This was Véronique’s day to show us her Provence Verte or Green Provence. We traveled on the bus through Barjols to Cotignac, in the Var.
Where exactly is Cotignac?
An ancient pigeonnier just below the old Templar Church of St. Etienne, the name of my third son.
Our bus stopped here and we got out for a lesson from Véronique on the value of pigeons to the farmers and ship owners of France many years ago. Having pigeons was a sign of wealth. It was great to offer a pigeonnier for a girl’s dowry. It was important to ship owners because their crew and other travelers needed protein for long travels at sea and they could keep the pigeons in a cage on the ship alive until they needed to eat them, always having fresh meat available.
Pigeonniers are one of the most interesting rural architectural styles in France. There is a main room where the pigeons can enter and leave in peace, through small windows in the roof or walls. This room also has a hatch or doorway for people to enter, to clean the pigeon’s house, collect the eggs or take the pigeons as food to eat.
Le Moulin de Pascaline
Then we traveled down a very long dirt driveway to Le Moulin de Pascaline, an olive orchard and olive oil factory owned by Pascaline and Hervé Berton. The story is that Hervé grew up in Cotignac. He and his wife Pascaline moved to Paris and worked for Air France for twenty-five years. They are now retired and back in Cotignac doing what they love, making olive oil and tapenade and living the comfortable French country life.
Hervé showed us a film of how he grows, collects and presses his precious olives. Hervé has modern equipment and can manage the whole thing by himself. Hervé can say he is retired because when you do what you love, it doesn’t seem like work.
After tasting the three different flavors of olive oil and some delicious tapenade (both green and black), we were able to purchase some oil to take home, as Hervé had packaged it specifically for traveling on an airplane.
I bought some olive oil, salad tossers made from the wood of an olive tree, and a charming ceramic piece by Pascaline which I intend to hang on my garden patio wall.
Notre-Dame de Grâces in Cotignac
Fr. Florian recommended we take our guests here because of the Apparition of the Blessed Mother in 1519.
When we arrived at Notre-Dame de Grâces in Cotignac, Pedro welcomed us and invited us to their garden for a nice lunch prepared by volunteers of Notre-Dame de Grâces.
Véronique and the others enjoyed Pedro’s history of Notre-Dame de Grâces. He has lived on the property for many years and seems to know everything about it.
I asked Pedro if he knew Sister Jean-Marthe from the Community of St. John in Princeville, Illinois. During the 2013 Illinois Relic Tour, we brought the relic of Saint Mary Magdalene from the Cave of La Sainte-Baume to the Community of St. John in Princeville and stayed there for four nights. Sister Jean-Marthe is the prioress. She told me she spent two years in Cotignac with her community and loves and misses Cotignac.
Contemplative Sisters of St. John—Princeville, Illinois
Pedro responded, “Yes I know her, Sister Jean-Marthe is the best!”
History of Notre-Dame de Grâces
On August 10, 1519, the Blessed Virgin Mary, with St. Joseph, St. Michael the Archangel, St. Bernard and St. Catherine appeared to a woodcutter, Jean de la Baume. He was advised to tell the local clergy and mayor that a church was to be built on Mount Verdaille, to be called Notre-Dame de Grâces, or Our Lady of Graces, because Our Lady wished to do many favors and bestow many graces on the people of the area who called upon her. The church was quickly built and in response to the prayers of the pilgrims, special miracles occurred and the spiritual life of the region flourished.
In 1637, after 22 years of marriage, the king of France, LOUIS XIII and his wife, Anne, were without an heir, a painful situation for any couple but a national problem for monarchy. In October 1637, a monk of an Augustinian Community in Paris, Friar Fiacre, had three visions of the Virgin Mary, in one of which she was cradling in her arms the infant who would become the son of the king and queen. The Friar had the inspiration that the Queen should ask three novenas to be prayed in her name to the Blessed Virgin Mary, one at Notre-Dame de Grâces of Cotignac, another at Notre-Dame de Paris, and the third at Notre-Dame des Victoires, the church of his convent. On the night of November 3rd, the Virgin Mary repeated her request that the Queen should ask publicly the novenas and She showed the monk a painting of herself, featured as Our Lady of Graces in Cotignac, to prove the authenticity of her request… It is a fact that LOUIS XIV was born exactly nine months after the end of the novenas (September 5, 1638), and was called by his parents “Dieudonné” (Godgiven). The royal couple considered him as a grace obtained from Our Lady of Cotignac.
Twenty-two years later (1660), when LOUIS XIV had just taken the throne he made a pilgrimage to Notre-Dame des Grâces with his mother. It was a great event for the little village of Cotignac, but not the only one…
The death of Brother Fiacre and the gift of his heart
On the February 16, 1684. brother Fiacre died. The news of his death, which appeared in the Mercure of Paris, made big news. One month before his death, brother Fiacre had expressed the following wish:
“Very Holy Mary, it was to the church of Our Lady of Graces that I made the first pilgrimage to get a prince for LOUIS XIII and Anne of Austria who sent me to this holy place to ask for the miracle, after 22 years of marriage. This is why it is to the Holy Virgin (of Cotignac) that I have signed with my purest blood this donation of my heart.”
