Friday, October 5, 2007

Another abbey and an elusive tomb

ETA: my husband requested that I add this comment: All photos Copyright (c) 2007 Scott C. Nevin and Linda C. McCabe, All Rights Reserved.

In my last installment, I showed you photos from our discovery of the magical Gouffre de Lantouy and its abbaye en ruines.

We left the beautiful village of Cajarc after having a fabulous lunch and continued on our journey.

It shouldn't have taken us very long, after all it was only about two inches or so on a map. However, that doesn't take into account the back country roads and the mountainous terrain.

In preparing for our trip we bought a Garmin GPS unit and a software package with the roads in France. I also bought a comprehensive, spiral bound Michelin map.

The first few days we tried just plugging our destination into the GPS and have faith that it would take us there. We soon discovered that it seemed to be possessed with the soul of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It had a mind of its own and we frequently found ourselves muttering things like, "why would it pick this road?"

Seriously, the Garmin seemed to have an affinity for roads that were little more than paved goat paths. There were times when we found ourselves on a road that was one lane and wondered why it had an aversion to roads with lanes and white stripes .

It seemed to think that all roads had the same rate of speed on them and it would calculate anything that it thought was closest to the flight path of a white winged black bird.

Except well, that led to small roads with twists and turns that while picturesque were liable to make me nauseous.

We soon started to override its itinerary by referencing the Michelin maps.

Every time we passed one of its suggested turns the unit would then say, "recalculating" in a tone of voice that sounded disappointed and just a touch irritated.

Many of the road have letters and numbers. The A roads were large, limited access, and usually we had to pay a toll when we drove on them. The N roads were large, but they didn't have the same limited access as the A roads and they were slower.

Then you had the D roads which we thought of as Departmental roads. Those came in two colors - yellow and white. The yellow were the larger and more well traveled roads. The white ones were smaller and had more of the iffy factors.

Then there were the C roads. C is for chevre or goat. Definite goat paths.

Usually it would say "turn left on D 24" or some such thing. One time the Garmin suggested that we "turn left on Road and then turn on Unpaved Road."

The fact that the first turn was an unnamed road without was bad enough, but to then suggest we then go on an unpaved road?

Hah! The driver and navigator said nooooooo.

We also tried to use road signs suggesting routes to various towns and sights. They were helpful, but we couldn't depend on them because they were not as prevalent as we would have liked.

We drove along the Lot river gorges and if you've ever wondered where the word gorgeous comes from...I believe it has to come from seeing such magnificent sights.

Pretty spectacular, eh?

We slowly made our way up to Marcilhac-sur-Célé knowing that they had an ancient abbey. It was in the midst of the village and I knew that we would encounter people, unlike the abbey near the Lantouy. I did not expect to see a tour bus.


I doubt they were there on a pilgrimage to see sacred sites associated with Saint Namphaise, but I didn't ask either.

I went inside the tourist information office and heard a guide speaking to a group, and he was speaking in French. I knew then that it would be unlikely that he would have any time to answer my questions about Saint Namphaise and the reported link to the ancient abbey. Or to ask if there was anything standing that dated back to the eighth or ninth century.

Instead, I simply grabbed some brochures before strolling about the grounds and snapping some pictures. The abbey is definitely in ruins, and it appears that it may have been built and rebuilt at varying times over the centuries. You can notice that with the difference in styles of the arches.

Then again, there are some of the ruins that are little more than standing rock.

The translated version of the website for the town can be found here. Honestly, I don't know if any of the walls still standing might have stood when Saint Namphaise worshiped there. I suspect that those walls have long been taken down, but the stones were reused to build the later structures.


I love seeing the blue sky through the vacant window and non-existent roof juxtaposed with plant life growing on the walls. It gives me the feeling that the earth is trying to reclaim the man made structure.
Here's another view of archways that no longer serve their original purpose.

Our movement around the ancient abbey did not go unnoticed. A cat was perched on top of a wall out of reach, but not out of sight.

We saw this engraved on a wall and thought it was one of the most evocative images in all the churches we had visited.

