Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The Sleeping Beauty of Les Arcs-sur-Argens

The story of Les Arcs-sur-Argens' very own saint has always fascinated me, the more so because her mummified body lies in state - in a glass coffin, like the Sleeping Beauty - in her very own chapel.
Ste Roseline's body encased in the glass coffin inside the Chapelle Ste Roseline outside Les Arcs-sur-Argens.
Hers is the only mummified saint's body on display in the whole of France, which makes it very special, and to see someone who died nearly 700 years ago, preserved like this is really quite unique.

Three years ago, I attended a special service in the Eglise Saint Jean-Baptiste to commemorate her birth 750 years ago, on January 27, 1263. And recently, there was a pellerinage - pilgrimage - and service to bless the renovations recently completed at the Chapelle Sainte Roseline, which uncovered a series of frescos hidden beneath the plastered walls.
The gate where the 'Miracle of the Roses' occurred.

Roseline de Villeneuve grew up in the castle overlooking Les Arcs, eldest child of the fourth lord, Giraud II de Villeneuve and his wife, Agline de Sabran d'Uzes.

She was generous to the poor who crowded the castle gates and would ransack her father's provisions to give bread to those seeking alms. Although her father forbade it, she defied him and when she was just 12, he caught her with her apron full of bread rolls. But when he ordered her to tip them out, she let her apron drop and out fell an armful of roses.

It was to be her first miracle - and the Miracle of the Roses is commemorated on a plaque beside the gate where it is said to have occurred. St Roseline has always been associated with roses.

Le Repas des Anges - the 4-metre high mosaic by Chagall.
At 15 she entered a convent near Mt Ventoux and it was there when she was supposed to be preparing a meal for the other novices, that a second miracle took place.

She felt the presence of God with her and began praying - neglecting the meal preparation.

When the nuns arrived there was no food. As she begged their forgiveness, a group of angels came to her aid, laid the table and set out the meal.

The community was fed by the bread of angels.

This miracle is featured in a four-metre high mosaic, by the artist Marc Chagall in 1975, called Le Repas des Anges - The Angels' Meal - and I love to sit in front of it and contemplate the inter-weaving of colours - so much like a tapestry.

In 1285, she returned to the Monastery of Celle Roubard at Les Arcs where her aunt, Jeanne de Villeneuve was prioress. She would remain there for the rest of her life and eventually become prioress herself in 1300.

Sainte Roseline died on January 17, 1329, aged 65. She was buried in the convent grounds wrapped only in a shroud. A strong scent of roses began to emanate from her burial site.

Sainte Roseline's eyes.
Miracles occurred after her death and her body did not deteriorate.

Five years later, her body was exhumed to be reburied in the convent chapel - and they found her remains were in the same perfect condition as the day she died, in particular, her eyes.

Roseline's nephew, the Bishop of Digne, had her eyes removed and placed in a reliquary. But Louis XIV's doctor, hearing the story, doubted the eyes - still bright - were real, and pierced one of them to test it, causing it to immediately cloud over.

Her eyes can be seen today in a reliquary designed by artist Diego Giacometti, at the far end of the chapel - one visible but faded, the other occluded.

With the decline and closure of monasteries and wars of religion, Sainte Roseline's relics were 'lost' for 280 years, but re-appeared in 1614, still perfectly preserved.

Her body was put on display in a glass cabinet in the chapel beside her former convent, now the Chapelle Ste Roseline.

The abbey went into private hands in 1750 then was put up for sale in 1792, when the municipality of Les Arcs-sur-Argens was able to buy it with subscriptions raised by the town's inhabitants.

The chapel was then handed back for religious worship and in 1980 became officially a national Historic Monument.

St Roseline with her apron of roses.
However, her body, which has been kept in its consecrated chapel since 1894, has not stood the test of modern times. In 1994 the local priest noticed alarming deterioration.

Her remains were entrusted to the laboratory at the Centre Archeologique de Draguignan for testing, where it underwent reinforcement and restoration. It was returned to its place in the chapel in 1996.

Today the people of Les Arcs and surrounds make five pilgrimages a year - one of January 17 (the anniversary of her death); on the fifth Sunday in Lent; on Trinity Sunday (the anniversary of her body's exhumation); the first Sunday in August (in memory of the caretaking of the Franciscans from 1504 to1795) and on the nearest Sunday to October 16 (the old Grand Chartreuse celebration). They carry with them the gold-painted statue of their saint.

Set in a shady grove of century old chestnut trees, the Chapelle Ste Roseline is well worth a visit, especially if you are interested in history, stories of miracles and art.

Next to the chapel is the vineyard, Chateau Ste Roseline, set among acres of vines, where you can sample some top quality wines. In summer, you can also enjoy the domaine's annual sculpture exhibition - and classical music concerts in the large reception area.

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