs at Les Alyscamps towards the centre of Arles and the church of Saint-Trophime (1st pic). Here I hoped to pick up a Créanciale, or pilgrim passport, which would be stamped at gîtes, hostels, town halls and tourist offices along the Way - the Catholic Church's official verification of my route. (I've written about the Créanciale before here; and here's a photo of my Créanciale from last year.)

In Saint-Trophime I was ushered into the sacristy. One of the church officials explained apologetically that they had run out of Créanciales. She asked Antoine, one of the church helpers, if he could try and find one elsewhere. In the meantime we chatted about religion, spirituality and the motives which lay behind pilgrimage. I just about managed to understand and respond (in a fashion) to the metaphysics - after all, I'd barely spoken any French for a year! Antoine returned with a brand new Créanciale and requested 3 euros. It was almost 11 o'clock. The priest came in and shook my hand. "Ah, a pilgrim!" he enthused as he changed quickly into his vestments. "You'll be staying for mass? It begins in 2 minutes." It seemed churlish to refuse.

After mass I stumbled in bright sunlight down the church steps, past the beggars and into the Place de la République. In the centre of the square was a fountain and an Egyptian obelisk. On the northern side stood the Hôtel de Ville, the Town Hall. I looked back at the church's west portal, one of the sculptural wonders of Romanesque France (2nd and 3rd pics). The midday heat was overwhelming. It was getting very late in the day to begin the 1st stage of my walk. 20 km separated Arles from Saint-Gilles where I'd planned to spend the night - 20 km across the flat, baking hot, mosquito-ridden Camargue. I turned my back on the square and headed over the river into the suburb of Trinquetaille. The pilgrimage had begun.

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