As the walnut wine slipped down (you see acres and acres of walnut trees in this part of France) I began pondering why I’d just seen an information board inside the Abbey of St Antoine bearing the image of my old mate St James (he of Camino de Compostela fame)
My French is evolving. Well when I say evolving I mean shocking. But I did make out the word “Pelerin” which I reckon means pilgrim.
I assumed pilgrims made the trip to the abbey where some relics- bones- of St Antoine are kept in a silver casket behind the high altar
The waitress at the very agreeable restaurant in the abbey cloister confirmed that pilgrims do indeed turn up here.
But what she didn’t or couldn’t say in her limited English is that this appears to lie on one of the Camino routes through France. I almost shouted with delight when I spotted the yellow Scallop Shell sign that weeks ago guided me all the way to Santiago.
If the Camino does indeed come through this beautiful part of France I am very tempted to make the trip..
Talking of temptations St Antoine (St Anthony) himself is closely connected with the Camino
Born in Egypt he is associated with miraculous cures of skin diseases. This abbey became a hospital for those suffering from the Black Death
St Anthony’s Fire is a particularly distressing skin disease akin to leprosy bought on by eating mouldy barley.
At the monastery of St Anton on the Camino the monks used to cure pilgrims simply by giving them decent grub (though no doubt they ascribed it to the miracles of St Anthony. ) the giant arch of the monastery is still there. And holes in the gates where they used to leave fresh bread are now filled with messages asking for modern day miracles.
St Ant himself was an interesting fella
Seen as the first of the real desert dwelling hermits he was the son of wealthy land owning Egyptians
When he was 18 they died leaving him (and his sister) in luxury But taking Christ’s advice he gave away his land to neighbours, gave his money to the poor and sent his sister into a convent for”Christian virgins”
“Thanks a bunch Ant, it’s just what I always wanted” his sister probably didn’t say as Anthony disappeared into the Egyptian desert
Amongst his many trials and tribulations he spent years virtually walled up in an old Roman fort where disciples who wanted advice could only communicate through a hole in the wall
“Don’t do anything rash ,” I imagine would have been high on his advice list
One day he was walking in the desert when he came upon a pile of silver coins. Spurning them (temptation was a running theme with him ) he then passed a pile of golden coins – which he then threw into a fire
I’m tempted myself to imagine St Ant virtually starving and asking the Lord for help
“What did you do with those gold coins I sent you?” may have been the reply.
But it’s the story of the demons in the cave which leaves me baffled
Apparently there were so many of them that they beat the living daylights out of him. He was rescued by his servants and after his recovery from near death he asked to be taken back.
This time the demons appeared in the form of wild animals but just before they attacked a bright light appeared and they ran away
This being a celestial light , St Anthony (not unreasonably in my opinion) seems to have been a little cheesed off.
He asked the Lord why -if he could save him from the wild animals- he couldn’t have done the same with the hoodie-style Demon street gang
Basically – and I paraphrase- the Lord told him that he wanted to see how he got on with The Demons. A sort of ringside seat at the heavyweight title fight if you will.
Far from turning a bloodied and battered St Ant to the dark side it seems to have reinforced his faith.
His bones were taken to France by a knight who wanted to save them from the “Saracens”
Which is why they ended up in a French village on the Way of st James.