We woke up the next morning fresh and renewed. Grand-mere went to the front door to find someone had left a full basket of butter, eggs and a fresh killed rabbit. This was not unusual occurrence for Grand had made many of friends in the village for her skills as an herbal doctor. People she had healed would remember her when the flow of milk and eggs would return in the early months of Spring. They would gift her with an extra rabbit from their morning hunt. It was the season of Lent but meat was permitted to be eaten on Sunday. The flow of healing, friendship and kindness ruled my grandmothers life she served her village people and in returned they served her also which provided for us a comfortable living. She was known by noble, knight and serf for sickness did not differentiate between the classes. This Grand-mere was seen as an equal in many people’s eyes for she was gifted beyond her years and had been made strong and true by living by nature’s laws and the walking the pilgrimage trails. Her prayers were made strong by saying them where the elements were pure, high in the French Alps where road-side shrines were found of the Virgin Mother amongst wild-flowers and holy herbs bared her name. Grand-mere was all these things and it made her an extraordinary individual in our village.
She brought the basket into the kitchen and got out a sack of freshly ground flour and began to measure out flour, butter two eggs a pinch of salt and spring water to make a pie crust. She gave me my sickle knife that had once been my mothers and asked me to go cut some herbs in the garden so she could make a rabbit pie. She would skin the rabbit and prepare the meat.
I walked into our garden it was still early spring and the herbs were just rising up above the soil but there was enough growth to harvest fresh herbs for a pie. I kneeled among the herbs and smelled mountain joy crushing it between my fingers. Mountain Joy was known as marjoram but Grand-mere preferred to call it Mere de Dieu “Mother of God” for it was dedicated to the Virgin Mother. I cut off a little sprig with my sickle and put it into the pocket of my linen apron. Then I went to a wet spot in the garden where holy mint would abundantly grow my grandmother referred to all the mints as “Mary’s Mint”. They would be gathered in the summer time at the peak of their flowering and be stored to be used by the church in the Village’s Creche where they lined the bed of Baby Jesus. I cut a few sprigs of mint and added it to my pocket. I then went to the parsley it’s flat leaf was pungent with flavor I cut a generous amount because Grand-mere said you can never have to much parsley.
Outside the garden a wild peppercorn bush grew. I crushed the bright red pepper corns with my finger and place on in my mouth. I could taste the salt of the sea breezes that traveled on winds and settled on the spicy peppercorns. I cut off a small branch and made my way through the garden back to the cottage and entered through the kitchen door.
Grand-mere already had the rolled out the pie crust and had prepared the meat by salting it with sea salt we had gathered on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea that would gather on rocks during the summer time after the water had evaporated. She asked me to finely chop the herbs and grind the peppercorns in her motar and pestle made of olive wood. The olive wood motar and pestles were made by local wood-carvers and was considered a prized possession by local people and foreigners alike.
Grand-mere then handed me a jar of powdered ginger root and another jar of freshly ground cloves that had been given to her from one of the Knight Templars that had come back from the Holy Land. He was exporting Mid-Eastern spices into Europe. Even the food of our region was changing. It became a blend of European cultural and Eastern thought through the exchange that occurred because of the traveling of the Crusades. If some how the exchange of food,medicine, religious thought could happen without the element of conquering and conquest, but it seemed not to be in man’s human-nature to live in harmony with his fellow man. Grand-mere use to say it is only by experiencing one’s Divine Nature directly would such things become less important. When I looked into my Grand-mere’s eyes I knew she somehow had touched this part of herself.
Grand then cut the pie crust into tangles arranging herbs, spices rabbit meat, and wild chanterelle mushrooms she had gathered a few days before, she folded over the crust making individual little pies that would fit in ones hand. She then baked them in a clay over that she had stoked the fire all morning creating the perfect temperature for baking.
These little pies were perfect for traveling and often were made by local housewives for their husbands that worked the field or cared for the flocks of sheep. Thus the pie had given the name pie de shepard pies by the local people. Grand-mere was preparing this food for she was planning to take me on pilgrimage into the French Alps to the Village of St Martin. The sap was rising in the herbs and the trees and it would be a good time to gather Spring Greens after a long winter for this was the way of living with Nature’s Laws. The collecting of Spring Greens to clean the system from the heavy winter food, the moving of the body by walking the high mountain trails it was time of renewal in both body, mind and spirit.
