We’ve seen, I think it’s safe to say, over 100 churches since we arrived in France, but never one in a cave. That is, until last Sunday, when we found ourselves at the Grotte Sanctuaire de Remonot. In case there was any doubt over if this really, really was a church, they had a helpful sign posted on the path to the doorway. Translated, it reads: “Zone of Silence for the cave. The cave is a church. Please act in a respectful and kind manner. Thank you.”
We entered in the proper frame of mind and, sure enough, it really, really was a church. A church in a cave. According to my research – this place was sanctified as a church in 1863 and cited as a historical monument in 1913 (big year for making the list, I guess). However, this has been a holy place of worship for much, much longer than that. It is dedicated specifically to the Virgin Mary, and, in fact, is believed to be a former place of goddess worship by the Gallic Druids. From the 8th to the 18th Centuries, hermits lived there in turns, to protect the holy space and evangelize to the locals. When I entered, there was definitely, for me, a sense of weight to the air, like many, many thousands had come here before. No doubt this is a holy place.
The are several ancient and quite valuable statues in this church. The one at above left is from the 14th century. In fact, it is of the crucified Jesus being comforted by God himself. This is shocking to me, because not only have I never seen such a thing before, it also kind of shoots a hole in the whole Trinity idea, right? I thought it was supposed to be Joseph when I took the shot (and that was strange enough).
Behind the alter, there is a small bridge where you can see amazing rock formations and part of an underground spring – the Gesambrune. The water that comes from here is reported to have healing properties that, along with the famous statue of the Virgin, is associated with the miraculous restoration of sight. People from all over Europe made pilgrimages to the village of Combes (above the cave) to enter the cave and see the Virgin (still encased on the altar) for healing. At one point the church moved the statue to a better location, and the miracles ceased. After a few years, she mysteriously reappeared in the cave and has been there ever since. She was encased in her special altar in 1963 – 150 priests and 7000 pilgrims attended this ceremony. (The cave isn’t that big – and neither is the one and only road that leads to this place!) In fact, she is still so popular that there are still 3 annual pilgrimages a year to this cave: Whit Monday, August 15th and the second Sunday in September. You can stop and visit, or, if you are driving by, you can get a blessing as you pass. Sort of a spiritual drive-thru, I guess. Here is the spring in the cave itself…
What an amazing place – and the perfect note to end our Sunday adventures….