Reviews of Novena Tour of Provence to Saint Mary Magdalene

“The feast day festival at the Basilica of Mary Magdalene in the town of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume was the best celebration of a religious figure I’ve ever attended.”

Continuing My Spiritual Journey with Mary Magdalene: July, 2013

I work.  A lot.  In the spring of 2013 I was not sure I could continue unless I took vacation, but not one where I would just “veg out.” Rather, I needed a vacation that was going to reach my soul. I have been on my spiritual journey since 2010 when I had a crisis of faith. Since that time, I have been studying and experiencing my spiritual beliefs in many ways.  I had studied Cynthia Bourgeault’s book entitled “The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity” and was pulled to know more about the “Apostle to the Apostles.”

For weeks I searched the Internet looking for a trip that encompassed my spiritual and cultural needs. When I found Paula Lawlor’s trip around the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene, it met all of my requirements: July timing, Mary Magdalene and France. I enrolled a friend to join me and we signed up. I have to admit that I wasn’t so taken by the idea of relic viewing (I didn’t really know what that meant) as I was by learning about Mary Magdalene’s life outside of Palestine and experiencing the South of France in glorious summer.

The experience was full of awe, challenges, intimacy and laughter. Let me get the challenges out of the way first as they are of least importance in hindsight. First, traveling anywhere in the world today requires phone communications. Therefore, I encourage everyone going on this trip to obtain international cell phone coverage for the duration of the trip so that local dialing and calling back home are possible. The second challenge was dealing with the twice daily ride from and to the Dominican hostellerie at which we stayed for the entire trip.  Being at the foothills of Mary Magdalene’s cave in the Sainte-Baume mountain range, the location is mystical.  However, the road to and from the hostellerie is narrow with sharp drop offs and lots of curves.  Therefore, I encourage anyone who has a fear of heights – that’s me – to close the curtains on the bus and to bring reading or audio distractions for the short 20 minute trip each way. The third challenge is in understanding that a hostellerie is not a hotel, so daily room service is not available. Therefore, bring your own towels, soap, hair dryer and other personal grooming and hygiene devices.

Now onto the experience and memories of a lifetime. As noted above, the location of the hostellerie is mystical. The view from our room gave us a most spiritual experience at night with the moon over the cave and a picture postcard view of the grotto and basilica during the day. The food at the hostellerie, served family style, is delicious and plentiful, and the wine is free flowing. But eat with purpose – there is a volunteer crew that services the dining hall, not waiters. So this is not the place to linger over conversation. You can walk outside and sit in the beauty of the mountain range to continue your discussions.

The churches, basilicas and cathedrals we visited in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, Marseilles, Arles, Tarascon and Aix-en-Provence were beyond spectacular. My favorite was the Cathedral St Mary Majeure in Marseilles. Built in 1893 in Romanesque-Byzantine style, the mosaics were incredible and the view of the old harbor breath-taking.  My other favorite was Saint Martha’s cathedral in Tarascon, a short drive from Arles where we had a wonderful paella for lunch in the restaurant made famous by Vincent van Gogh in his ‘Cafe Terrace At Night’ painting. Arles was also the place to see some Roman ruins as it was on a significant transportation route during the Roman Empire.

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is a wonderful seaside town located in the Camargue, a region of France that has wild horses and wonderful rice! Don’t forget to bring home some rice and sea salt. Also, be sure to get your feet wet in the famous beachfront. Aix-en-Provence is ‘the’ quintessential experience of the South of France and not to be missed. Note: Be very mindful of your personal possessions as the market area is prone to pick-pocketing.  The artist retreat town of Cotignac was a wonderful change of pace from religious pursuits. And the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Graces was a sweet and simple site, listening to the cloistered nuns sing the hours was a faint reminder of the ‘Sound of Music’ movie.

The feast day festival at the Basilica of Mary Magdalene in the town of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume was the best celebration of a religious figure I’ve ever attended.  Dedicated to Mary Magdalene and Maximin (her companion for both the trip from Palestine to France and her stay in France until her death – she died in Maximin’s arms on a site marked with a lovely statue) as well as the historic culture in this area of France, the night time procession of relics was a beautiful expression of love and gratitude to one of the most important figures in Christian history. There are many more stops on the trip that I can speak of, but space is short and you need to experience them for yourself.

Finally, our tour guides of Paula Lawlor and Veronique Flayol were a well-orchestrated dance of religious, historical and cultural knowledge exchanged between guide and traveler. They were attentive, responsible and totally committed to executing their vision for a Mary Magdalene tour. It made us travelers feel safe and exhilarated that we were also experiencing their love for her.

One year later, I am still revisiting in memory and heart my time spent in France on this wonderful vacation.  It was just what Yeshua ordered!

Roberta Witty
Litchfield, Connecticut

2013 Novena Tour Attendee

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“…the perfect blend of Catholic history, spirituality and Provençal culture all wrapped up in one package.”

Who is she this Saint Marie-Madeleine? She is a recipient of His great mercy, adorer at the foot of the cross, steadfast disciple during the agony of the Crucifixion, companion of the Blessed Mother, first chosen among all to witness the Resurrection, called “Apostle to the Apostles,” evangelizer to the Gentiles and patron saint of contemplative life, Provence, France, etc. What an amazing role model! For some reason, I had an intense need to know more about her.

One day in the spring of 2013 I stumbled upon information on the Novena Tour. It seemed to be the perfect blend of Catholic history, spirituality and Provençal culture all wrapped up in one package. This was an answer to a prayer. Sainte Marie-Madeleine was calling me.

What were the highlights for me? Living and praying with the Dominicans and pilgrims at the Hôtellerie, participating in the relic processions, visiting the many sites of the early church, climbing to the top of Mount Pilon, Mass in the Grotto, touring the countryside, visiting the site of the first Carmelite monastery in Europe, admiring the Provençal historical costumes, learning traditional songs, standing in awe in front of the lavender fields, praying with the cloistered nuns of the Monastère de Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, dining in Sanary-sur-Mer, sharing the experience with new friends, adoration at the Basilica in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, coming to a true understanding of and devotion to Sainte Marie-Madeleine and her companions in France.

The organizers, Paula Lawlor, Véronique Flayol and Eugénie, poured their heart and soul into this tour. They were excited to be pilgrims along with us! I am so grateful for every memory.

Elizabeth A. Gorny
Williamsburg, Virginia

2013 Novena Tour Attendee