and the Upper Auvergne
From Vodable we drove southward toward Aurillac and the mountains of the region called
the Auvergne. Along the way, we stopped at a picturesque medieval town called Blesle.
As we approached Aurillac, we stopped at a medieval castle, called the Château de Pesteils.
The square tower, called the keep, is the oldest part of the castle and dates from the 13th century.
Even the little guard house at the entrance to the castle grounds was beautiful!
Aurillac is now a sizeable city of 30,000 inhabitants. It is where St. Gerald lived and where he founded his monastery at the end of the ninth century, and the city grew up around the monastery. While it does not attract many tourists (the concierge in our hotel asked us why we wanted to spend so many days in Aurillac!), there are still interesting things to see. The old town still has many buildings that survive from the Middle Ages.
The main attraction for us was the church of St.-Géraud, which was the church of the monastery founded by Saint Gerald but is now a parish church. Parts of the church survive from the tenth century, but it has been restored and rebuilt several times over the centuries, most recently after a fire in the late nineteenth century, so there is little left from the original church.
None of the other buildings that formed part of the medieval monastery survive, except for the hostel where pilgrims coming to visit the shrine of Saint Gerald stayed. It is across from the front of the church, and although it has been greatly altered over the years, it still retains its medieval arches. In front of it is a public fountain that also dates from the Middle Ages.
Next to that medieval hostel is a bar with an appealing name, where we had a drink.
Inside the church of St.-Géraud is a sculpted image of Saint Gerald, dating from the seventeenth century, and a stained glass image, dating from the nineteenth century.
Most fascinating, however, was a display case (not there during our previous visits to Aurillac) that contained what looks like the top of a skull and, given the image of Saint Gerald in the same case, is intended to be a relic of the saint. (Matt's research shows that the remains of Saint Gerald were lost on three occasions in the centuries since his death, but "miraculously" recovered each time and returned to the church.)
While Matt was in the archives, Joe and Brian drove around the region and up into the mountains, even encountering snow (although it was the beginning of June!). Auvergne lies in a region of extinct volcanos.
They encountered some of the usual roadblocks in rural France!
In the villages that surround Aurillac, there are still a few churches dedicated to Saint Gerald. We visited several of them, including at Drugeac and Montvert.
Left: the church of St.-Géraud at Drugeac. Right: a sculpted image of Saint Gerald there (and note that although he holds the staff and church, he is dressed more like a biblical figure than a medieval one!)
Left: the church of St.-Géraud at Montvert. Right: a stained-glass image of Saint Gerald there.
There were also other memorials to Saint Gerald in the region. Among them was this spring of water (covered over in modern times) where Saint Gerald's body was set down overnight after his death and on his return to Aurillac (he is said to have died away from home). A spring of water is supposed to have miraculously erupted when his body was lifted up, and was visited by those hoping to be cured of their illnesses. There is still a flowing spring on this spot and a statue honoring Saint Gerald.
Also in the region is a boulder associated with the life of Saint Gerald. According to Gerald's biography, a man was said to have been able to jump to the top of it from the ground in a single bound, using the power of the devil. Saint Gerald made the sign of the cross over the rock and the man was no longer able to do his trick. The wrought iron cross was placed on top of the boulder in modern times.
This boulder was located near the town of Marcolès, and although we stopped there only
to ask for directions to the boulder, we decided that the town was worth a bit of a stroll.
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