Archive for October, 2008


October 1, 2008

Sunday 28 September – rest day in Bénévent L’Abbaye

We were still tucked up cosily in bed, drinking mugs of tea, reading, writing etc, studying Dr Conquet’s plans showing the application of Celtic influences, the Golden Mean and the pentagram  to the design of the abbey

Dr Conquet's plans of the Abbey

when we heard a key in the door and in came Dr Conquet. He was worrying about the key that had disappeared by the previous occupant of the refuge – the rule is that you leave it on top of the electricity fuse box in the entrance hall, or put it through the pharmcist’s letter box – but he hadn’t.  Dr C explained to us with the international gesture of pointing at the head that he had thought this gentleman was ‘un peu fou’ or possibly on drugs, as he had found him deeply asleep during the day, and after this he had departed without any further communication.  Dr Conquet, on the other hand had plenty of further communication to impart. An hour or two later, as we pointedly cooked our porridge, still in nightclothes, he finally left us, having enlightened us about

  • Cornish tin miners,
  • Pythagoras,
  • the druids,
  • the masons,
  • the proper disposal of rubbish,
  • whether the boulangerie would reheat for us some of the local specialty, ‘pâté de pommes de  terres’ (however, on consideration, being Sunday it would be yesterday’s baking and therefore he thought perhaps we should wait until tomorrow to purchase some)
  • the much more excellent route avoiding Limoges which he recommends (and which M et Mde Chassain EXPLICITLY warn against in their guide)
  • where we could get his route photo-copied
  • and he showed us the outline of a goose on a block in the wall of the church just outside the refuge window, left by the builder masons all those hundreds of years ago, and only visible at certain times of day, but always tangible!
  • and selling us copies of his two leaflets about the abbey and the ‘druids’

Whew!  After he had gone we downed our porridge horridly and dressed, so that we could get to the local shop with it’s Internet connection to check emails and update our blog before it closed at noon, and stocked up on food there and at the boulangerie. We returned to sit in the sun outside the open refuge window.

Dr Conquet’s visit had prevented us going to the Sunday morning service at the abbey, so I popped in to look to see if there would be another service today, and to have a first brief look around . Then we pottered, ate lunch, looked at the maps for our onward route (missing out Limoges!) and eventually Bridget fell asleep while Peter took his first look at the church.

Later we went back over to the church together and studied it more thoroughly, admiring the capitals. we both had a good go at reading Dr C’s booklets, but its hard to take stuff in when you have to look up words in the dictionary every few lines! Well, one was not taught architectural and historical French vocab at school.

Peter cooked a meal of boiled veg and a small tin of cassoulet, followed by lemon mousse in pots and the delicious kumquats left of the table by a previous pilgrim, and of course, chocolate.  While he was cooking Bridget drew a complicated goose motif to put in the pilgrim visitors’ book – two geese, each with heads turned looking over their backs, with necks entwined -linking the mason’s goose with the Adinkra symbol meaning ‘going forward with an eye to the past’ which seems appropriate to us pilgrims and Dr Conquet’s celtic Christians.

Then bed quite early, as it was so cold, with head-torches on for reading as the lights are so dim. Well, as Dr C’s notices declare, if you want something better, you aren’t a real pilgrim, but a tourist! Heaven forbid!

After more converse with Dr Conquet we left Bénévent L’Abbaye on

Monday 29 Sept Bénévent L’Abbaye to St Leonard de Noblat

and cycled ( via a little church with lots of frescos where we ate lunch outside in the sun, and Bridget sang in the empty church) to St Léonard De Noblat which has, guess what, a big church. A young man waited until it was empty to play his flute in there.  (We were still in the porch.) The refuge de pelerins was again right opposite it.  It was a hilly day and our legs were getting noticeably tired-er.  There was nowhere open to buy supper after we had looked round the church and the local art exhibition the girl in the tourist office recommended – all we could find were three slices of pizza in a boulangerie about to close. We topped them with our emergency tin of fish!

Up bright and early to tidy and get a good start, Peter packing because he is good at it, and Bridget writing a couple of postcards, in the book and washing up, and talking to Dr C who inevitably turned up still worrying about the key.  At least we got a picture of the goose symbol in the wall when the sun was in the right place. We bought a ‘pâté de pomme de terre’ pastry and bread and searching but not finding a post box for the postcards we finally left Bénévent L’Abbaye just befpore 10.

It was very much a hilly day, even without taking in St Goussard which climbs to nearly 700 m. Very good weather still, although for the morning anyway it was chilly in the shadows of woods beside the road. A sequence of glorious speeding downhills to a bridge over a tiny stream trickling through a meadow-bottomed valley, followed by the long climb winding round and up the other side, often with a steep wooded drop on one side of us.

Through St Pierre Cherignat where the church was locked but had a broken Celtic-shaped cross outside.

Then Chatelus le Marcheix – couldn’t find the church and there was no-one in the open Tourist office for a stamp in our pilgrim passport. While we stood outside a young man on a bike with a little girl on a child seat beside him, zipping downhill with blonde hair streaming behind them. (No helmets!)