Brother Fiacre—Paris, January 1, 1684: Knowing that he was going to die, he showed this testament to his superior, gave him a letter to be given to the King after his death and assured him that the King would ensure the realization of his wish. Two weeks after Brother Fiacre’s death, LOUIS XVI wrote to the Oratorian fathers of Cotignac to receive the heart of brother Fiacre in their church, where it was later placed.
Engraved marble plaques in gratitude for miracles received from Notre-Dame de Grâces
The village of Cotignac sits in the trees at the base of its famous cliffs. At the top of the cliffs, a pair of square, medieval towers have been standing guard over the cliffs, the town and the surrounding countryside since the 12th and 13th centuries. Beautiful plane trees line the main street in the village below.
Cotignac and its gorgeous plane trees
Véronique took a few of us on a tour through the charming village of Cotignac and a climb to the base of its cliffs. Others relaxed in the pleasant summer shade of the plane trees at the bottom of the village.
I love the colors of Cotignac….
…. and the adorable shop fronts.
Now you can see the cliffs.
A pleasant place to stop for a drink
A periwinkle blue Citroën was dressed up as an escape vehicle on this Saturday afternoon.
We peeked in the church and got a glimpse of the wedding couple—still on the altar. Just look at those colors inside the church, so beautiful!
Now we climb higher, to the base of the cliffs.
Large oil presses are embedded in the rock.
As the olives were pressed, the oil drained into the narrow tray that ran the length of the structure.
The cliffs dominate the village and have given Cotignac protection over the centuries, maintaining its existence. They are formed out of a of a porous, calcium rock that’s full of holes and caves. The caves have been used as shelter and refuge since before recorded history, through invasions and epidemics, and through political wars and religious wars. Houses are built into the cliffs, expanding on the caves as places of protection and dwelling, and a few lower ones are still in use today.
Whole families lived in these caves with all their animals.
From the top of Cotignac there is a breathtaking view of the valley of Provence below.
Monastère de St. Joseph in Bessillon
We then went to the Monastère de St. Joseph in Bessillon, just a few miles from Notre-Dame de Grâces.
In 1660 St. Joseph appeared to a shepherd named Gaspard Ricard from Cotignac who was desperately thirsty while tending his flock. Gaspard saw a man on a rock that twice said, “I am Joseph, lift this rock and you will find drink.” Gaspard easily removed the rock and found a spring and drank from it. It would have taken a dozen men to remove the rock that Gaspard had raised alone. This was later the same year that King LOUIS XIV came to Cotignac. Many healings and miracles were attributed to the spring.
In 1661 the St. Joseph Sanctuary was started and King LOUIS XIV declared that from that time, March 19th (St. Joseph’s day) would be a festival, free from work. He also consecrated the whole of his kingdom of France to St. Joseph, as did his father to Our Lady in February 1638 (King LOUIS XIII). The Sanctuary was consecrated in 1663. The Oratorian fathers took charge until the Revolution.
In 1792 in France there was dissolution of the religious communities and confiscation of the Church’s property. That was the end of pilgrimages for the XVIII century. In 1793 the two Sanctuaries had been declared “national property.” For two centuries following the French Revolution, the buildings of Bessillon were abandoned and fell into disrepair.
In 1977 fourteen Benedictine nuns arrived from Algeria looking for a place in which to live their contemplative life. They found St. Joseph and the ruined monastery. For several years they restored it. The nuns follow the RULE of ST. BENEDICT with its walls and cloisters overlooking the magnificent rolling hills of Provence towards the Mediterranean Sea.
Source of St. Joseph
at Monastère de St. Joseph in Bessillon
Steven and Estelita filled their water bottles with water from the Source of St. Joseph.
Just nearby the Source Sue, Elizabeth and Ofelia took a few minutes to pray to St.Joseph, and then we boarded the bus.
On our drive back through the Provence Verte to the hôtellerie at the end of the day we passed beautiful sunflower fields.
Sunflower fields by Sharon Furner
Van Gogh painted his share of sunflowers. In 1888, in a letter to his brother Theo he wrote,
“I am working with the enthusiasm of a man from Marseilles eating bouillabaisse, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to you because I am busy painting huge sunflowers.”
Three sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh
It was August, the sunflowers were blooming, and Van Gogh desperately wanted to capture them in a series of 12 pictures. Because the flowers wilted so quickly, he worked on his canvases every day. He painted the series to decorate the room where Paul Gauguin would stay when he arrived in Arles.
We stopped the bus to get out and walk in the lavender fields. You can see where VINCENT VAN GOGH and SHARON FURNER got their inspiration.
Quiet fields by Sharon Furner
The fragrance of lavender by Sharon Furner
I bought this painting for my daughter Jenny and her husband John who live in Prague. It is Jenny’s favorite!
We all had a lovely day in the beautiful green Provence countryside. Merci Véronique!
