I’m making my way south through France to begin my Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage walk in Spain in a few more days. I have a friend who lives in southern France, and I am delighted to enjoy a few days with her.
It’s easy to think of France as defined by the largest cities; in this case this would be my favorite big city in the world: Paris. On this trip I am blessed to see, and completely delighted by, the southern French villages and countryside. There is abundant natural beauty in this enthralling place. “But of course!” I say in my mind with an Inspector Clouseau bad French accent.
I’m staying near the largish small city of Rodez. In this delightful city one encounters modern street art just like the big cities. The sculpture shown above is located in the courtyard of the centuries-old bishops home.
I’ve really enjoyed experiencing the French countryside with my friend and her husband. It’s pastoral, quintessentially French, ancient by American standards, and completely delightful. Natural beauty is all around. This area is known for the causses, a series of limestone plateaus and dramatic canyons. Whole villages are precipitously built right into the limestone of the causse.
I went on a hike one day to pass the time while my friend attended to business in the tiny village of Nant. The canyons and the plateaus (causses) in this area are wild and pretty. Religious piety is all around, village and countryside alike. I often encounter really neat expressions of deep faith in God, from an ornate cross on a lonely walking track to an angel peeking out from a crack in a building. A collage of crosses, all outdoors, is at the bottom of this post….photos taken over three days, and yet I’ve included only the ones I found most compelling. Like many places in the world, church-going in France is declining, but the abundant expressions of faith suggest a deeper spiritual connection than just attending weekly mass.
I love the very old churches and statuary. A statue of one of my favorite French heroines, Saint Joan of Arc, lives in the tiny little 11th century church in Bozouls, France. Of course there are lots of religious statues to be admired, in churches and all around. However, Joan of Arc speaks to the courage of a woman who listened to the voice of God, despite the Church and politicians of her day asking, even begging, her to give up her claim of hearing. She died, burned at the stake, defending her deep knowledge that God spoke directly to her. One thing remained after the cold ashes were removed – her heart, completely intact. A pure heart won’t burn.
The French are rightly proud of their saint, and I’d say I am too but I can’t be proud of a high soul who has found God. Pride is egoic and boasts of worldly accomplishments. Instead, I find her life and the images that honor her incredibly moving and inspiring. A true heroine.
The old French cities are beautiful, and speak to a time long ago. I imagine trying to cross this rugged part of southern France on foot or by cart. What a time it must have been, centuries ago, when these sometimes complex and often beautiful stone buildings were built. France reveals its many spenders – just slow down and take the time to look.