Tonight we went out to a meeting of the five local communities of Cortambert, Bray, Chissey, Donzy and Blanot. We organised the village celebrations together last September for Cluny 2010, and it has been decided that we will continue this close association. There will be regular meetings to organise future events such as a bonfire for St Jean and a trip to see our Clunysien friends in Germany. Another huge banquet is proposed in Cluny for 2012. Pour entretenir la flamme!
As usual after such meetings we enjoyed a shared repas. Everybody brings their favourite dishes. Eating really is a serious pastime in Burgundy! There was a cheer when a huge pile of hot pancakes arrived to celebrate that today is La Chandeleur.
La Chandeleur started as a midwinter pagan festival when candles to the deities were lit. It was made Christian by the pope Gélase I to celebrate Jesus being first presented to the Temple 40 days after Christmas. La Chandeleur symbolises wealth, good crops and health for the year to come.
Eating crêpes will bring a year of happiness. You have to toss them with one hand and hold a gold coin in the other to ensure prosperity throughout the year. As you know the first crêpe out of the pan isn’t very good so you put a coin in it and stick it at the top of the wardrobe for a year. Then you retrieve the coin and give it to the first person that arrives. If you drop a crêpe it must lie on the floor undisturbed!
Crêpes for La Chandeleur
The weather on this day is very significant. Here it has been rather grey and below freezing for ages so tradition tells us that the overcast weather means Spring is just round the corner. If it were raining it would rain for another 40 days. If it were sunny we would expect winter to last for another month.
There is also a legend similar to ‘Groundhog Day’ in America but in reverse. I haven’t seen many bears around here myself but in the olden days the townspeople would go to visit the local bear. If he came out of his den it would mean that Spring had come. If he stayed snug inside there would be another six weeks of winter. It seems that the difference between our local bear and Punxsutawney Phil is that bears are not frightened of their own shadows.
But I am hopeful that Spring is on the way. We are promised a balmy weekend, perhaps up to 15 degrees, and sunshine all next week. The frozen ground will thaw and hopefully the spring bulbs will feel like emerging.
The Cloisters at Cluny Abbey
It is beginning to feel as if summer is drawing to a close this week. The weather has been cold and damp with only the occasional glimmer of sunshine. The grape picking is finished. Woodsmoke is curling out of the chimneys. The autumn classes have begun.
The special exhibitions for Cluny 2010 are drawing to a close this week so it was our last chance to visit Cluny, apogée de l’art roman – Cluny, the peak of Romanesque Art. This exhibition was co-ordinated by the chief curator of the British Museum and it brings together works of art from many museums and private collections.
Many of the sculptures are from various Clunaic sites including Lewes in southern England, and they show the evolution and influence of Cluniac art throughout Europe. The many remnants from the cloisters that were built about 1115 show the artistic wealth of Cluny Abbey at that time.
Amongst the sculptures was perhaps the most famous of them all, the Paschal lamb, the Christian symbol that has been used in Cluny to mark out the tourist trail around the town.
The Paschal Lamb
After the French Revolution much of the Abbey was destroyed and sold off for its stone. So many old houses incorporate decorated carvings. At that time fancy carving was right out of fashion so many of the stones were used with just the flat side showing. So until a house is demolished it is difficult to find these pieces. A particularly fine one was discovered in a house in our village.
We went to the floor above in this ancient mill to marvel at the illuminated manuscripts which were written in the scriptorium of Cluny Abbey in the 11th and 12th centuries. The colours of the illustrations remain fresh and vivid. There were not just scriptures from the Bible but biographies such as The Life of Blessed Gerald of Aurillac by St Odo of Cluny. A book that especially interested me was one showing full page paintings of musicians. They wore bright tunics with embroidered edges and woolly tights. Some wore three-quarter length trousers that wouldn’t look out of place today. But none seemed to wear shoes. So life in the 12th century was probably merrier than I would have thought but imagine the chilblains.
We had visited the exhibition with our neighbours and on our way through the Abbey we had stopped to look at a new exhibit, a sarcophagus which had been discovered recently in the excavations at the south side of the Abbey. It had been found by archeologists who were staying in our neighbours’ gîte. Despite not having lived here very long, the more we learn about Cluny, the Abbey and the surrounding area, the more ‘connected’ we feel.
The banquet of the Portes
The highlight of the Cluny 2010 weekend was the coming together of people belonging to each Porte. This includes the outlying villages and visitors from the Clunaic sites throughout Europe. Each Porte set up tables and chairs and wore the colour adopted by the Porte. We were the combined Porte des Prés and Porte du Haras from the villages to the north east. Our colours were light blue and green and we decorated the wall of the Haras and the tables accordingly. Our painted orange boxes joined together made an excellent kiosk for dispensing aperitifs.
550 people arrived to eat at our Porte. We had a real feast and the wine flowed. During the preparations for Cluny 2010 we have gained many friends from the nearby villages and it was wonderful to see everyone partaking of a meal together. Luckily the weather stayed perfect, warm and sunny.
The next day we went back into Cluny to dismantle everything and put the tables and chairs into storage. We ended up with lunch at Cortambert with all the members of the Comité des Portes. It was really sad. We had enjoyed meeting all these weeks to prepare for Cluny 2010 and now it was all over. However the friendship between the villages of Cortambert, Donzy, Blanot, Bray and Chissey will long continue.
Our group of villages is involved in looking after the contingent who have come from Germany for the Cluny 2010 celebrations. They were entertained royally for the day. They were first taken to see the medieval castle and church at Brancion, then treated to a good lunch in Le Finot in Bray, the best restaurant in the area. Then there was a dégustation of the local wines from around Cluny in the afternoon.
La Chorale in Blanot Church
This evening’s entertainment was hosted by Blanot. There was a wonderful performance by the local choir who sang in several languages and included my favourite songs. Then we had some welcome speeches and we descended to the area by the lavoir where a banquet was set out. The bread was baked in the village bread oven nearby, the smell of fresh bread combining with the wood smoke.
A lorry full of German beer has arrived and will be down at Cluny market tomorrow. And there will be another interesting day for our visitors, this time concentrating on the medieval buildings of Cluny.