and the Road to Avignon
one very long day we drove from Cordes-sur-Ciel in the southwest to Avignon
in the southeast.
What lies between is mostly a quiet and unvisited part of France, but with its own charm
--and dominated by the mountains called the Cevennes.
Of course, we had to stop at the churches dedicated to Saint Gerald along the way.
The first was in a small village called Bournac. We were unable to see the church (it is now privately owned), but we did have a nice visit with an elderly couple (and Brian and Joe got a personalized tour of the wife's garden and tasted fresh strawberries!)
The church is in the center background, and the house to which it belongs (and that
may have formerly been the priory for the church) is on the left. Note the stone wall,
covered with plants, in the foreground, that may once have marked the church yard.
Next was the town of Salles-Curan.
Left: the facade of the church of St.-Géraud. Center: a stained glass image
of Saint Gerald. Right: the interior of the church (including a roodscreen).
This town even had a gate in the old walls named after Saint Gerald.
At about mid-day we stopped for lunch near a small village called Broquies. It was really off the beaten track, but we wanted to have lunch there. We found a restaurant by the side of road just past this bridge, but as we approached the place, we saw a family having lunch. The family turned out to be the operators of the restaurant, and when we offered to eat somewhere else so that they could finish their meal, the mother said: "There is no other place!" So they packed up their half-eaten lunch and seated us. The teenaged boy grumbled something to his mother, and she replied: "They're paying customers!" That proved to be the start of a most memorable lunch! The food was delicious, prepared by the father and served by the teenaged boy and his sister, but the mother was clearly the real one in charge. She was in a wheelchair, and throughout the meal she wheeled herself into the kitchen, yelling directions at her husband, and then wheeled herself into the dining room, yelling at her kids. She also desperately wanted to engage us in conversation. She asked us what had brought us to their village and, when we said that we were doing historical research, she asked if we had seen the Roman bridge outside of town. We hadn't but she insisted it was worth a visit. "Well," she continued, it used to be a Roman bridge, but a flood destroyed it a few decades back, and they had to replace it. But it's still worth a visit." (We didn't go to see it, but she did give us the postcard of the bridge that you see below..) For a long time we were the only customers in the place, but after a while a couple from Paris came into to eat. We know that they were from Paris because the mother insisted on engaging them in conversation, too, and then having our table talk to their table. All the time she was wheeling back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room, yelling at her family. When the Parisian couple mentioned at one point that they had got rid of their television because there was never anything on it, she yelled back to her children: "Kids! Come out here! You've got to hear this!" And then, when they arrived, she ordered the diners to "Tell them what you just told me!" By the end of hte meal the whole family was hanging out with us and the Parisians, talking about all sorts of things (for example, the boy did not want to learn English because, as he put it, "it's not a pretty language"). Needless to say, it was an unforgettable experience, and when we refer to it we always call it "the bridge of the dysfunctional family"!
Soon after that, we crossed over the viaduct of Millau. It was opened in 2004, having been designed by British architect Norman Foster, and is the tallest vehicular bridge in the world, with the longest of its masts at 1125 feet, a bit taller than the Eiffel Tower and only a bit shorter than the Empire State Building. It is a suspension bridge, so the roadway hangs off of the cables suspended from these masts.
in the day (and much farther to the southeast, near Montpellier)
we stopped at the town of Saint-Guiraud, also named after Saint Gerald.
Left: the exterior of the church of St.-Géraud. Right: a statue of Saint Gerald.
This building, adjacent to the church, was probably the medieval priory.
Finally, we visited the town of Villetelle, where there was also a church dedicated to Saint Gerald.
interior of the church was especially interesting because, in addition to a
traditional stained glass image of
Saint Gerald, there was a statue of him dressed as a bishop (he was not a bishop, so this is clearly the result of some confusion between him and another saint--note that he still holds his church and staff, which is traditional).
we didn't have time to stop that day, we did later come back
and visit the village of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert that was also in this region.
The village is found in a spectacular countryside along a valley called the Gorges de l'Hérault.
The village is only one street, winding its way up a hill to the monastery and church that gave it its name. The monastery and village is named after William of Orange, who was supposed to have been one of Charlemagne's greatest warriors but who abandoned his military career to become a hermit. He is said to be buried in the church.
The church is a beautiful example of the Romanesque style and was a famous pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages.
The medieval cloister of the monastery.
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