09 September, 2010

In Camisard country.

I’m still offline at home, still trying to get back online, but life goes on. Plans and projects are unfolding as summer draws to a close. The village choir is meeting once again each Saturday morning, after the obligatory wakeup café noisette (expresso with a touch of milk) in the Bar/Café de la Place; I’m the modest soprano in the middle. The local library, where I work as a volunteer, has just received boxes of new books, to be readied for the shelves. I am preparing a yoga class, which I will be teaching at home, beginning a week from now; lots of re-reading of yoga texts, folding myself back into the old familiar positions and loosening up my body and the rest of me in the process. Oh, and that ear infection is finally, truly on the way out, at long last. Hallelujah!
This past weekend I made a new discovery: the Assemblée du Desert. Once a year, in a tranquil oak-filled glade a few kilometers down the way from the Bambouseraie, an open-air Protestant service is attended by thousands, of all ages. This service is really about ancient history.Briefly put: after the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685, France became wholly Catholic, and full-scale persecution of Protestants was officially sanctioned. The Royalists stripped Protestant Huguenots of everything they had. There were forced conversions and imprisonment and/or public executions of those who resisted and were caught. Protestants couldn’t even be buried in community (read: Catholic) graveyards, having to make do with their own separate plots.
In the rapidly escalating violence, the Cevennes, a sometimes inhospitable and somewhat wild land even today, became by its very roughness the place to which many, many Protestants fled, and from which Protestant peasant rebels, known as Camisards, made their desperate stand. The Assembly takes place next to the Mas de Soubeyran, the Luziers home of one of the most celebrated Camisard rebels lovingly turned into the Musée du Desert. The low-key, surprisingly moving annual service celebrates that complicated Protestant history, and remains an enduring symbol of the outdoor, clandestine nature of religion for many of the attendees’ forefathers. The history marks the character of this part of France, where Catholic churches are rarely found, and locals are often reticent toward outsiders, from whom they have learned, throughout history, to expect nothing but trouble. According to the newspaper, there were about 15,000 (of all ages) present at the Assembly this year...
Thankfully, my relationships with my (Protestant, Catholic and atheist) neighbors have developed in a distinctly more positive, open fashion. It helps to arrive with a pot of something homemade, ready to talk food and garden.


  1. Here in Preuilly-sur-Claise in the southern tip of the Touraine there was a strong Protestant presence that keeps our local archaeological/historical society intriqued. I doubt if there are many practicing Protestants in town now though, and the only remaining church is Catholic.

    Ironically, in the Touraine the 'desert' (ie the place of religious retreat) was usually a swamp.

    I couldn't agree more that being able to talk food and gardening wins over the neighbours like nothing else.

  2. I have such wonderful memories of the Cevennes.
    Close to Rodez and the area of Lodeve, I can imagine myself living there, between Sumene and St Hyppolyte-du-fort. Have you ever read Andre Chamson's books? One of them, I think it was "the road" was about the Cevennes. (My niece's maiden name was Hugenot and there is a french book, not easy to find about the kindness of the people from the region helping Jews in World war II).

  3. I forgot to add that on Facebook, under religion, I wrote : "different shape windows to look at the same light".


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