We drove down from Crillon-le-Brave into the countryside through the farmlands past Carpentras and the melon festival signs, heading for a picturesque village at the source of the River Sorgue, Fontaine de Vaucluse. Here the waters rush from the mountains, once transformed into power by waterwheels, and today channeled into the valleys below.
We parked outside the village, and followed the road over the bridge, crossing the roiling waters to the main square where tall trees shaded a monument commemorating the time Petrarch (1304-1374) resided here. The Italian poet, known for his many letters and sonnets, is particularly known here for his unrequited love of Laura, a married gentlewoman he met in an Avignon church. It was a romantic but platonic love from afar, and he recorded his romance in his sonnets, with echoes of the Courts of Love of an earlier time.
We lunched on an uneven terrace overlooking the rushing Sorgue and peered up the canyons to glimpse waterfalls at the true sources higher up, then strolled up the main street to the 11th century stone church. The sanctuary was musty and dim, but the Blessed Sacrament was reserved on the altar and an bay alcove honored Our Lady with not only a bank of flaming votives at the foot of her sculpted image, but a carved image of Saint Anne as well. In reading about L’Eglise de Saint Veran, I learned it was founded in the 6th century by monks from Saint Victor’s in Marseilles. I smiled for it was another Cassianite witness (see St. Victor’s post), and gave me more pieces to the wonderful puzzle of history.
We returned slowly to our car, under the heavy heat of the day, and drove into the valley of vines with their lush greenery striping the gentle green hills, watching the narrow road carefully for speeders and steep roadside ditches.
We would not be visiting Avignon this time, but I recalled that watershed fourteenth century when the Pope resided there, and the resulting turmoil caused in Western Christendom. When the papacy did return to Rome, the city was falling to ruin, and it would take many years to restore. Then again, it seemed to me that the presence of the papacy in France must have supported the new basilica at St. Maximin to the south of Avignon which honored the rediscovered relics of Mary Magdalen (see earlier post). Many royal pilgrimages were made to her grave and Avignon played a substantial part in the development of the shrine, I am sure.
We returned to our hilltop village at the base of Mount Ventoux, and as I gazed at the mountain, I thought again about Petrarch, who climbed it because he wanted to (he is considered to be the first tourist) and about his romance with Laura. It had been a colorful and fascinating day, full of image and sound, and best of all, of story.