Friday, April 23, 2010

Aucamville Project 6: From the universal to the particular

Macrocosm and microcosm is an ancient Greek Neo-Platonic schema of seeing the same patterns reproduced in all levels of the cosmos, from the largest scale (macrocosm or universe-level) all the way down to the smallest scale (microcosm or sub-sub-atomic or even metaphysical-level). In the system the mid-point is Man, who summarizes the cosmos.

I think this just about sums up what I intend to do with this latest installment of the Aucamville Project. We've gone on at great length about many themes on LoS: obelisks, sacred stones, the Tree of Life, snakes etc. and there are a few things in town worth mentioning as they reflect this wider dialogue. As most of what needs to be said on the subject has already been said in other posts, I'm just going to present the local manifestations with a few bits of trivia and new observations, with a few personal comments thrown in.

The Virgin Mary and Satan: Smackdown!

In a very recent post (Jesus was in shape) we looked at the symbolism of the serpent and cross, or rod. By way of explanation we also looked at those images of the Virgin where Satan is vanquished under her foot. It's a rather common motif in the South of France. Near our village church there is a small plaza with a statue of the Virgin doing exactly this, vanquishing.

Although the discussion of Mary appears in a recent post, it comes from an article I wrote years ago about Daurade Basilica. You may have also noticed that Daurade Basilica is my namesake. This is because when I moved to Toulouse I lived in a quartier called Croix-Daurade (Golden or Gilded Cross). I then moved to the very center of town where my small quartier was simply called La Daurade, after the basilica. Although far from gilded these days, the orginal building was a Byzantine-style orthogonal church with Byzantine-style guilded frescoes; hence the name of my quartier and now, my moniker. Pretension is deflated when you realize a Daurade is also a tasty fish--the gilt-head breem.

If you check out the English Wikipedia entry on the basilica, there is a column from the original church (400 to 600 CE) with a striking vegetal motif--stone and tree become one.

Our own statue of the Virgin is missing her left arm, smashed apparently by a stone-throwing mysterious stranger (according to a friend who lives next to the plaza). Oddly, I already had (and still have) a small icon of the Virgin, missing her left arm. I'm left-handed, too.

Pole Dancing with Snakes

It occured to me that the portal of the village church is flanked by two small pillars on each side. This is not unusual but is yet another example of the use of in this case not structurally necessary pillars to demarcate the threshold of a sacred space. The capitals of these pillars are sculpted in the form of dragons, or serpents. Though not specifically wrapped around the shaft of the pillar, as in the aforementioned post, there is an evocation of said image, at least in my mind.

Just for kicks, here's a link to some sexy women with serpents.

St. Blandine Chapel: Got Milk?

This chapel was razed during the Revolution and sold off for the building materials. For some reason, pregnant women and wet nurses went to this chapel to pray for abundant milk. Incidentally, pregnant women also go to the Black Madonna at the Daurade to ensure a smooth delivery and for the well-being of their newborns.

Blandine's legend doesn't seem to have anything to do with breast milk. She is the Patron Saint of those falsely accused of cannibalism, however. Her martyrdom was particularly gruesome: roasted alive and then thrown to wild bulls, still living. None of this may be so out of place after all. Local icon Notre Dame de Boisville is still solicited for the protection of children and martyrdom by bull is a potent image in Trans-Pyrenéan culture, especially here: Patron of Toulouse Saint Sernin was martyred by an angry bull. Additionally, a rather large number of Black Virgins are reputed to have been discovered due to the strange behavior of bulls, whether they were especially averse to or attracted to where the Virgins lay hidden.

In any event, the site of the chapel is now marked by a roadside cross which when viewed casually appears to have a serpent coiled around it. In fact this is a ribbon and vines. But still it too reminds us of the rod/cross and serpent motif described in our recent post, as well as another link to the vine imagery once associated with the Daurade. Off the cuff, one could in times past rent the belt of the Black Madonna, a kind of glorified ribbon, to lay over the belly during childbirth. Given what the Virgin crushing the snake implies (again, please see Jesus was in shape), could it be that the serpent, the ribbon and the vines are all symbolically linked to one another, as a way of reminding the faithful of the origins of sin and the ways to defeat it?

Monument aux Morts

This section doesn't merit a funny title. Every town has one of these monuments, often in the form of an obelisk, a form you may recall occupied a lot of our time in 2009. Strictly speaking, in Aucamville, it isn't an obelisk. It's as if Aucamville went for the bargain model and got a 2D version. Viewed from afar it's an obelisk but close up one can see that the pyramidion atop the column only has two slopes and is flat.

