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Moments in Montolieu

Updated: Apr 3, 2022

Hello, and happy April!

It’s been snowing here in Montolieu for the past two days, and we feel that we were *fooled* into thinking it would be warm and beautiful. After all, this part of France normally features a mild Mediterranean climate.

But no—it looks like a scene out of White Christmas outside, and we feel like we should be wrapping Christmas presents and singing carols rather than swimming in the pool or dining al fresco. Here’s a 1-minute video Robin narrated if you want to see it animated:

Before the snow fell, we headed off to visit Caunes-Minervois. As its name makes obvious, it was named for Minerva, a Roman goddess, who is a champion for wisdom and strategic warfare, justice, law, victory, and a sponsor of arts, trade, and strategy.

Interestingly, Minerva is not a divinity of violence the way that Mars is, but rather of defensive war only (an interesting nod of synchronicity to the conflict in the Ukraine). The Romans equated her with the Greek goddess Athena, who was often shown with an owl.

Medusa and Neptune were found kissing in a temple that was dedicated to Minerva. Offended, Minerva transformed Medusa into a monster, replacing her hair with hissing snakes, ensuring that anyone who looked at her immediately turned to stone. (There are other legends, but I found it interesting that she was responsible for Medusa’s predicament.)

Our destination, Caunes-Minervois, is a small medieval town celebrated for its ancient Benedictine abbey founded twelve centuries ago in 790.

Charlemagne confirmed the right of Abbaye de Caunes-Minervois to its land in 794, and the church was consecrated between 806 and 820. It was dedicated to Saint-Pierre and Saint-Paul (Apostles Peter and Paul).

Unfortunately, the young abbey had no relics, those holy bodies whose presence was a guarantee of material and religious expansion. (Remember all the stuff I told you about relics in Conques and how important they were?!)

In 982, the first mention was made of the discovery of tombs by some peasants near the river. The monks declared the remains were martyrs of the Roman period. This was the beginning of the cult of the relics of the four holy martyrs of Caunes: Amans, Luce, Audalde, and Alexandre. Saint Genès, the patron saint of the parish, joined them after the French Revolution.

With this acquisition, the abbey quickly became a place for processions where pilgrims came to make offerings and celebrate the martyrs.

Shocking disclosure: Their presumed acts of martyrdom seem to have been fabricated from older sources concerning homonymous martyrs whose existence is not further established. (Perhaps they should have stolen some relics instead!)

They still have the reliquary containing these relics of the "Holy Martyrs of Caunes" that have been honored since the 10th century, and are taken out and promenaded around the village on their feast day—that tradition has not changed.

The high altar was carved by Italian craftsmen in the 18th century out of white Carrara marble and also some interesting crimson veined marble that seemed to be everywhere.

Through periods of prosperity and periods of decline, the abbey spanned the centuries and was designated a national monument in 1916.

Its wealth grew considerably when it confiscated property from Cathar heretics, and the early church was eventually covered over by the current building, the expansion partially paid for by the Albigensian crusade.

Its architectural mix includes Romanesque (11th-12th century: the apse, the towers) and Gothic (13th-14th centuries: the nave and the porch). Its curved Romanesque chevet at the back of the building is its biggest draw card, said to be the oldest in the Languedoc region.

Whilst doing restoration work, archaeological excavations revealed an old gallery under the current cloister that are the remains of the first medieval cloister, built around the 12th century with a traditional calade (pebble pavement) floor and trickling sacred well. It’s kind of cool to descend into that crypt and commune with the ghosts and walk where they walked in life.

The site is rather sprawling, with a disappointingly plain cloisters in the center of the complex’s interior.

Its lack of features is compensated for by a tiny museum containing architectural elements that remind one of what used to be here, and how it probably looked centuries ago when intricate carvings beckoned from every corner.

Initially upon entering the storybook French village of Caunes-Minervois, we couldn’t help noticing all of the amazing marble sculptures on display. The entire village seemed to be a sculpture garden! For instance, this bizarre marble sculpture reminiscent of a totem pole was mounted at the village perimeter, a weird border guardian that welcomes the visitor into the metropolis. Its reddish color is distinctive and eye-catching.

Likewise, marble blocks serving as benches were positioned outside the abbey, and the interiors were decorated with luxurious slabs of marble that seemed incongruous for a modest abbey church.

After touring the abbey, we strolled to the tourist office to find out more, and learned all about Caunes-Minervois marble and its connection to the village. We discovered that a sculpture garden was situated alongside a tributary nearby, so we took a pleasant stroll there to take a closer look.

The quality of the artwork nestled within this urban sculpture park was stunning… These pieces were remarkable, the artisans having done great justice to their material.

After wandering throughout the sculpture park, we decided to take a short drive and visit the nearby quarry.