We ate out lunch at St Martin St Catherine – the church was a real surprise with sixteenth century frescoes and a plan to restore them. There was a flagstone in the doorway with hammer and compasses, typical masonic imagery, but no mention of the connection with masons in the book of church information, where it was referred to as connected with purification. we sat outside in the sun on a stone platform to eat our lunch. There was a pipe bringing water to a stone trough lined with overflowing bright green weed , the water dribbling over the edge and down to a lavoir. As well as the watery noises we could hear a chatty lunch happening in a nearby house with open windows. After eating Bridget returned into the cool of the church and sang some favourite hymns – To be a Pilgrim, I heard the voice of Jesus say and the French Chant de Pélerins de Compostelle, while Peter soaked up the sunshine dreamily!

The afternoon continued hilly but not so steep.  ?? le Dognon – an unusual church with perhaps sixteenth century wooden ceilings, retable and gallery.

We arrived at St Leonard de Noblat by five o’clock, meeting briefly a walking germane pilgrim on the way in.  A very pleasant girl in the Tourist Office gave us the key for the refuge, which again was very close to the church, – a ‘collegiale’ – a flat in a building with a large stone entrance and the sounds of piano lessons happening above.  Although we had been told that there were no other pilgrims in residence, we found the refuge door unlocked, and inside the heating and the television (television?) were on, a lit candle sat on the floor and a darkly, thickly bearded and haired gentleman called Seraphin. Seraphin refused tea and biscuits, and was very vague about his plans – ‘Santiago’ he replied when I asked where he was destined for next morning. We did wonder if he was the pilgrim described by Dr C as ‘un petit fou’ who had gone off with the key, as he clearly had a key to this refuge, and our impression was that he was perhaps a ‘gentleman of the road’ who had found that the system of pilgrim refuges were convenient and warm. He had washed his clothes and was cooking a meal from the supplies of pasta etc in the kitchen.

We put our stuff in one of the bedrooms and took ourselves out to look in the huge church. It was very solid with thick walls and columns to hold the weight of its cupolas and octagon. The tomb of St Leonard ( who had a ministry to prisoners) with its chains reminded us that some of our fellow pilgrims from of old had fairly disreputable backgrounds – so who are we to worry overmuch about Seraphin!  I noticed a young man with a flute case under his arm standing around, and when we had left the church but were still admiring carving in the porch and he was alone  he took his flute out and played it hauntingly in the beautiful acoustic. As you do!

From the church we went across the square to the municipal building where there was a Biennale Art Exhibition, showing the work of, I guess, local artists – enormously varied, with some pseudo-surrealism and goth stuff, but also some nice sculptures and painting. As so often happens, one of the people taking a shift as custodian had a husband who had walked the Chemin de St Jacques and we had a little conversation. We are SO impressed by the improvement in our French!

Time was getting on and we didn’t have enough stuff for supper. Alas, a Monday evening in a small French town is not the best time to find shops open, but eventually we bought the slices of cold pizza mentioned above. On the way back to the refuge we took photos of black birds flying around the church tower – very gothic. In the refuge Seraphin was fast asleep on the sofa in the warm fug. His pasta was still in a pan on the cooker, cooked into a solid mass, and there was a lemonade bottle of clear liquid on the floor beside him.  We ate our meal, pizza padded out with a tin of fish from the bottom of a pannier, cereal and chocolate, treated ourselves to baths (baths, not showers) and took ourselves off to bed. I’m ashamed to say that at Bridget’s suggestion we put something behind the door which would make a noise and wake us if it was opened in the night. Just in case. But there was no need. In the morning we left at the same time as Seraphin who drifted off across the square, presumably with his key, as we took ours back to drop through the tourist office letterbox.

Tuesday 30 Sept

Following Dr C’s advice we decided to give Limoges a miss and set off on a clockwise route south west of the city over lots more ups and downs. Our legs complained – walking, slow cycling or faster, nothing felt OK except free wheeling downhill.  We had lunch in Solignac with yet another big church which had 16 century wooden carved misericords as well as older stone carvings.

By the time we made it to Flavignac we were bushed. This had a lovely little refuge opposite its (normal-sized) church (but with trésor) which we shared with Jean-Pierre who spoke english! (And snored as much as Peter, says Bridget who was the last to fall asleep) He said there was lots to see in Limoges and it was a pity to miss it. As the height profile of the route in our guide suggested that to continue to Perigeuex (another 100 ish kms) and arrive there on Thursday with time to see anything and buy train tickets was going to be a struggle, espêcially with tired legs (don’t know how I made that hat on the e) we reverted to plan A: finishing in Limoges, so today,

Wed 1 October

we cycled north up the route St Jacques to Limoges which was as nasty as any city to get into the middle of. When we got there it chucked it down for a brief while, so we dried off and recovered with a hot chocolate, before setting off to track down the cheap hotels with the tarif pelerin (we could have gone to the diocesan foyer type place, but fancied a double bed and our own space for the last two nights.  Oh la la la – all the hotels seemed to be complet. Eventually with the Tourist Office’s help we have ended up in the just reopened Hotel du Gare, nicely convenient to the very striking Gare des Benedictins, where after an afternoon’s lounge (sleep and reading) we have got our tickets to Paris for Friday morning.  Jean-Pierre has described how to cycle from Gare Austerlitz to Gare du Nord (involves Notre Dame, places de la Bastille and Republique and the canal St Martin) and the nice girl in the ticket office has checked that Eurostar is running our service.

So tomorrow involves seeing a few more big churches with pilgrim connections, and buying the maps for next year, as they are so much cheaper here than in England.

Watch this space for fuller journal entries and photos eventually.