You can also see that there are quite few names on it (25 WW1 dead). I'm not sure of the population at this time but in 1954 it was 756 and in 1999 was 790. One can only surmise that during the Great War there weren't many more, there may have been less. It is an indication of what an effect the war must have had on people, no one was immune. Which is why I get a little miffed when people slam the French as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" for the Second World War. After having 11% of your entire population killed or wounded twenty years prior might make one less enthusiastic about the prospect of doing it all over again. To put this in persective, US casualties amounted to one-third of one percent of the overall population. Not quite the same psychic shock.

Not to downplay US casualties. My great-uncle Tom Sanders was KIA during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive on September 28, 1918 (my birthday). His brother John made it out alive--barely. Hospitalized and medically discharged as a result of exposure to gas, he died a young 47 years old a result of the stress to his heart.

Sadly my great-uncle and over 26,000 other men died as a result of poor leadership and being thrust into battle while too green; they fought this battle not because they were ready, but because they were near the area.

This all took place near Verdun, in the north. Incidentally, Aucamville is 7 kliks away from Verdun-sur-Garonne. Some American men came to France for adventure and found death. I came here and started a new life.

That is all.


  1. Great post, Daurade. Sorry to have been so silent during your Aucamville postings. My silence wasn't a commentary on the posts, just a function of me being particularly busy right now.

    Anyhow, while this post warrants long musings, let me offer two quick reactions:

    1. You asked: "could it be that the serpent, the ribbon and the vines are all symbolically linked to one another, as a way of reminding the faithful of the origins of sin and the ways to defeat it?" That's a really interesting question. You could generalize it even further by conflating the rod with straight and the snake/vine/ribbon with winding/twisted. For example, we say, "Give me the straight truth" and "Stop twisting the truth". I can think of many more examples -- but I can't generalize an explanation. Why do we (or at least English speakers in the U.S.) associate "straight" with good and "twisted" with bad?

    2. Regarding the WWI deaths--I'm really morbidly curious about the interplay between the Spanish Flu & WWI. Obviously the French died more (rate) than Yanks because they fought longer and fought at/by home. Less obviously, I suspect that the flu flourished in war zones. This is not a disagreement with your observations at all--just me and my vivid imagination conjuring up the human body as prey for tiny creatures that we cannot see.

  2. 1. I may have actually thought of that without it sticking, but it's a good point to make. Good example of straight versus twisted. One could also point out the gay/straight thing. In the UK someone "bent" is gay and I've heard the term "bender" for gays in the US. Also straight as in the Scouts: "morally straight" etc.

    Also, straight would be associated with design, building, something made by a "reasonable" mind whereas sinous and irregular more of a "natural" series of forms?

    2. I'm pretty sure the 11% figure refers to war dead and wounded; the Spanisg flu deaths would then have to be added on to that!

    BTW, in Aucamville, the number on the monument would represent a solid 3% of the population, at least.

    Am I correct in remembering the death toll from the flu exceeded that of the war itself?

    That photo makes the Aucamville monument look like a cicumcised penis, the laurel where the foreskin was rolled back and cut.....very phallic, even among obelisks. I hadn't noticed it until I snapped the photo.

    Also, I know your not commenting on these post isn't a dis!

  3. Snake imagery means a lot of things. It can represent the spiral, or the umbilical cord, which connects the baby to the mother. The snake then would represent our connection to the the earth. the story of the garden of eden would be one that demonizes that connection. i think it can also represent the labyrinth. Is it theseus who threads the labyrinth? or Daedalus? Vines, leaves, floral motifs, serpents, all are symbols of the old pagan religions, retained by Christianity.

  4. Theseus threads the labyrinth, with the help of Ariadne.....

    I've been wanting to write a post on my route to work, which includes three expressways (among the labyrinth) called "the Milky Way", the "Rainbow" and...."Ariadne's Thread." Evidently the planners of these roads have a sense of humour.

    But for me there's always been something else, the connection of earth and sky (Milky way being both in the sky and another name for the Way of St. James), means of navigation among the morass, etc.

    This of course made all the more resonant for me in that there are walls at the sides of these roads. When we enter via an onramp, or where one of these roads ends and another begins, the walls terminate in triangular shapes which looks as if the routes are demarcated by small pyramids....

    Haven't gotten around to that one yet!


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