We settled down to the fire again and Grand-mere resumed the story of my mother Anne-Marie and the meeting of my father Hugh VI. Anne Marie had not heard from the handsome stranger until summer when a courier arrived in the village of Biot with a message for my mother. It was an invitation to join a pilgrimage party in the French Alps at the village of St Martin where the shrine of Marie La Madone De Fenestra ” the Madonna of the Window”. This icon would be carried up the mountain trails to a small chapel in the high mountains for the summer months. Hundreds of people would come each year to this high alpine village for this event, miraculous healing sometimes were reported and many pray petitions were said to be answered. Anne Marie was so excited at the thought of joining the count’s entourage Grand-mere had calm her down and reminder her that she was still a commoner in the count’s court. But never the less Grand sent word through the messenger that they would join the count in the village of St Martin in the month of July for the pelerinage Marie La Madone de Frenestre in midsummer. The messenger mentioned that Count Hugh would send a carriage to fetch them a few days before the pilgrimage began making it easier for my Grandmother’s travel.
Preparation were to be made to go on such a pilgrimage and Grand-mere and my mother only had a month before they would leave. The village St Martin de Belleville was named after a Hungarian saint who lived in France and once served as a Roman soldier. It was said he cut his cloak in half and gave it to a beggar during freezing weather. That night St Martin had a dream that Jesus came to him revealing he was the beggar that Martin had given his cloak too. Soon after his experience St Martin left the Roman army to join a group of ascetic monks. He was known as an exorcist priest that read special prayers over people possessed by evil spirits. He cared for the sick, the poor and the starving. He became so well known in the prayerful art of exorcism that the church want to make him a bishop. Not wanting such involvement he hid himself in a barn of geese. The birds honked so loud that it gave away his hiding place to the Church’s Fathers. St. Martin feast day was November 11 he became the saint of tailors and wool weavers because of the sharing of his cloak. He also resided over inn-keepers geese and wine making. It was on his feast day that the first tasting of new wines would be presented after the autumn grape harvest.
Grand-mere wanted to gather woolen clothing for the poor before they left the village it was important before going on any pilgrimage that one honor the saints of the pilgrimage, they were about to embark on. Gathering clothing for the poor Grand-mere felt would be an appropriate offering. My grandmother was a saintly soul and understood the importance of generosity. She often pointed how generous Nature is, giving us every kind of fruit and medicine. Even the autumn the trees would shed their leaves to give back to the Earth and re-fertilize the soil. This is the way we also should live she would say, close to the Earth, humble like the wild-flowers and joyous like the birds that sing in the spring. And prayerful like the Great Silence that is felt at the point of sunrise and sunset.
Grand and my mother, Ann Marie now were walking through the fertile wine vineyards below Sainte Baume. Grapes had been grown in the region since the ancient Greeks had discovered the ancient port of Maresille in 600 B.C. Different cultures cultivated grapes in this region, the ancient Gauls, Romans, and Catalans created grapes and wine that had a unique full flavor with hint of spiciness. Grand-mere had friends that owned a vineyard near Saint- Maximin. They were planning to catch a ride on their wine wagon to Vézelay. This way Grand-mere did not have to walk all the way to Vézelay and her friends made regular wine deliveries to Vézelay during the pilgrimage season.
Grand-mere wanted to arrive in Vézelay before Sainte John the Baptist feast day the first day of summer solstice for this was the day the southern window of the Cathedral of Sainte-Marie-Madalene would illuminate spots in the nave exactly during midday. The cathedral builders of of Vézelay were said to align the windows with the sun and the summer solstice to show the beauty, order and measure of God’s Universe. Thus “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheath His handiwork Psalms 19:01 Grand-mere would say to stand in one of these spheres of light at midday was like being in God’s Holy Alignment.
The next morning they made their way to the cathedral to stand in line to enter the church for early morning mass. Once in the cathedral we stood in wonder looking at the carved images on some of the walls depicting the un-godly people looking like pigs, dwarfs and men with elephant ears putting the fear of God into any viewer.
But the grand image of the Christ of Vézelay was different then the suffering Christ you often found in most Medieval Churches. The Christ of Vézelay had open arms, all forgiving and accepting much different compared to grotesque images found in the cathedral. Grand-mere being a wise woman would whisper in her daughter’s ear this is the true Essence of Christ and what should be remembered the rest is the passing through the human condition which can change from one moment to the next. It is the forgiveness of Christ one should engrave in our hearts.
They sat through the morning mass but it was in the silence of their wanderings through the cathedral the mystical would reveal its self. They found them selves in the crypt of the cathedral where the Presence of the Magdalene and Christ could be strongly felt. One end of the crypt there was and altar to Sainte-Marie-Madalene and the other end of the crypt was an altar to Jesus Christ.
Grand-mere paused before she continued the story putting another log on the fire. It seemed like she was recollecting her thoughts wanting to make sure she remembered all the important details to convey the meeting of my mother and father.
