Thursday, July 1, 2010

Aucamville Project 7: Notre Dame de Boisville

The Aucamville Project began, ironically, with a little ditty on a chapel (ND de Aubets) that isn't even in Aucamville, but the neighboring commune of Le Burgaud. Today we continue to break municipal boundaries with a brief essay about the chapel of Notre Dame de Boisville, which is just across the border with the commune of Verdun-sur-Garonne. The first part of this post is mostly an adaptation from a brief pamphlet prepared by Les Mariniers de Notre Dame de Boisville (The Mariners of ND de Boisville), an association formed to preserve the site.

Some History

The chapel itself sits on a hill overlooking cultivated fields and the D26 between Verdun and Grenade.

Although the Garonne River now flows calmly past about 100 yards or more distant, it once flowed around the base of this hill. Before the dams and floodgates which did a lot to tame the river, this was apparently a trickly place to navigate; the legend of its founding reflects this.

According to the legend, some sailors were making their way down the river and encountered trouble; their efforts to make their way to shore were stymied and they risked sinking into the raging waters. Fortunately for them, a statue of the Virgin they were transporting pointed to the place where they could safely escape the torrent. The sailors, grateful, erected a chapel on the spot.

Another version of the legend has it that the sailors were cruising along when their boat became
inexplicably becalmed. Attempting to use poles to free themselves, the sailors found themselves entirely immobilized. The statue of the Virgin then pointed to where they should go. For some reason, a statue coming to the rescue wasn't enough for these mariners, so they continued their futile efforts. The statue pointed three times before they decided to make their way over to the place where the chapel stands today.

This spot sits at the confluence of the Margestaud and St. Pierre streams and was and ideal spot for a village. Boisville was apparently quite sizable for the Middle Ages but there are few vestiges remaining. Some large dressed blocks and pointed stones still form one wall of the chapel; these are the remnants of a small 12th century castle. Except for these stones the chapel today is entirely a renovation. It was ruined in the Wars of Religion but rebuilt in the 17th century. It was restored again and enlarged in 1888; the façade with small bell-wall dates from this time.

Boisville was dependent upon Cistercian abbey of Grandselve, which exercised considerable influence over this entire area. Alas, the abbey was razed during the Revolution and only the Gatehouse remains. Around 1350 nearby Grenade grew in prominence and Boisville began to be depopulated, but the chapel remained.

Local legend has it that the statue was a Black Virgin, burned during the revolution. The current polychrome statue dates from the 17th century. People make a pilgrimage there every year on the Sunday after Pentecost.

The Diocese of Montauban adds some more information. One might assume that Boisville meands roughly "Woodville" (Bois = Wood) but apparently its is a patronym from the Germanic "Boso". (This sheds perhaps new light on the origin of the name Aucamville; is it from "auca"-- duck, or as others have it from a Germanic name: Auka?)

Another name for the Virgin is Notre Dame de Bon Secours (Rescue). Apparently, between Aucamville and Bon-Encontre, this chapel was one of many "sacred relays" erected a point in the river considered espcially dangerous for navigation.

This chapel is small: 12m by 5m and the bell-wall is 10m in height. It also serves as a funerary chapel (I can attest to this, although the marked graves of local aristocrats have been replaced by an unmarked ossuary to house all the remains found at the site--where or even if the aristocrats -- de Marveille, de Saint Blanquat -- were removed elsewhere I don't know). The chapel is pretty much barren as its trappings have all been stolen, especially in recent years; hence the chapel is always locked.

The diocese site reaffirms that the orignal statue venerated there was a Black Virgin and was replaced by the current 16th century polychrome Virgin and Child in 1802. This Virgin is said to specialize in the protection of children, the prosperity of property and the salvation of souls.

Some Jibba Jabba

Even though largely discredited and for the attentive reader an offensive display of creeping assertion and wild speculation disguised as serious history, Holy Blood, Holy Grail (HBHG) is a great read and it's hard not to be captivated by its central thesis. Indeed, the spectacular success of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, which borrows liberally from the former, is to our way of thinking a demonstration of the power the thesis exerts. Namely, that Jesus and Mary Magdalene married and had a family that continues to exist today.

