Photo & Essay #3: The Hidden Chapel

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I’ve been looking forward to this Saturday. One of the inconveniences of working from home is being at home for prolonged periods of time, so when the weather forecast predicts warmth and sun on a Saturday, then us home-workers cross our fingers, toes and eyes in hopes that the predictions are true and that nothing will stand in our way of stepping out of our self-made home-prison. My eldest has got a cold and my husband was feeling stressed, so I was debating whether our planned promenade was a good idea, but finally I decided to rile up the troops and despite the general grumpiness that prevailed in our household we managed to leave the house.

Today we went hiking around Collias, a small picturesque village by the river Gardon. We’ve been here many times, as it is one of my favorite places in the area. It’s one of those spots where one feels good. I don’t know whether it’s the vibes, the ever-present murmur of the river, or just the general feel-good sensation when leaving the city for greener pastures, but Collias has made its way into my heart with its white, almost sparkling pebble beaches and rich flora. It is a very ancient village that dates back to whatever Gaulish tribe that used to live here, probably due to the presence of a source, numerous caves and caverns and of course to the river itself. The area around the village also hides plenty of little nooks and corners and surprises. Today we walked to a “secret” 12th century chapel that was built on the ruins of Gaulish sacred grounds and Ancient Roman temples dedicated to Jupiter, Mars and Minerva. It was also home to numerous hermits who have isolated themselves to ponder on philosophy and spiritual metaphysics, the last hermit to have lived there died in 1839.  The chapel is pretty well known to the locals, but it is hard to find as there are no clear indicators pointing the way.

It’s the first time that we hiked all the way to the chapel with the kids. It’s a 40 minute walk from the parking lot without children, so we weren’t expecting to reach our destination, but once hey heard that a “secret castle” was waiting for them at the end of the road, they got very excited about reaching it. In fact it was a miracle, we barely heard any complaining, and once we got to our goal they thoroughly explored every little corner of their “secret castle”. The chapel itself is small but it has got a powerful sacred aura around it. The ceiling is covered with ancient paintings that have been mostly chipped away with time and on the wall facing the door a barely recognizable Virgin Mary carved in stone (may be dating back to 12th century). There is a large stone table below the ancient statue, and it is covered with photos, prayers passionately jotted down on pieces of paper, plastic figurines of Virgin Mary, dried flowers and candles. Obviously the chapel is still sacred to many people who come here to pray for their loved ones. Next to the chapel there is a house with only two very dark, humid and bare rooms. This is where the hermits used to live and apparently people still go there at night as it smelled of stale fire smoke and there was a dirty blanket on the floor.

We snacked and played by the chapel, gathered some wild rosemary, thyme and asparagus, and barely noticed the setting sun. On our way back it was getting dark but the birds sang loudly in the twilight. It’s strange, but whenever I’m in the forest I always feel like I’m being watched. But then of course we are never alone in a forest: the trees, the flowers, the insects and the animals are constantly observing our every step. My daughter tightly grasped my hand in hers and kept muttering something about wolves. I told her that there are no wolves in this forest and that she was safe with mama, papa and brother. But it didn’t seem to comfort her as she answered: “But our cat is not here…”

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The almost full moon was peeking through the branches of the trees. The atmosphere was magical as we felt a light buzz of primal anxiety filling our heads and tickling our skin with goose bumps. By that point, though, we had already reached our car…

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