Saturday, August 05, 2006

abbaye de La Suave-Majeure

Last Saturday we took a day trip into the countryside. Our first stop was at this ruined abbey, a mere shadow today of what must have been a beautiful and glorious building in it's former days. Building was begun on it in 1000 something AD, and was actually completed a few centuries later, I believe. What once was a bustling monastery and village refuge is now a crumbling remain, the last of which we can get something of an idea of what it must have been like hundreds of years ago to have lived here, or traveled through it...

Imagine that you are a pilgrim in the year 1500 on your way to Santiago de Compostela (Saint James of Compostela) to pay homage to what your religion believes is one of the holiest sites in the world. It is one of only three pilgrimages said to forgive all sins; the other ones being the Via Francigena to Rome and Jerusalem. Your destination is the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the bones of Saint James the Great are said to be buried beneath the altar in the crypt of the cathedral.

This abbey is one of many holy stops on your way. Holy relics will be on display and the priests will offer mass. France has granted the abbey diplomatic immunity and anyone who enters it's walls is safe from political upheavals for as long as they stay. This does not stop foreign attacks, however, and often Spanish armies will raid the village and attack the abbey. There is a tower in the abbey where guards keep watch over the village and the many miles around and beyond it. If any foreign army comes to attack the villagers will be warned and will gather within the abbey's strong walls for protection. At other times the villagers will come to the abbey for fairs and markets. You are not a villager, though, and so you stay just long enough to pay homage to the holy relics and you continue on your way to Spain, despite the risks to travelers. Your only protection lies in the abbeys such as this one on the way. But you are a faithful pilgrim and devoted to your religion. You would risk anything rather than not receive absolution and forgiveness of sins at the end of your pilgrimage.

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