Our Novena to Saint Mary Magdalene ended last night but we still had one more day of the Novena Tour. We must visit Mary Magdalene’s sister, Martha, who was also on the boat from Palestine to Gaul and ended up in Tarascon. After breakfast we had a two hour drive to Tarascon. When we arrived we pulled up right next to the statue of La Tarasque across the street from Collégiale Sainte-Marthe and next to King René’s Castle. Tarascon is located 23 km (14 miles) south of Avignon and 20 km (12 miles) north of Arles, on the left bank of the Rhône River.
Collégiale Sainte-Marthe and La Tarasque
Legend reported that the Tarasque lived near the river and devastated the landscape far and wide. The Tarasque was a sort of dragon with six short legs like a bear, an ox-like body covered with a turtle shell, and a scaly tail that ended in a scorpion’s sting. It had a lion’s head. It was known to devour body parts of the inhabitants.
Saint Martha sprinkled holy water on the beast and charmed it with hymns and prayers, and led the now tamed beast back to the city. The people, terrified of the monster, attacked it and it offered no resistance, but they killed it anyway. Martha then preached to the people and converted many. Now sorry for what they had done to the tamed monster, the newly Christian townspeople changed the town’s name to “Tarascon.”
King René’s Castle just across the street from Collégiale Sainte-Marthe
Tarascon’s castle was built by the Duc d’Anjou, cousin of King Charles VI between 1400 and 1435 but is mainly associated with his son, King René of Naples, count of Provence, who inherited it in 1449.
Collégiale Sainte-Marthe was built over the place where Saint Martha lived. During the Saracen invasion the relics of Saint Martha were hidden. They were discovered in 1187, and the church was built. Tarascon was one of the most famous places of pilgrimage of Provence and one of the most ancient. Clovis was healed there in the year 500. Collégiale Sainte-Marthe is a royal college, and has paintings by Mignard, given by Anne of Austria, mother of Louis XIV, in gratitude: her prayers for a child were heard after passing by St. Martha Church.
Jesus with Martha and Mary at their home in Bethany
“Mary has chosen the better part.”
We arrived during the Feast Day Mass which was held in the crypt, so we spent time in the upper church until the singing and the Mass were over.
As you enter the church you can see the relics of Martha behind the iron gate.
A closer view of the reliquary of Sainte-Marthe
Stained glass windows behind the altar of Collégiale Sainte-Marthe
The Sacristy door was open, so we went in… there was another relic of Saint Martha.
A close up of the relic of Sainte-Marthe
It was very fortunate that we arrived at Collégiale Sainte-Marthe on the Feast of St. Martha during the Mass in the crypt, because the crypt is almost always locked and you have to look though iron bars to see it. We could walk around the crypt freely once the Mass was over.
The ceiling of the crypt is carefully decorated.
A beautiful bas-relief on the walls of the crypt of Saint Mary Magdalene
We then drove from Tarascon to Arles to have lunch at Le Café Van Gogh. There is something about Vincent van Gogh that has always been special to me. I started to paint oils on canvas in 1971, just at the time that the beautiful song about Vincent was written by Don McClean—Starry Starry Night. We were now finally in Arles, the town where he lived and painted so many beautiful paintings. I wanted our guests to really know about his life and his paintings, and so he is one of the four ARTISTES I chose to included in Love Affairs with PROVENCE.
In 1888 when Vincent van Gogh was living in Arles he made a painting of this restaurant entitled “Le café la nuit.”
Le café la nuit
Sue, Norma and Claudia (who joined us for lunch) at Le Café Van Gogh
We went to Primatiale Saint-Trophime right after our lunch.
Just around the corner from Le Café Van Gogh is the Primatiale Saint-Trophime, a XII century church dedicated to St. Trohpime, built over a III century crypt.
Saint Trophime of Arles was the first bishop of Arles. It was an early tradition of the Church that under the co-Emperors Decius and Herennius Etruscus (251 AD), Pope Fabian sent out seven bishops from Rome to Gaul, to preach the Gospel: Gatien to Tours, Trophimus to Arles, Paul to Narbonne, Saturninus to Toulouse, Denis to Paris, Austromoine to Clermont, and Martial to Limoges.
I have never seen so many relics in one place as in the Primatiale Saint-Trophime in Arles.
The bone on the left below is a relic of Saint Thophime of Arles.
They also seem to have relics of the two Marys from Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, St. Jacobé and St. Salomé.
After our visit to Primatiale Saint-Trophime I would have liked to walk on over to the yellow house in Arles that Vincent van Gogh rented on May 1, 1888 and lived in for a year, but the house was severely damaged in a bombing raid by Allies on the 25th of June in 1944, and was later demolished. Vincent rented four rooms, two large ones on the ground floor to serve as atelier and kitchen, and on the first floor, two smaller ones facing Place Lamartine. The window on the first floor near the corner with both shutters open is that of Van Gogh’s guest room, where Paul Gaugin lived for nine weeks from late October of 1888. Remember, Vincent painted sunflowers to decorate Gaugin’s bedroom? Behind the next window, with one shutter closed, is Van Gogh’s bedroom. He ate his meals at the café just to the left with the pink awning, which was owned by the landlord of the building.
La Maison et son entourage, La Rue – Vincent’s yellow house in Arles (1888)
Bedroom in Arles
Starry Night over the Rhône – this is one of my favorites
Starry Night was painted in June 1889, it depicts the view outside of Vincent’s sanitarium room window at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence at night, although it was painted from memory during the day.
In the fall of 1970 artist/musician Don McClean was living in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The inspiration came to him one morning while he was sitting on the veranda looking at a book about Vincent van Gogh. As he studied a print of Van Gogh’s painting “Starry Night,” he realized that a song could be written about the artist through the painting.
“The more I thought about it, the more interesting and challenging the idea became. I put down the book and picked up my guitar, which was never far away, and started fiddling around, trying to get a handle on this idea, while the print of “Starry Night” stared up at me. Looking at the picture, I realized that the essence of the artist’s life is his art. And so, I let the painting write the song for me. Everyone is familiar with that painting.”
On July 27, 1890, at the young age of 37, Vincent shot himself in the chest. He survived just two more days. His brother Theo was there when he passed, and recorded Vincent’s last words as “the sadness will last forever” in a letter to their sister Elisabeth dated August 5, 1890.
Self-Portrait – August 1889
So one of my special prayer intentions for the Novena to Saint Mary Magdalene was for Vincent van Gogh:
It was taken up to the Cave on July 22nd and left by the altar with all the other special intentions. I think Vincent is smiling.
On our way back from Arles we stopped in at the famous Marius Fabre store in Salon-de-Provence where they have been making soap with olive oil since 1900. It was a very nice place to pick up gifts to take home. After our last dinner together at the hôtellerie everyone went to their rooms to pack, as they were all leaving early the next day. Most were flying back home to the United States, but the four ladies from San Francisco (Estelita, Norma, Rose and Ofelia) were going on to Lourdes for a few days before returning home.
While they were packing, I walked outside to the back where we had spent so many nights after dinner talking together and praying our Novena to Saint Mary Magdalene with a view of the Cave from where we sat. I will stay at La Sainte-Baume a little longer after everyone leaves. It feels lonely to see those seats empty…..
Our first Novena Tour of PROVENCE to Saint Mary Magdalene has come to an end.
Thank you Véronique for joining me in this project and making the dream real. And thank you all for coming along and sharing in the journey of getting to know Saint Mary Magdalene up close. May she deliver your special intentions to Jesus.
Many, many, many blessings from above….
With love in MADO,
Paula Lawlor at La Sainte-Baume