Novena to Saint Mary Magdalene—Day 8
Opening Prayer—Saint Mary Magdalene, you who were pardoned by Jesus, you who greatly loved; show us the way to true conversion and purity of heart. With love you followed Jesus to serve him; teach us to freely offer our lives for our brothers and sisters. You stood at the cross of Jesus with Mary and John. Obtain the grace of faith and hope in our sufferings. On Easter morning, you received from Jesus the mission of announcing the resurrection to His disciples. Help me to believe that life is stronger than death, that love triumphs over all. Dearest Saint Mary Magdalene, please intercede on behalf of my special intention (recite your special intention here). Through your intercession, I trust in the Lord, AMEN.
Gospel of Matthew 28:1-6—Jesus Has Risen
1 And in the end of the sabbath, when it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre. 2 And behold there was a great earthquake. For an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and coming, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. 3 And his countenance was as lightning, and his raiment as snow. 4 And for fear of him, the guards were struck with terror, and
Gospel of Mark 16:1-6—Jesus Has Risen
1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought sweet spices, that coming, they might anoint Jesus. 2 And very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they come to the sepulchre, the sun being now risen. 3 And they said one to another: Who shall roll us back the stone from the door of the sepulchre? 4 And looking, they saw the stone rolled back. For it was very great. 5 And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed with a white robe: and they were astonished. 6 Who saith to them: Be not affrighted; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: he is risen, he is not here, behold the place where they laid him.
Gospel of Luke 24:1-8—Jesus Has Risen
1 And on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled back from the sepulchre. 3 And going in, they found not the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 And it came to pass, as they were astonished in their mind at this, behold, two men stood by them, in shining apparel. 5 And as they were afraid, and bowed down their countenance towards the ground, they said unto them: Why seek you the living with the dead? 6 He is not here, but is risen. Remember how he spoke unto you, when he was in Galilee, 7 Saying: The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. 8 And they remembered his words.
Gospel of John 20:1-16—The Empty Tomb
1 And on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene cometh early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre; and she saw the stone taken away from the sepulchre. 2 She ran, therefore, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and saith to them: They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. 3 Peter therefore went out, and that other disciple, and they came to the sepulchre. 4 And they both ran together, and that other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. 5 And when he stooped down, he saw the linen cloths lying; but yet he went not in. 6 Then cometh Simon Peter, following him, and went into the sepulchre, and saw the linen cloths lying, 7 And the napkin that had been about his head, not lying with the linen cloths, but apart, wrapped up into one place. 8 Then that other disciple also went in, who came first to the sepulchre: and he saw, and believed. 9 For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. 10 The disciples therefore departed again to their home.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 But Mary stood at the sepulchre without, weeping. Now as she was weeping, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been laid. 13 They say to her: Woman, why weepest thou? She saith to them: Because they have taken away my Lord; and I know not where they have laid him. 14 When she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing; and she knew not that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus saith to her: Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, thinking it was the gardener, saith to him: Sir, if thou hast taken him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. 16 Jesus saith to her: Mary. She turning, saith to him: Rabboni (which is to say, Master).
Novena Prayer Day 8—After the Sabbath, at sunrise, the holy ones carrying the myrrh arrived first at the tomb. The shadows of night had not yet disappeared, but already the light of day was appearing. The women wished to perform one last ritual for the deceased. Mary cries again, like her earlier days in Magdala. Yesterday she lost her master who delivered her from the seven demons; here they also took away the body upon which she shed her tears and anointed with perfume. Leaning towards the tomb, she returns, but without conversion of heart. She is crying desperately, dwelling on all that she has lost. Consequently she now believes that all that she gained, all the good choices she made, all the blessings that have come to her because she had faith, because she had opened herself up to grace – all these things are gone. She then sees without recognizing. She questions the one she thinks is the gardener: “Have you seen the one my heart loves?” Jesus identifies himself by calling her name, ‘Mary’; like he called Lazarus from the tomb, he called her from her slumber and gave her new life. With her heart full of joy she now realizes that what seemed like loss is now all gain. Now she understands what has happened. Our own spiritual lives are so often marked by many gains—new insights into grace and faith. Then one day, we have doubt, uncertainty, or events which challenge the spiritual growth in our life. The events in Mary’s life are similar to the ups and downs in our lives. If we can continue to reflect on the grace, then the times of doubt can become moments of grace as well. If we can hear Jesus calls us by name when the poor or hungry calls, then we continue on our road to growth and deeper faith. Mary hears her name and all the graces come flooding back. She is able to get up and do as Jesus asks her—“Go and tell my disciples the Good News that I am risen.” That is our task as well. Tell the world the Good News that our Savior is risen for us. Mary is the model for us as that person who realizes that nothing was lost, all was gained. This gave her the courage to give witness to the truth of Jesus’ saving life.
Closing Prayer—Lord, turn the hearts of your people towards you, so that we may search for you as did Mary Magdalene on the resurrection morning. May we be led by your Spirit to have the courage to renounce oneself, and to search for true joy. Through Christ, Our Lord, AMEN.