Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Virgin and the Cross

I've mentioned a few times recently (in comments anyway) that in the southwest of France we find crosses which have Mary at the center as opposed to a crucified Jesus.

For the Gid, who was pretty flabbergasted by this, I present a couple of photos of the phenomenon.

The first used to be a grave marker; a neighbor rescued it from the scrap heap and it's now in my possession.  Note the vegetal motif.  This one's been re-painted with rust-proofing paint.

The following image comes from Le Burgaud, a neighboring town I've mentioned previously; in this town there is a small chapel dedicated to Notre Dame de Aubets along with a sacred spring.  This second example is particularly striking.  The vegetal motif on the cross is less abstract and the cross itself like two logs lashed together.

A lot could be said on this topic but I've written so many things about Marial shrines lately I'm totally fuggered on it.  Suffice it to say that's it's pretty clear evidence of the thriving cult of Mary in France and may have something to do with pre-Christian goddesses of the crossroads such as Hecate and the Mater Larum, both of which, like Mary in the Cross (usually found as a grave marker--exhibit A--or crossroad marker--exhibit B), have associations with the afterlife. (previously).

Make of that what you will.


  1. Outstanding!

    I remain flabbergasted and agog.

    The vegetative motif is wonderful.

    In the second photo, the contrast is great: against the despair of the cross shines the beauty of the Virgin.

    In the first photo, the integration is great: look what you've done to the beauty of the Virgin mother, blasphemers...

  2. Yes, I think from the Protestant perspective, this is truly "alien", if I can use that word without any nasty connotations of being anti-Catholic. It just doesn't mesh. If I'm not mistaken, a Baptist church is adorned with a bare cross? I know in the Episcopal churches of my youth nary a Mary was present, let alone on the cross! I think this is the kind of stuff that causes fundamentalists to flip a lid. I should take more pics....the variety is impressive. I think their might be one in another nearby village which has the Virgin *and* Child. I'll have to double check.

  3. Old pal .sWineDriveR. had some trouble posting a comment so he emailed me with the following here with his permission:

    "I think in addition to the three etiogical suppositions you posit, fruitfully added could be "vestigial associative" -- namely that, to my knowledge, crossroads are places traditionally where travelers rested their ass, peasant vendors set up temp shop, tax collectors malingered, etc.

    Not sure if that is bullshit but I have a book on millenarianism in medieval Europe which mentions the phenomena several times in passing. Also, as I'm sure you have seen, in Mexico many footpaths or smaller road forks were often festooned with crap: flowers, idols, notes, dead prayers.

    The point being I guess, the hubbub at the fork is functionally the best place to engage travellers heading in both directions, and associative in the sense that this utilitarian value is eventually sensualized, mythopoetically speaking.

    Anyhow, just rambling -- enjoyed the piece."

    To which I responded:

    "I think that's also very probable and I'm kind of chagrined having not noted it, too focused on pagan survival and the dark side. Of course it's a hubbub, like we say now "the crossroads of America" or something to indicate it's a bustling center of transit, commerce. I think I mention that crosses were also used to indicate markets, market crosses they're actually called in England, and in another post I talked about the "perrons" of Flanders which indicated a certain market status, special rights I can't recall. Many of these pillars were topped with crosses. So deffo, good one, Tim. A good general reminder not to get so myopic in what I'm after.

    I know you're family wasn't "super Catholic", but what's your recollection of the status of Mary? Ever see her in a cross like that in the US? I can't recall seeing that anywhere but here. Hope all is well!"

    1. "Ever see her in a cross like that in the US? I can't recall seeing that anywhere but here."

      And I've done a fair bit of travellin' in predominantly Catholic I still wonder if this is something unique to Southwest France. And yes, I have seen images of crucified fmeale saints (Wilgefortis and Liberata, for example) but never Mary, not crucified, at the center....


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