The story goes that a Roman centurion was returning from the wedding at Cana, bringing back amphoras (clay containers) filled with wine. Arriving in Caunes, a thief stole them and fled to Terralbes, the “white lands.” But he stumbled, and the amphoras shattered! Wine spilled onto the limestone, dyeing the marble a crimson color.

In truth, its red color comes from iron oxides in the limestone that formed slowly in the heart of the mountain 400 million years ago—but as usual, I like the legend better.

It turns out that Caunes marble has been used to decorate buildings worldwide, including the Palace of Versailles, Paris Garnier Opera House, the Louvre, and even the Arc d’Triomphe, having been transported there along the Canal du Midi, although Romans and medieval sculptors got their hands on it first, and traces of this substance are found in building decor all over Europe.

The quarry was named the Carrière du Roy ("the King's Mines") after its most prestigious client, Louis XIV, and some quarries are still in operation today. The road to get there is dotted with sculptures, and another sculpture garden stands off to the side of the road.

The tourist office had alerted us to a “chapel” nearby that might be worth visiting, named Notre Dame du Cros, or Chapel of Our Lady of Cros. Another legend ensues! Well, several.

They say the statue of a virgin was found in the hollow of a rock on the site of the current chapel. Since the area was deserted and far from the village, the statue was transported to Caunes-Minervois, but every night the statue disappeared and returned to that hollow in the rock. They tried to build a chapel to contain it, but all the work done each day was systematically destroyed in the night. Finally, someone threw a marble hammer in the air, and it fell on the very spot where the church now stands. (This legend of a hammer is often found in old Christianized pagan sanctuaries.)

Another version of the chapel’s “origin story” dates to the 6th century. A shepherdess had a feverish child, and she came upon a spring burbling up at the foot of a cliff. Her sick child drank from it and was healed immediately. Three small chapels were built as a sign of recognition, and the sacred spring became a place of pilgrimage for those seeking remedy for fever, eyesight, and general maladies.

A larger chapel had to be built as the number of devotees grew. Pilgrimages and processions were organized on a regular basis to coincide with religious rituals.

But nothing the tourist office said prepared us for the ornate interior of this church!

The chancel is lavishly decorated with paintings framed in Caunes marble, and the beautiful communion table, pulpit, and font are all made of marble with touches of gilt dating to the 12th, 15th, and 16th centuries.

Behind me in the picture above, off to my left, you can pick out a white icon box with a cross on top… it contained a Madonna and Child figure, both wearing crowns, that caught my fancy. Here’s a picture I snapped through the glass front. I think they’re carved from wood, and I found the pair quite charming.

Robin narrated a 4-minute video of the interior so you may view the chapel vicariously. The link is here:

On Thursday I presented my APTi Conference Zoom session at last! We were so lucky that our internet was stable for the duration of the event. I was terrified we might suffer another cyber attack, and then APTi would refuse to work with me ever again.

But the session went great, and I believe I covered ground nobody has covered before in the type community, at least not in this way. I also brought the session in on time (another big fear I was harboring).

What the attendees don’t know is that I covered about a fifth of the material I had accumulated to work with, so perhaps down the road I can offer to present Part II of “Jung, Art, and Typology.”

APTi will be selling recordings of the conference sessions, so if you feel like you missed out, it’s not too late! You may still buy the sessions electronically. (I’m hearing reports the other sessions were amazing.)

One attendee emailed me to observe: “Your program Thursday was a stunning tour de force! It was so full of rich material, I was galloping along to keep up! I wish we had more time to fully relish it all. I felt swept along a marvelous SW French buffet filled with food for thought. I’m looking forward to the recording so I can experience your program again! I know I need a couple of run throughs to unpack all of the material! In fact, I’m meeting with my partner to review the exercise and your presentation. The art was perfectly chosen to illustrate your points. You certainly evoked the spirit of Jung—he would have been proud of your energy and passion!”

Boy, that filled my heart with joy. She really got what I was aiming for.

The good news is that we’re going to do it again! Not the same topic though—I’m presenting a different APT session—this time for the BAPT (British Association of Psychological Types) conference! This one is titled “Ambiversion: Fact or Fallacy?” exploring the term ambivert, which has become a hot topic on social media in typology groups. Many people like to proclaim they are neither introverted nor extraverted, and latch onto ambiversion as a sort of safe middle ground between the two. I will present some research I’ve done into this phenomenon, and plan to debunk some misapprehensions about it.

Here’s a 2:15 promo video I created:

If you wish to register for this conference, we’d love to have you! The link is:

I’m going to leave matters here for now—please send us good weather juju so we can go out and do more sight-seeing sans snow.

Until next time, -Dr. Vicky Jo

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