Your mother sat down on a bench that was in the middle of the room between the two altars of Magdalene and Chirst. Anne Marie began to close her eyes her breathing became very slow down she was in the center of the Bridal Chamber, at the same moment an elegant man, who was rather tall with dark long hair sat on the bench next to your mother. The two sat in the silence together not saying a word with eyes closed, backs erect and hands folded in prayer the entire room seemed to be motionless. Everyone seem to disappear in the background and all that was left was an unfolding mystical union of bride and bridegroom. The strangers became engulfed into one spiritual flame. Each breath they took they found the other’s Spiritual Presence unfolding in the inner chambers of their own hearts. Your mother’s breath began to quicken into waves of Divine Ecstasy. The stranger’s Presence seemed to soften into a silent surrender to the waves of esstasy that was silently passing through the space between their bodies. But on the inside the love that was flowing between them was like waves crashing on the shores of their souls. Each breathe a deeper love began to unfold between them all of this was unfolding secretly, silently, most preciously as they sat on the bench between the altars of Lover and Beloved.
All of a sudden the spell was broken with a crowd of people entering the crypt. The aristocratic gentleman seemed to awaken from the mystical dream and regained his composure. Grand-mere walked over to her daughter took her daughters hand Anne Marie raised to her feet. The gentleman bowed to his elder and then address himself to my grandmother as being Hugh XI of Lusignon Count of Angoulême, in turn Grand-mere introduced herself and my mother Anne Marie. The moment his eyes meet my mother’s eyes the Presence of the Mytical experience started all over again. They were left speechless falling into a chasm of Divine Love each one of them forgot themselves in the moment.
Again the count regained his composure and started a conversation with Grand-mere. Even through Grand-mere was not of an astrocratic lineage her Presence was dignified filled with both prayers and healing. The count shared he was on pilgrimage to be blessed by the relics of Magdalene and this was something his family had done for generations.
My mother stood silently bathing in the aura of this new found stranger. He began to explain to Grand-mere his mother was Isabelle Countess of Angoulême who had once been the Queen of England before she had married his Father, Hugh X. His Aunt was Eleanor of Aquitaine and second cousin was Marie de Champagne the daughter of King Louie VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Then Count Hugh in a low whisper began to speak to my Grand-mere of his lineage.The reason he was explaining all of this to Grand-mere is that Eleanor Aquitaine and Marie de Champagne had establish Courtly Love in France that later spread through out the courts of Europe.
The Art of Courtly Love was looked down upon in the Church. It had been introduced to Elenore by her uncle Raymond of Poitiers, the Prince of Antioch when she visited the Holy Lands during the second crusade with her husband Louie VII. The Holy Land was a hot bed of new understanding and the exposure of Eastern romantic poetry professing the love of the Lover and the Beloved. There was also more exoteric practices of white tantra these unspoken practices had been introduced Raymond Poitiers . But the finding of the right spiritual chemistry between two people to experience such human/divine love was another matter completely. Such love could inspire great deeds, works of art, poetry, music and story telling that could endure through out time, when fanned by the flames of such a love. And this was Hugh XII family lineage and until he had sat down on the bench with Anne Marie he never thought such love was possible.
Grand-mere was not unfamiliar to the lineage of Courtly Love since in her youth she served several courts of Provence selling herbal cosmetics, potions and elixirs to the nobility for both beauty and sexual sexual stamina.
Count Hugh went on to explain to my Grand how rare to find a consort that carries both beauty, grace and the spiritual energies that he had just experienced with her daughter. This spiritual energy is rare to find in another human being and it is the foundation of the most secret initiations of Courtly Love.
He went on to say he would like meet her daughter again. And would she most kind to come visit him in the South of France some day. And he would contact them soon to provide transportation for both Grand and Anne Marie. This was highly unusual behavior for a noble, to suggested a meeting with the commoners. But something of a higher order was taking place in the Crypt of the Magdalene and it could not be ignored.
Grander took pause the fire was dying down and all that was left was the late night embers glowing in the dark. She took an iron poker and began to to make three separate piles of embers for the late night prayers. She slowly began to pray over the first pile of embers addressing the Virgin Mother.
Holy Virgin pure as the flame.
Sacred Heart of Creation Bless us
with your Immaculate Creation of Divine Love.
She then began to arrange the embers of the second pile.
Magdalene in flamed with desire
That is so much higher in flame our
Hearts with Divine Love.
Then Grand-mere addressed the last pile of embers
St Anne whose womb became impregnated
Even when her cycles had waned
Guide the seed of the Immaculate ideal so our creation
Are filled with Divine Love.
Grand-mere kissed both of my cheeks and we retried to bed.
St Anne Grandmother of Christos