Advent Day Twenty-three
Seeing the light
Light is important at this time of year, and with the solstice this week, we (in the northern hemisphere) can celebrate those precious extra minutes of daylight each day. In the nativity, it was a bright light that announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds and even with the energy crisis, Christmas lights are popping up everywhere. These can be anything from a simple advent candle to a house and garden flashing away and visible from space. In the last few weeks, my Mum has attended a couple of Light up a Life services where candles have been lit to remember loved ones who have died this year.
Our region of France has a small number of unusual historical features called lanternes des morts. These lanterns are tall, thin needles of stone with a cross and an opening at the top, that date from the 11th to 13th centuries. Traditionally found in cemeteries, they were lit when someone died and are thought to have helped guide the soul to its final place of rest. Many were destroyed during the Revolution and others were lost when the original cemeteries they were constructed in were moved to larger plots further out of town, meaning those still in existence are quite rare. There is one in a cemetery in Poitiers that when we drove past it this week, I noticed was lit. As there is still quite a lot unknown about them, I find them fascinating and will always try to detour a bike ride to visit one.
This year we have also seen the one in La Souterraine, in the Creuse and Sarlat, in the Dordogne. In La Souterraine, the lantern is fairly typical, with a hexagonal column, topped by a pyramid and a cross and set in the centre of the cemetery, although it’s only been in this location since 1850.
The one in Sarlat differs to most of the others we have come across as it has a domed roof, typical of the Perigordian church turrets, and is much larger and more rounded. It is said to have been built to commemorate the miracle of Saint Bernard de Clairvaux and the healing loaves. Returning from the crusades, according to the legend, St Bernard passed through Sarlat and blessed bread that went on to cure the sick or injured who ate it. It is certainly worth a visit if you are in Sarlat.
I’ve had a lightbulb moment this week and am now convinced that not only do I feel better and sleep better if I’ve been out on the bike, but that there is also a direct correlation between pedalling and my brain’s ability to remember things. Basically, for every day without a bike ride, my brain cells are dying off - eek!
On this day in 1888 Vincent Van Gogh cut off his left ear. Was it madness or because of an argument with Paul Gauguin? Or maybe it was the stress of Christmas that drove him to it, or simply the fact that he hadn’t been out on his bike.