HBHG asserts that after the crucifixion, Mary Magdalene made her way to France. This legend is not the authors' invention; it dates back to the Middle Ages and is a well-entrenched part of the folklore of Provence. What the book claims is that this bloodline became the founding dynasty of what would become France, the Merovingians (457-751 CE). This proved to threaten the power of the Church who thus betrayed the bloodline and tried to kill off all of Jesus' descendants. Thus in 1099 we find the creation of the Priory of Sion, who created the Knights Templar as a front and as both a military and financial arm.

As a novel, it's a marvelous work. As a serious history is more than a little flawed. The Priory of Sion itself seems to have been an elaborate joke; it's pretty much a dead letter as far as its central theory goes.

Whatever the case, my first encounter with the chapel was redolent of imagery which linked back to HBHG and I must imagine that some of this was set up by people who are familiar with the mythos.

First, let me state that I'd heard of the chapel from a neighbor and that unlike the Chapel of St. John the Baptist of Margestaud, which I found immediately, this one eluded me. Then one day I simply happened upon it. I'd passed it a dozen times and had never grokked it. Hidden in plain sight, as it were.

The first thing I noticed was that in the clearing before the chapel there is a small sign that says "Attention - Bees - Ay!...That stings!..." Now that I look at it, that alone sounds like one of the weird cryptic messages one comes across whenever dealing with the Priory of Sion and the Rennes-le-Chateau "mystery." Noon Blue Apples, etc. But it's pretty prosaic; there are actually beehives in the woods behind the sign. It's a simple warning.

The bees, however, were a symbol of the Merovingians. 300 were found attached to the robe of Childeric I when his grave was excavated in the 17th century. Napoleon had reproductions stitched to his robe when he was coronated in 1804. Resonance galore.

The chapel has an outdoor altar, made of a large slab of stone looking all the world like a dolmen. This is set next to a bifurcated tree which, as a friend told me later, has healing properties in French folklore. If one threads their way around the trunks in a proscribed number of figure 8s, it is supposed to recharge one's batteries, so to speak. Not that this is related to the HBHG story, mind you, but everyone I've taken to this site remarks on the unmistakable "pagan" ambiance of the place.

What really set me off onto this HBHG train of thought, however, is that on the cross behind the altar, decorated not with Christ but with Mary, as is common in these parts, there hung a medallion with the symbol of the Knights Templar! Who put it there and why, I cannot say. Was it a random visitor? Was it the owner of the site? (The chapel is on private property). Was it linked to the fact that the tombs were those of aristocrats? Were they a Templar family in the days of old?

On a later visit this medallion was gone (I'd been tempted to nick it for myself) and yet another visit found the cross smashed into pieces. It has since been replaced with a simpler cross--no Mary.

It was soon after that the marked graves of the aristocrats were removed and replaced with an unmarked slab.

All of this taken together could not but excite my imagination and any number of scenarios present themselves, from simple acts of vandalism by bored local youths or the result of a secret conflict between the descendants of Templars and their Catholic rivals. And anything in between, really. Keep in mind I know nothing and believe less. These are only enigmas because I am ignorant.

The abbey of Grandselve was founded in 1114 and became attached to that of Clairvaux in 1144/45. Clairvaux was founded by St. Bernard in 1115. It was Bernard who created the rule of the Knights Templar in 1128 and it was under his influence that the Virgin Mary, who had heretofore played only a minor role in Christian thought, was transformed into the primary intercessor between man and God.

"No one can enter Heaven unless by Mary, as though through a door" he wrote. Could this explain the distincly vaginal form of the church portal as it developed in the following years? Does the following medallion found at Boisville also evoke a woman's sacred gate?

