Today we decided the weather was much too beautiful to stay inside all day, even if we’re being productive – so we climbed into our van and ambled out to a small nearby town called Penne d’Agenais. I’m continuously amazed at how movie-set-like these little medieval towns feel, which I realize is an incredibly American thing for me to say. However, these tiny cobbled streets with old crumbling houses set up on the hills are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The dichotomy between old and much, much older is stark, and I often have no idea what’s crumbling and abandoned and what’s actually a shop or someone’s home.
This town was awesome, and we decided to just keep following the roads up. There was a small, steep stone staircase we passed, and it looked very residential. One of my castle-companions, a digital nomad named Nicole, told me that “we’re tourists… we can go wherever we want!”
I’m glad I followed her, because the stairs took us to another steep road, which took us to the most amazing scenic lookout of the sprawling landscapes around us. There was also this gigantic crucifix at the highest point, which was both amazing and creepy.
At this point I truly adopted the mantra “explore everything”, so we kept on walking. I’m realizing more and more that you find the coolest stuff when you don’t actually know what you’re looking for. Further along the path, this time going down on the other side, we came upon a literal cave. Like a dark, scary, echo-y cave, set into the rock directly below the crucifix. Most of it was barren and empty, but around the side there was a prayer area, with this angel hanging around out front. She was like “Yo, I guard this cave. Come on in, you’re cool.”
Inside there was a bunch of candles, a small bed and a laminated story entirely in French. Even the best French speakers in our group could only make out that it was something about a small boy who was hungry and ran away, and Mary helped him find flour to make bread. Anyway, the point is, the caves of the wall were very porous, and hundreds of people had left little prayers in the crevices. We all took a moment to write something to leave inside the wall.
As we headed out, I told myself to be thankful I’m not sleeping in a cave next time the castle feels cold at night.
Next we found this amazing cathedral. It is called, as my blog post suggests, “Notre Dame de Peyragude.” It was way higher up on the hill than anyone would ever decide to build a communal building in the United States, but it was beautiful and very obviously a popular, regularly visited church. Like, people have to seriously trek up a hill to get here. That’s some hard core religious dedication.
The Catholic in me loves a good cathedral. The Catholic in me also had to google “jesus on a cross” to remember the word for “crucifix” earlier because I’ve only gone to church on Christmas and some Easters since about high school, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, this church was gorgeous, I feel like my dad and grandma would be proud whenever I visit one on a trip, and I know I enough about Catholic churches to not embarrass myself in one – even if I can’t speak the native language.
Or so I thought.
Look at how pretty it is! There wasn’t mass in session so I was able to just wander around, look at the stained glass, make the sign of the cross with their holy water, etc. I also noted that even when you’re on the opposite side of the planet, all Catholic churches smell exactly the same. It was the first really familiar scent I’ve experienced since I arrived.
There were prayer candles along the side of the church, so I decided to really make my elder relatives proud and get down with my Catholic self. Your prayers get to heaven faster, or something, when you send them with a prayer candle. I wanted to wish good health for both of my grandmas, so I put my 1 euro in the offering box, grabbed a little votive candle, and headed back to the shrine area where the others were already burning brightly.
I didn’t see any sort of lighting device, which comes standard in a lot of churches. I don’t carry a lighter or anything of the sort so I had a moment of cluelessness. But then I had a stroke of brilliance – light the candle with another candle! Of course!
I tipped my candle slightly over to the one beside it. It was going well for a second, and then the entire candle fell out of its holder, completely smothering the neighboring candle.
I was mortified. I didn’t know what to do. I JUST PUT OUT SOMEONE ELSE’S CANDLE. AM I GOING TO HELL FOR THIS? I RUINED SOMEONE ELSE’S PRAYER. I did the only thing I could think of, I picked up the wrecked candle, managed to light it on yet another candle, and then very, very carefully lit mine far, far away from the one I’d nearly ruined.
Pictured here is my candle, feigning innocence, right beside its arch-nemesis.
The candle to the left of the one I am pointing to is the one I almost killed, and the day-saving candle is the one on the top right. Mine is whistling guiltily and trying to blend in while suffering from imposter syndrome. I stayed a moment and said an extra prayer for the havoc I’d caused, then high-tailed it out of there.
So, Grandma, I’m very sorry. I promise I will never terrorize another Catholic church again. I said that prayer for you, so God knows you’re involved in this disaster. I hope he forgives us.