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
Drive to Lagrasse and spend a morning there: ‘L’un des plus beaux villages de France’ with an abbey rebuilt by Nimphridius under Charlemagne in 779. It was the temporal and spiritual centre of all Languedoc for many centuries, holding sway from Albi to Zaragoza. Then drive out on the D3, turning left to Tournissan. The lower menhir is on the left before the village. Turn right in the village for Talairan and at the first juntion go right on a metalled lane for 2km. The upper menhir stands atop a small hill – and possibly a tumulus – on the right about 100 metres after the tarmac ends. On the IGN map its location is 2. 38′ 37″ E , 43. 4′ 12″ N. or DD 2.643611 E 43.070000 N
Down here in the Aude we are not over-burdened with standing-stones. Passage-graves R Us – but Pierres Droites? Or Plantées? We have a few – and some of them among the biggest – but this is not Tall Stone Country.
All the more surprising then to find two menhirs in the one small valley. The better known one stands in the valley bottom – unusual enough – and by the roadside, rather than a more isolated spot. The valley is small and this route must have been the only way out, as it leads east between two hills towards the river Orbieu and Lagrasse.
This lesser known menhir stands on a small hill, and is directly due south of the first. There is a path kept clear all the way up the hill to it. Neither menhirs are marked on any map. However they are both in full sight of the Le Roc Troué – the Holed Rock which is marked and is situated at 43.089444 N 2.664166 E . It is a large and dramatic cavern high up in the face of a prominent rock outcrop.
In the foreground is one of the wells [with modern surround] and diectly behind is Le Roc.
The valley has other remarkable features: in line with the two menhirs, due north, is another rock outcrop – this time distinguished by its strong red colouring. There is a captured spring at this place called Terre Rouge. Other wells can be seen high up above the valley floor in the middle of fields – attesting to an unusual water-table. Such abundance of water and such rich oxide soil make this valley very fertile.
Terre Rouge in middle distance – with Alaric mountain behind.
Less than a mile from the two menhirs is a place called Les Morts : The Dead. At the summit of a small hillock, among trees and scrub is a tomb. Monks of the Middle Ages lived in a Priory close by and in Lagrasse, and the entire valley would have been worked by them. It is unusual to find a solitary tomb, set apart like this.
The stone stands 2.5 metres tall with its flat faces roughly east & west. It ‘points’ north at 30 degrees, straight at the lower menhir.
I came to hear about this beautiful stone from a friend. She had been told about it by a sourcier. Not a wizard – this is the local man who locates water for farmers and vignerons. He also believes in ley-lines and fertility stones . . . And for those women who cannot conceive when they wish, he suggests visits to this menhir. My friend wanted a baby, and visited the stone often. It is in a beautiful place, in a beautiful valley. The existence of a well-trodden path is significant.
Elsewhere in Europe stones were toppled or broken by the Catholic church in their zeal to eradicate traces of former beliefs. But you can’t erase a vast gaping hole in a cliff, and you can’t stop women wanting children. And so perhaps they let stand a ‘pagan’ stone or two, thinking “well, if the women believe in it, and if it helps bring more babies . . . ”
The name of the water-diviner, le sourcier ? Labitte. It is the word for the male appendage.