Rennes-le-Château and Rennes-les-Bains

Rennes-le-Château and Rennes-les-Bains

St. Laurent de Cabrerisse

A town with lots of surprises!

You can find the easy, attractive, friendly, historical town on the D613 between Narbonne and Mouthoumet; the road goes through the centre, passing the Mairie on the left and two cafés and a restaurant on the right.  (We asked in the Mairie for a map and they were very friendly.)

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  Also on the right (we were coming from Narbonne) is a Scottish Art Galley and beside it the entrance to what they call the Château-fort, a triangular shaped medieval village - don't blink or you will miss the narrow "gate."  People still live there and houses are for sale and being renovated, there's a great sense of a future to look forward to.  We met an English lady and an old Spanish gentleman chatting on a bench in the square.

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 The second picture is a "master's house" which was renovated in the 18th century but the basement, cellars and lower rooms are 12th century.  It was one of the earliest houses, but St.Laurent de Cabrerisse is even older than that.  The population moved onto this triangular rock in the 11th century because they were tired of living on the low ground, today on the left if you take the road across the bridge and continue on the D613 towards Talairan.  This area called "St. Benoit" is now a smart new village, with its own restaurants, shops and leisure centre, beautifully done.  It was excavated before building started and a Visigothic village and church were discovered.  The saint could even have been the Visigothic St. Benoît from Aniane who founded the abbey of St. Polycarp near Limoux.

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  Hence the church in the château-fort was the second church and the walls were so thick it was built inside them!  It also contained the Mairie, the school and the municipal oven, which was later moved on the order of the Seigneur of St.Laurent village, the Abbé of Lagrasse.  It was really pleasant to look around St.Laurent because the commune had put notices everywhere explaining everything, they are very proud of their town.  The fort is triangular, and the point of the triangle had a gateway called Portanel going down to the river Nielle, where the brook called Jacou joined it.  Unfortunately the gate was being renovated!

  However, we found the brook.  It was just a trickle and the bed had been concreted, with a gulley in the centre for the trickle, and the village uses it as a footpath in the summer.  So we could walk down to see the River Nielle.

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  Beside us as we walked were the backs of the houses; some of them had two or three cellars under them called "caves."  The chateau fort was indeed built on a rock with cliffs all round; with the river at its foot, it was defensive indeed.

  Within the village across the road from the Château Fort is a natural spring called the Font Veille, beside the Jacou.  I found this a delightful spot, although the water wasn't running very strongly.  This part of the village is called Barrio and has been inhabited from the 14th century.

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   Inside the door marked "Eau Non Potable" (they often say that to cover themselves, although people would have been drinking the water for generations) was the original source, in a little building with a vaulted roof.  I found this corner of the town delightful, and wondered if the women from the fort had come here, hundreds of years ago, to get their water.  And to get news and to gossip, of course!

   Across the road from the Château Fort was the church to St. Laurent, and this was quite unusual.  Apparently it was built by the villagers themselves in 1776 on land donated from them.  Maybe that was the reason it was orientated north to north.  It was what they call the third church.

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  The porch was decorated with pillars, capitals and stones from the original Visigothic church of St.Benoît!  I was well pleased because I write about the Visigoths and their history in our region.  There is no doubt they lived at St.Laurent before the place called the Château-Fort was constructed on the site of a Celtic Oppidum in medieval times.

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      Abbé Giry, a local churchman, wrote about this in his guide to the Corbières.  By this entrance one senses oneself in Visigothic country.  The two huge stones were part of a triumphal arch of some old pre-Medieval church.  Their decoration reminds one of the altars of St. Polycarp.  These came from a primitive church (by "primitive" the French mean early) called font dal tourgou, on the banks of the Nielle.  It was the ancient monastery of Saint Laurent de Nigelle.  Another stone can be seen built into the wall of a house (I couldn't find it).  There was a sarcophage found at the monastery from the Aquitaine school, that is, 6th century.  The image of vines growing out of a goblet evokes the Christian life and the Eucharist, themselves descended from the pagan ceremonies for Dionysus.  This church was cited on a Carolingian charter along with others in the region at the time, now completely disappeared.

  On the St. Laurent official web-site, we found more details.  The monastery also had a graveyard with over 100 graves, and a baptismal whole body pool.

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  And I found a press-cutting;

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 And so we went inside the church.  The first surprise?  A baptistry on the left which is quite rare.  (I have only seen others in the church of Puicheric in the Minervois and in Albières.)

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  That's Ok, you might say, but why did they have two identical fonts, of red Caunes-Minervois marble, in the space just inside the church door?

  As we approached the main altar, on the left was a side-chapel with a confessional box.

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   One of the two saints was Saint Laurent himself, who was martyred about 250AD; he carries a grill because died being cooked over one.  Argh!  Another unusual statue in a side chapel looked like Mary Magdalene with Jesus and his mother, but it wasn't, as you can see from the caption underneath.

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  But the big surprise in the church was the painting over the altar, which must be very rare.  I have never seen (and I adore the country churches of Languedoc) a painting of the Crucifixion without the Virgin, but with Mary Magdalene, alone.  (The ladies in the church arranging flowers confirmed this for me.)  In the background you can see Jerusalem, and the disciples running away to hide.

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   I liked St. Laurent de Cabrerisse and it's church, and will return and hopefully find out more.

  For the official site of the village (in English) click here.

  And if you fancy going there for a holiday, click here.



11/07/2015
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