Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pilgrimage in Southern France - Moissac, Chant, and Cherries

My favorite French film, Saint-Jacques…La Mecque, is a story of an unlikely group of characters, each with their issues, walking together to Santiago de Compostela from Le-Puy-en-Velay in France’s Massif Central region. That particular road to Santiago, El Camino, Le Chemin, passes through Moissac, home of one of France’s most remarkable Romanesque structures, the Abbaye de Saint Pierre, Saint Peter’s Abbey.

Founded in the 7th century, the current abbey dates largely to the early 12th. It possesses intimate and humanistic images of what it is like to strive for spiritual transcendence while being an imperfect mortal. 

Both for the road and for the film, I knew I had to visit Moissac.

Many visitors spend a night and continue on the road. I decided to stay for a couple nights and it brought forth two unexpected delights. One was the spellbinding experience of chanting Laudes with the sisters of the Communauté Marie Mère de l’Église in the abbey’s church at 8:30 am. The other was taking an afternoon hike around the perimeter of town, along the Canal du Midi, a stretch of the waterway that connects the Atlantic to the Mediterranean across southern France. 

The small trek gave me a full perspective of this pilgrim’s town on the Tarn River and near its confluence with the Garonne River. I passed numerous cherry orchards. Some of France’s finest cherries come from this region, reminding me of tried and true pilgrims’ wisdom:  You can trust pilgrims to know where to traverse for both spiritual transformation and mortal delight.

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