Finally, the idea of the "Mariner" intrigues me. On the most obvious level, the mariner in Les Mariniers de Notre Dame de Boisville refers to the sailors who brought the Virgin to this spot. On another level there are tantalizing symbolic associations. The first of these is the Freemasonic body called the Royal Ark Mariners. Ostensibly this obscure appendant body refers to the story of Noah and the Flood, but for the life of me I can't find out why it is the "Royal" ark. If the ark carried Noah and the earth to a new beginning, could a "royal" ark be a metaphor for the grail? The grail, or "saint graal" aka "sang real" (royal blood) is, for the authors of HBHG, the bloodline of Jesus.

I've even seen it suggested that the Ark referred to is really the Ark of the Covenant, which some legends relate was brought back to France by the Templars. This last association would appear to be a fanciful misinterpretation as I haven't come across any Royal Ark sources making such a link. Plenty of legends say that the true mission of the Templars in Jerusalem was to investigate the ruins of the Temple, and that their goal was to find either the Ark, or the Grail. Or both, assuming they weren't one and the same.

The idea of the mariner is also linked with the legends that bring Mary Magdalene to France, via Egypt, from whence they were expelled or cast adrift in a small boat which made its way to what is now Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Sarah, a servant on that voyage, has been proposed as the real inspiration behind the Black Virgin; others have posited Mary Magdalene.

The identification of Mary the Virgin and Magdalen the whore brings me back to the half-serious question I posed above regarding St. Bernard's statement that "No one can enter Heaven unless by Mary, as though through a door". Is it then coincidence that one theory for the origin of the Black Virgin is that is grew from Bernard's statement that the phrase "I am black, but comely" (from the blatantly erotic Song of Solomon 1:5) referred to the Virgin Mary? Imagine my surprise then, when leafing through Ian Begg's Cult of the Black Virgin, I find this "The Ark/Grail is the symbol of the virgin whore wisdom, who mixes all things in an orgy of syncretism...." (p.52)

Having thus deftly conflated the Ark and the Grail, he also conflates the Ark of Noah and the Ark of the Covenant on the page prior. Like a women, all are vessels, symbolically linked.

To ask one final question regarding the link between mariners and the Virgin: What are we to make of the chapel at Rocamadour where there is a reproduction of its famous Black Virgin--in a boat? Keep in mind that another theory about the origin of Black Virgins is the iconography of Isis, who in addition to being seen ad infinitum suckling Horus, is elsewhere often depicted in a sacred boat, or barque. In fact, some medieval legends have it that the name Paris comes from the name Isis, or even means "boat of Isis." The head of the Priory goes by the title "Nautonnier" or "navigator" and apparently claim this comes from Sirius, which is said to guide the boat of Isis....

Heady stuff, to be sure; even the little chapels weave their way in an out of the Great Tapestry.

So, there you have it. Who'd a thunk such a miniscule blip on the map could lead to so many vast and perhaps unanswerable questions? Just another sunny day on the Laws of Silence.


  1. Hey, D -- Cool new look on the blog!

    Just back from playing some bluegrass, so haven't had a chance to read this yet but can't wait for it!

    You could say that I'm "giddy" with excitement ... but I'd never crack such a groaner.

  2. Yeah, I like the wider format. We can fool about with colors and text size, link color, etc. but this is pretty nice. The banner is a bit out of whack though.

    Anyway, I'm happy about how this post turned out. As usual, so many questions popped up; hope it's not too choppy. Many intersections with the forthcoming "Puelles" post and even the thing on Saint Héléna I sent you. The latter I have to tidy up and then send to the author to see if she approves of the translation.

    After that, I don't know if I can post it here or if the revue will make their own page for it.


    Since you started posting again, I'm finding myself recharged!

  3. Ahh, that's a great piece, Daurade, a wonderful micro-history, well-placed into a larger tapestry! Not at all too choppy. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Thank you!

  4. Coolio, thanks for the encouraging words. My biggest problem is that it ends too abrubtly, like a lot of stuff lately. Seems I'm not drawing any conclusions but merely opening up so many questions, not necessarily a bad thing.

    Just riffing along....


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