Thursday, November 15, 2012

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 65

Le Puy-en-Velay, France

I usually have a few postcards waiting to take their place on postcard Thursdays but this card received recently from a friend who lives in France was moved forward because it is a lovely panorama as well as being interesting.  Also it is another Yvon edition as part of his La Douce France (Sweet France) collection.  His signature mark is just barely visible at the lower right corner.  The picture is of Le Puy-en-Velay one of the starting points on the pilgrim route called Chemins de Saint-Jacques (The Way of St. James) to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.  This walking pilgrimage is approximately 1600 kilometers or 994 miles long.  During medieval times the daily needs of the pilgrims were met by hospitals and hospices sort of like the hostels of today located at intervals all along the way.  Legend and tradition hold that the body of St. James had been transported from Jerusalem for burial in Santiago de Compestela. 

It was the most frequented pilgrimage in France.  Some pilgrims would gather at the cathedral in the morning to receive a special blessing before setting out while others simply started walking from their own homes.  Most walked the entire distance as penance or to receive spiritual blessings.  Today the route is still followed with many continuing to walk although others travel by different means including bicycle.  The symbol for St. James is the scallop shell that would be worn as a sign that they were pilgrims and thus be given permission to sleep in churches and ask for free meals.  It also had the added benefit of warding off thieves who were reluctant to attack devoted pilgrims. 

It is a bit difficult to see on the postcard but the statue of the Virgin Mary is found at the upper left and the Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe Chapel is on the hill across the valley.  The other main attraction is the Roman Catholic Cathédrale Notre Dame du Puy seen lower down the hillside to the right of the statue.  It is impossible to guess or imagine how these structures were built on the tops of those rocky pinnacles.  It is completely amazing.

This is a very old community with mention made as early as 250.  There is much Christian religious lore concerning Le Puy everything from the legend of St. George who was supposedly brought back to life by the touch of St. Peter’s staff and became one of the 72 disciples to the legend of the vision of angels that dedicated themselves to the Blessed Virgin, an apparition of the Blessed Virgin to a sick widow and other similar tales.   I find medieval history fascinating especially these religious legends or stories that must have first been shared orally.  Knowing a little about oral history and how there is often a kernel of truth at the root of such stories but also how things get distorted with time and retelling it makes me very curious to know exactly what inspired some of these legends. 

Charlemagne made two trips here one in 772 and the second one in 780.  Several other famous historical figures also made the pilgrimage including Louis XI who came three times and walked barefoot the final three leagues to the cathedral in 1476.  The church here was accorded special spiritual and temporal favors because of its fame. 

The statue of Our Lady of Le Puy managed to escape pillage and desecration until the time of the French Revolution in 1793 when it was torn from its shrine and burned in the public square.  Later Napoleon III gave the then Bishop 213 pieces of artillery and the current statue Notre-Dame de France was cast from the iron of the guns.  I thought it particularly interesting that the statute was created from weaponry but the Virgin Mary herself is always thought of as a symbol of love and compassion. The statue was dedicated in 1860 and is the one featured on the card above.

2012 Postage Stamp, France, Le Puy-en-Velay

This year [2012] France issued a series of beautiful stamps depicting various locations along the route to Compostela.  One of the stamps features the town and Cathedral of Le Puy-en-Velay.

For more information including the names of many of the famous people who undertook the pilgrimage and photos of the area please see:


Merci pour cette merveilleuse carte postale et timbre!
[Thank you for this wonderful postcard and stamp!]

 And now also for this wonderful burgundy colored stamp . . .

To my great surprise and delight my friend sent a much earlier stamp of Le Puy en Velay, seen below, that arrived in the mail today and shows a slightly different view so I thought I would add it to this post. 

Le Puy en Velay stamp, 1933

This stamp clearly shows the three tall spires and the rocky landscape.  It is marvelous!

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