A Day in Arles, Ste Marie de la Mer, and Les Baux de Provence
Today we spent in the car. We drove to the Mediterranean this morning, to the small city of Saint Marie de la Mer. It's famous for having the actual bones of the mother of St James and St John,and the bones of the sister of the Virgin Mary, along with their servant Sara. Supposedly they were put into a boat after the crucification, without sails or oars, and ended up in this place 2000 years ago. A church was founded here in the 9th century, and miraculously their bones were discovered in 1448!!! Sara was an Egyptian woman, and is venerated by Gypsies as their patron saint. While we walked around the tiny place (and saw Sara's actual bones) there were many men and women lighting candles and praying before the shrine. It was very strange.
We then drove to Arles, where Van Gogh spent much time painting. We used my National Geographic guide book and followed a suggested route seeking the Arena and the Amphitheater. It so happened that the government of France is restoring these monuments. The Arena was half done...on one side, it was the gray and black decaying edifice, and on the other side, they have blasted it back to the original white limestone. It will be beautiful. We visited the Church of St. Triomphe, which (supposedly) contains a relic of St. Stephen, the first Christian matyr, as well as numerous relics from other maytrs. It was built over 1000 years ago. After a nice refreshment of sangria on a tree-lined medieval street, we then headed for Les Baux de Provence, where we climbed endlessly to the ramparts of the top hills. The quilt-patch photo below is of the orchards and vinyards that can be seen from the top. The original lords of Les Baux believed themselves to be descendants of one of the Three Wise Men, and generally reeked havoc and ignored the Pope and king of France right through the end of the Middle Ages. We spent over 3 hours wandering and climbing. Because we were tired, and the grocery markets close at 7 pm or so in France, we feasted on an egg frittata and pan-fried potatoes, all things we could find in the pantry.