Friday, July 17, 2009

Angelus at Châtelus

On the slopes of the Cournouze (see the above image in the Antipodes header), on the other side of the Bourne, there's a tiny white blob... which looks like this when photographed with a telephoto lens:

It's the center of the commune of Châtelus: a name that evokes the castellum (fortified residence) of a certain Lucius, maybe a Roman settler. The earliest surviving trace of the name of the commune was the term Castelucii in a document of the year 1100. The left-hand structure is the church of Saint Martin, which lies alongside the municipal building. Apart from that, there's little else in the village of Châtelus. The hundred or so residents of the commune are scattered over isolated properties.

Throughout the countless municipalities of France, there is usually a strict separation—both symbolic and material—between the architectural structures of the Catholic Church and those of the French Republic. At Châtelus, on the contrary, the church and the mayor's offices share a common wall, which suggests that they've always been good neighbors.

The municipal elections took place well over a year ago, but my neighbor Madeleine still speaks of Gilles Rey as the "new mayor" of Châtelus. One of the republican mayor's first operations was to repair the bells of the church.

The bells of Châtelus now ring out the Angelus at three moments of the day: 7.45 in the morning, noon and 7 o'clock in the evening. The chimes reach Gamone almost as clearly as if I were located in Châtelus.


  1. Your mention of the Angelus reminds me of the shocking events in Clochmerle ("Clochemerle Babylon") concerning Coiffenave the randy beadle, using monies "liberated" from Saint-Roche's collection box in order to entertain himself with the services of Fat Zozotte down the valley.

    It was Coiffenave's artistry with the bells that caused him to be reinstated in due course!

  2. I've often thought that traces of the general themes of Clochemerle and, later, the Don Camillo movies can still be found today in rural communities, not only in the Old World, but in Australia too, and probably elsewhere. Often, the storms in a teacup are based upon prejudices of a religious and/or political nature, but there can be variations on this theme. In a nearby village on the road to Grenoble, there's a sign indicating the direction of the church and the schedule of masses. A handful of anticlerical councilors succeeded in erecting an adjacent sign indicating the direction of the public toilets, and the big arrow on this second sign pointed directly at the church sign. This amusing juxtaposition remained in place for years. In the case of the ringing of the Angelus at Châtelus, I know the mayor quite well (since he used to work in a local agricultural store where I was a customer) and I believe that he's motivated primarily by the purely esthetic idea of preserving an ancient rural tradition. Personally, I find it pleasantly reassuring that the day is punctuated by chimes ringing out across the valley.