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.
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.
Nécropole 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.