We were going to do Moustiers-Sainte-Marie this week but there has been excitement in our town, so let’s stay in Lorgues.
The idea that every village or town in France has its own patron saint is an extraordinarily ancient one. It is also very persistent; after all it survived the attempt to eradicate the Catholic church during the French Revolution. The patron saint of Lorgues is Saint Ferréol, who is not only poorly known, but doesn’t come from anywhere near the area. As far as we can work out, he was a Christian who was conscripted into the Roman army in Vienne (near Lyon on the Rhone) and then killed for trying to protect another Christian in 303 or 304.
His feast day is 18th September and there is a long-standing tradition of festivities which traditionally involved two things. First, there would be a procession carrying the statue of Saint Ferréol from the church on the hill above us that bears his name down to the big church of Saint Martin in the town. Second, there would be festivities, usually involving food and drink, dancing and games and quite a bit of what clearly wasn’t good, clean fun.
It’s a fascinating thought that this has continued for centuries. The town rejoiced when in 1806, after the chaos of the Revolution, Napoleon’s seizure of power allowed the festivities to be renewed. The feast got cancelled in 1943: the Germans were still unpacking after having arrived to run Provence directly after the failure of Vichy France and the Italians to do it for them. The festival has always been a somewhat curious event involving a (slightly uneasy) collaboration between the secular state (represented by the Maire and the Mairie) and the Catholic church. Anyway, this being the year of Covid, the festivities and the procession have been cancelled by order of the mayor and the approval of the priest. Two things of interest have emerged from this.
First, the procession may have been cancelled, but the statue of Saint Ferréol was been taken down to St Martin without ceremony. There the townsfolk can go in and do whatever they do with statues of saints.
The slideshow on the right shows the early 19th-century statue from the chapel of Saint Ferréol in the church of St Martin, and a carving of Saint Ferréol at the side of the pulpit in St Martin
Last Sunday, Chris, who is somehow on the board of the Association des Amis de Saint-Ferréol et Vieux Lorgues (ASFVL), i.e. the Friends of Saint Ferréol (the chapel on the hill, not the saint) and Old Lorgues, had a curious request. Could he, as someone with photographic skills, remove the background from a photo of the saint to make a poster? Well, it isn’t the sort of thing he normally does on Sunday, but as an aspiring citizen one has to play one’s part, so he dutifully did a bit of clever editing on the computer. Two days later his edited image of Saint Ferréol adorned the vast collegial church on a banner. At this point we can hear the sound of our more extreme Protestant friends terminating their visits to this blog. We understand, but Provence doesn’t do theological niceties.
This however, is not the only issue that has emerged with the current interruption to the festivities of Saint Ferréol. Of late the festivities have been dominated by a weekend funfair coinciding with the saint’s day. With its roundabouts, rides, shooting galleries and all the fun of the fair, this takes over the centre of the town.
This year however, the mayor, has decided that in the interests of health, it is inappropriate and has cancelled it. (For what it’s worth, we back him.) Undaunted, the great convoy of fair vehicles arrived in the town as usual. The result is that there is now a turbulent contretemps between the mayor and the fair and sanitation and tradition. This battle has even reached the front pages of the regional newspaper. Very little dramatic happens here: the last newsworthy event we can remember was two months ago when a supermarket fridge blew up.
So at the moment the fair has installed itself in town and is threatening to continue without the mayor’s approval. In return, the mayor has done what he must do under the French system, which is to appeal upwards to at least the sub-prefect, and possibly even the prefect, of the department himself. It’s set for an interesting confrontation this Saturday and Lorgues is as tense as it gets; that is to say, not very much. Watch this space.