AUCP students spent a springtime Saturday in la Camargue, a region of Provence known for its extensive wind-whipped flatlands and rich bio-diversity. Led by Provence Through Literature and Film professor Marie-Anne Rossignol, the outing highlighted the subjects, history and scenery described in works by prolific 19th- and early 20th-century Provençal author-poets Joseph d’Arbaud and Frédéric Mistral.
Poet Joseph d’Arbaud (1874-1950) fiercely defended the Provençal regional language, writing his works exclusively in his forefathers’ language. He was particularly attached to the Camargue, having left law school in Aix-en-Provence to become a gardian, a Camarguais bull-herder and wrote the majority of his works in and about the region.
In Marie-Anne’s class we read several of d’Arbaud’s poems. Since La Camargue doesn’t look anything like the parts of Provence that I’d seen before, the visit definitely helped me better understand his poems. It was really interesting exploring the landscapes where he wrote. Then we went to the beach, explored Saintes-Maries … it was a beautiful, chill day. – Amanda Flink, Barnard College
AUCP à la Camargue…
The outing began aboard a miniature train, giving students the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the Camarguais marshland flora and fauna – white camargais horses, bulls, flamingos and more. The exploration of the marsh continued on foot to get an up-close look at the horses and bulls!
The afternoon included an awe-inspiring visit to the village Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. According to local legend, three biblical Marys arrived at Saintes Maries in a small boat, crossing the Mediterranean Sea – hence the name: Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer or « Saint Maries of the Sea ». They were said to be Mary, mother of Jesus, Mary, sister of Lazarus, and Mary Magdalene.
The Camargue in general, and Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in particular, are associated with the Roma (French Gitans or Gypsies). Since medieval times the site has been a Roma pilgrimage and to this day, thousands come together each year to venerate Saint Sara.
This ancient tradition is somewhat of an an embarrassment to the Roman Catholic Church, as it is linked to the belief that Mary Magdalene was the wife or concubine of Jesus, and that she arrived at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer with their infant daughter Sara. This story has resurfaced throughout the centuries, notably with Raynaldus, a thirteenth century Church chronicler, who confirmed that the Cathars of the Languedoc regarded Mary Magdelene as Jesus’ concubine, and more recently in Dan Browne’s « The Da Vinci Code »…
AUCP students were in awe of the rich history and living legends of this beautiful, but unassuming, seaside village of the Camargue.
Did you know? La Camargue is:
- Western Europe’s largest river delta.
- Known for its white Camargue horses (camargais), Camargue cattle ( taureau) and its traditional gardians, Provençal cowboys!
- Home to more than 400 species of birds, including the flamingo.
- Symbolized by the croix de Camargue: faith (the cross), hope (the anchor), charity (the heart) and the cattle guardians (the tridents at the end of each cross).
- Where Fleur de sel de Camargue, a prized and delicate sea salt, is harvested by hand.
Photographs of the sunny day, below!
All photos by AUCP students themselves: un grand merci à Liz Silvia, Mamie Fennimore & Emma Thomasch!
Want to learn more about ‘Provence Through Literature and Film’? Check out our recent blog post on the class. For more information on AUCP regional excursions in the South of France, visit our website, or see other excursion-related blog posts!