There is a Gothic church next to the ruins of the abbey, but it was closed. We decided at that point to not try to find the cave Saint Namphaise was supposed to have lived in Quissac. It was getting late in the day and we still had an hour or so drive back to Monclar-de-Quercy where we were staying.

Instead, we chose to go to Caniac-du-Causse and look for his tomb. It was suggested on that passing under the pillars of his tomb would cure epilepsy.

I don't have epilepsy, but I sure wanted to see his reliquary. I had seen a lot of reliquaries while in France. Some large and some small.

I figured that his would probably be pretty large because I didn't think that his remains would have been in great demand from a multitude of churches, so it might have been more or less intact. Well, as intact as it can be when your death is from being gored by a bull.

We saw a sign that looked hopeful. Not only did it have the town we were looking for, but a mention of the crypt of Saint Namphaise.

We arrived in the small village and I found the shuttered tourist information office. I then walked to the town hall and showed my French print out of the legend of Saint Namphaise.

She nodded and spoke to me in French and I simply couldn't believe what she was trying to tell me. The church which happened to be next door to her office was closed.


She even rattled the door to show me that it was locked. Then with a little back and forth with hacked up French and hacked up English it was conveyed that the church had an electrical problem.


I crossed an ocean and found my way to this small little village in Quercy, and I didn't get to see the pillars of his tomb.

She was nice enough however to give me a copy of their English language version of the Life of Saint Namphaise. It had a lot of similarities in that it mentioned Charlemagne, it credited Namphaise with starting the monastery near "the pit of Lantouy," and then the tragic destiny of that monastery with allegations of cooking young children bring about the destruction of the abbey.

There are some differences with the legend. One is that there was no mention of Marcilhac-sur-Célé, another was that the cave he was supposed to have lived in was said to be in Coursac and not Quissac.

However, I love the end of this legend for it says that "at the moment he was killed, there was a hammer in his hand, he threw it, and said: wherever it lands, I shall be buried.

The hammer bounced in Lacapellette and finally landed in Caniac du Causse."

Forgive me while I snicker. I mean, that is some Olympic record setting bounce.

That of course is what legend is all about. The town of Rocamadour claims that they have the sword of Roland from the legendary battle in Roncesvalles and that when he died he threw it in the air and it flew and landed in the side of their mountain.

That would be one heck of a throw.

Seeing that the location of Namphaise's cave is in dispute between Quissac and Coursac, (that is if he only had one and not multiple caves), I was glad that I hadn't insisted we go looking for his cave in the hope that there were some markers somewhere stating: Saint Namphaise slept in this wretched place.

Oh, and the legend she gave me also said that it was believed that "passing under the reliquary would cure sterility and recurring illnesses."

Hmmm, I wonder if it would dispense for the need of using Viagra as well.

If so, then the tourist trade would certainly pick up. That is, once they get their electrical problem solved and it is open for tourists and pilgrims to visit.

All in all it was a great day for exploring the French countryside. I never saw the tomb of Saint Namphaise, nor did I locate any chocolate éclairs. However, I did have some luscious chocolate mousse for lunch at Le President in Cajarc.

I'll tell you another story of a different place we visited in France next time.




L.C.McCabe said...

Lillian wrote:

Linda........"Thank You"..........How wonderful of you to write us about your trip...........I just love it...........Everytime I read a line or two, I'm so anxious to find out what's coming next.........I can imagine your disappointment, when you found that the tomb of Saint Namphaise, was not open to the public..................To have the anticipation of driving there and then not be allowed to go in and see the actual pillars............Such a shame..................................................Very funny, about the Viagra, I must say, that put a smile on my face..............and the instances of the hammer and sword....................."Thanks" for the beautiful pictures.......Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy.............I can't wait to read your book!!!.........Keep safe, enjoy your travels, and Take Care................Lillian, B.C. Canada.......P.S. Hope you find your chocolate eclairs.......YUM!!!!!!

Scott said...

The Cassoulet at Le President was pretty damn good too!

This was a wonderful little trip and my sweetie has brought this story to life.

Anyone wishing to go on this little journey, here's the lat/lon coordinates

N 044 27.454'
E 001 51.070'

That will put you at the foot of the ruins. Just start following a trail uphill.