Archive for April 2008

Ordinary Old Stones   1 comment

We live in Stone Country. I have attempted to get beyond ‘limestone’ and ‘sandstone’ and can just about tell my nummulithic from your oolithic – but I soon find myself in alien territory, where they speak like this : ‘ . . . the origin of the paleodoline is interpreted as resulting from a combination of Eocene synorogenic tectonics . . .’ It’s too late to learn a new language like this.

But I was delighted to discover that les lauses – thick flat slabs of schist that tile the roof of the 13th. C. Chapelle de Notre-Dame de Centeilles are phonoliths : they ‘ring’ when tapped. I had come to the little church only because there were prehistoric vestiges in the area, but the time spent tramping through the vines and the garrigue convinced me that this was a rather extraordinary place : there is an unusual amount of context – geographic and historic, and lithic. The sheer amount of stones around Centeilles is astonishing, and attests to a continuous inhabitation since neolithic times.

This was taken from the top of a walled area of stone 15 metres wide by twenty metres long. There is another in the background – also 4 metres high. They are all that remain of a neolithic settlement.

More ‘modern’ are the capitelles that cluster round the chapel, the dolmen, the well and the spring :

There are fourteen of these clochán, or beehive huts visible from the path. Usually they are isolated shelters for shepherds and in more recent times, for fieldworkers. Here their use ranges over the millennia from hermitages to pilgrim huts to transhumant herders’ lodgings during mediaeval Fairs.

See the Capitelles de Centeilles Page for more.

Sacred Stones and Holy Water, at Centeilles   Leave a comment

In the XIII century, (some texts say the XII century) La Chapelle de Notre-Dame de Centeilles was built close to the site of a romanesque chapel, or of a Roman villa. Throughout the Middle Ages Centeilles was the centre of a thriving community on the trail between plain and mountain and was the focus of an important fair and market on 25th and 26th March. It was also a centre of pilgrimage for Ascension Day, with its Procession of the Rogations, and Assumption Day.

The first fresco to face the weary pilgrim was that of St. Christopher, patron saint of travellers.

La Révolution put an end to this tradition – the human population deserted it, and it was used as a barn. For the next one hundred years it was occupied by sheep. It was sold in 1960, for 500 francs. to the Diosese of Narbonne who later handed it over to Les Amis de Centailles, an association that undertook its repair and upkeep.

The early christian church had not chosen this place at random – it was a site of sacred significance since the earliest times. For wherever Our Lady has been installed and adored it is certain that she replaced a pre-christian animist or fertility cult – usually of Cybele, or Potnia Theron, the Queen of the Animals – one of the myriad names of the Mother Goddess.

For more photos and info- see the Chapelle de Centeilles Page

The Real Gallo-Roman Hillfort   Leave a comment

The information given on Quid for the Oppidum du Pic St-Martin is accurate – while the new IGN Seies Bleu map – and the placing – is out by nearly 2 km. Its position is 2. 39′ 54″ E, 43. 20′ 11″ N and it is a most impressive structure. The site was occupied continuously from the Iron Age through to the arrival of the Visigoths. The earliest inhabitants were possibly the Ibères or the Ligures, but more certainly the Volques Tectosages [ a Celtic tribe that put up a fierce resistance to the invading Romans, and who were themselves an invading force from Middle Europe – the name translates best as Land-hungry Wolves ].

The scree slope rises about 300 feet from here to the walls.

More photos and info on the Pic St-Martin Hillfort Page

Standing Stones, and lying maps   Leave a comment

Quid is France’s Encyclopedia Britannica, on paper since 1967 and online since 1997. IGN is the Institute Géographique National – it began as an army mapping service in 1887 and went public in 1967. They are invaluable tools in researching old stones but they are not without weaknesses. This is what I found for Siran, a village nearby in the Minervois:

Cachette de fondeur de l’âge du Bronze à Centeilles. [Traces of Bronze Age smelting]
29 dolmens* et tumulus.
Habitat préhistorique à Centeilles, Ausine, Belvédère.
Champ des Morts.
1er âge du Fer à La Prade.
14 villas romaines, principalement : Najac, Saint-Michel de Montflaunez.
Oppidum du pic St-Martin occupé de l’âge du Fer au
6ème apr.J.-C.
Mosaïque gallo-romaine* à la chapelle de Centeilles.
Tombes wisigothiques à La Rouviole, Le Champ des Morts, Centeilles, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre des Troupeaux, Saint-Gontran.

And this is what the new IGN map says is there:

Centeilles seemed central to this rich and diverse little corner, and was one of the few from the list to be marked on the map, as was the Gallo-Roman fort [camp or oppidum] closeby. That confident red star looked a certain bet, so I set off this saturday to see what I could find – knowing that information on Quid could well be long out-of-date and that I could be beating around the bush all afternoon for nothing. But not suspecting that the map could get it so wrong.

The 13th.C. Chapelle de Notre-Dame-de-Centeilles was certainly there with its stone roof and holy well – as was a host of other fascinating structures and features [see following Posts & Pages] – and so were the remains of a massive emplacement deep in the wood where the map shows the red star. It wasn’t until I got home and compared this new map with the 1967 version that doubt set in about The Thing in the Wood. I now needed to persuade Jessi and Mary to come out on another hunt this sunday.

The story of this weekend’s two visits to Centeilles is complicated, so the photos about it all are over on the Pages section. Starting with the Not the Gallo-Roman Camp Page. And as fast as I can post them, the following will appear :-

The real Ancien Camp Gallo-Romain on the Pic St-Martin Hillfort Page.

The dolmen of Centeilles – or les Pierres Plantées, take your pick – on the Centeilles Dolmen Page.

The dolmen du Mourel des Fadas – on the Dolmen des Fadas Page.

The Chapelle de Notre-Dame de Centeilles – the extraordinary frescoes, its history, holy well and capitelles – on the Chapelle de Centeilles Page.

And the second earlier church at Centeilles [in many ways even more extraordinary] – on the Chapelle Ruinée Page. There was a third even earlier church here at one time – but it’s been lost . . .

And then there’s those Roman villas, and the visigoth necropoli, and the neolithic habitat here too, somewhere – but I need another visit or ten, for them.

La Clape necropolis at Laroque de Fa   Leave a comment

This hunt could have gone disastrously wrong: with my enthusiastic daughter visiting from Ireland, and my unenthusiastic wife, I nearly managed to have us stumbling around the wrong mountain all afternoon. For, when doing anything involving maps and the wilds, it is generally advisable to know where you’re actually starting from . . .

Fortunately this time, despite starting from the wrong place and aiming at the wrong place, with Jessi’s unquenchable enthusiasm plus Mary’s unerring sense of direction plus a lot of luck, we got to the dolmens.

This is La Clape in the middle-distance : it’s occitan for a stoney hill. There are 8 dolmens scattered around this acre or two of limestone and box-shrub, according to Bruno Marc in his excellent ‘Guide to Dolmens & Menhirs of Languedoc-Roussillion’ – but we only found six.

How to get there plus lots more photos and text, on the La Clape Necropolis page, right column.