Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Rest In Peace, Monsieur N

After a cold night, this morning dawned very frosty but with glorious sunshine and a clear blue sky.Our local Catholic church at Taussac looked beautiful. Recently fully restored, the outside walls have been carefully re-pointed with a warm cream coloured chaum. The inside has murals on the walls, stencilled patterns and an impressive altar, re-gilded where necessary. The bells are functioning and played 'live' at the masses - not a recording in sight!

It is such a shame that it is no longer 'active' but at least it is available for baptisms, weddings and of course funerals.

And this morning was the funeral of our neighbour's father.

Monsieur N did not live around here but, when he was in good health, visited his son and family regularly. As friends of his son, many of us in the village had occasion to meet him and say hello. As his health deteriorated rapidly, he moved into a local Maison de Retrait so as to be near his son and family.

Today at the funeral, it was interesting. Virtually every family in our village was represented. We were all there not because we were close friends of Monsieur N but out of respect for his son, our friend. This is what happens down here. The majority of these people took time off work to be there. In a village like ours, you are there for each other at times like this.

We all contributed to a display of flowers - and they were lovely. Instead of the usual cut flowers you find in the UK, these were actual plants (in flower) and potted up into a large garden planter which will last indefinitely by the grave if looked after.

Later today, Mr N was to be cremated in Beziers. Outside the church, after the mass, we all kissed and offered our condolences to our friend and his family, and stood silent as the cortege left on its final journey.
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The pews in the church were a tight fit. Three people per pew was comfortable, four was a squeeze. But they were obviously originally designed for five people - locals must have been a lot thinner in those days!!

As a practising Catholic in the UK, I found it interesting to take part in a mass in France. Do you know that they do not kneel here? You stand for most of the mass, with only a few chances to sit down, and then only for a minute or so.

The arc heaters along the top of the walls inside the church, kept our upper torsos warm. But oh my feet were blocks of ice after 15 minutes! The cold stone floor really was not good to stand on wearing shoes with thin leather soles!!
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At the last local funeral we attended, after the mass we walked in procession behind the coffin to the cemetery. Each family has their own crypt I suppose you would call it.

The ornate stone tops are removed to expose the vault where other older coffins are then visible. The new occupant is placed inside and then the family followed by everyone else, file past to pay their respects. It was slightly disconcerting to be looking into the vault at not only the new coffin but also those going back goodness knows how many decades.

The file past of people then wends its way out through the cemetery gate where ALL the family are lined up - and you then kiss each family member three times on their cheeks and offer your condolences. All very formal and traditional.

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