SPIRITUAL JOURNEY 2014: World-famous among the fans of Mary Magdalene: Rennes-le-Château

A journey on the trails of Mary Magdalene and her successors through the Languedoc – without visiting Rennes-le-Château – is impossible! After all the small mountain village is situated only a few miles from our castle hotel.

Over the centuries treasure hunters have been looking for the “Holy Grail” in and around the village and the small town also gained fame in the last 150 years owing to the legendary country curate Bérenger Saunière, who was an ardent worshipper of Mary Magdalene. Today I am going to show you the charming landscape around Rennes-le-Château, there will be more information on this place in the next blog entries.


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SPIRITUAL JOURNEY 2014: The famous Cathar castle of Quéribus

On Monday in the week of our spiritual journey we are going to discover the ruins of the Cathar castle which probably possesses the most beautiful view over Languedoc on foot. Already the ascent, which takes about 20 minutes and is not physically demanding, offers a breathtaking view over the placid line of hills right up to the Pyrenees. This mountain chain separates the South of France from Spain and many Cathars used to live in this region. (We are going to visit some of those Cathar caves in the course of our journey, a corresponding blog entry will be posted at a future date).

The castle of Quéribus provided refuge during the so-called Albigensian crusade (1209-1229), in the course of which the institutional Church cruelly persecuted the Cathars, because the castle luckily was never taken.

From up there one can see the small village Cucugnan, which was named after the same-named family in the possession of whom the castle was towards the end of the 12th century. They were friends with the Cathars and sympathised with their faith.

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SPIRITUAL JOURNEY 2014: Staying in the castle hotel. Is it really the “Château des Pommes Bleues”?

Those of you who have read the novel “The Expected One” by Kathleen McGowan might remember the often-quoted “Château des Pommes Bleues”, in which the protagonists of the book live. I think I have read somewhere that Kathleen McGowan drew her inspiration for the fictitious castle “Château des Pommes Bleues” from the castle and the modern-day hotel „Château des Ducs de Joyeuse“ in Couiza.

However that may be: In the Languedoc region this is the only hotel far and wide which meets my expectations on a seminar hotel, therefore, we are going to stay there with our tour party for five days. Maybe there still is a castle ghost somewhere? Maybe we are going to put one or two things straight energetically in those rooms, who knows? The fact is, at the same time as us an American group is going to stay at the hotel. They are going to walk in the footsteps of Mary Magdalene in Languedoc as well. We are already looking forward to a lively exchange of ideas.

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SPIRITUAL JOURNEY 2014: What I have discovered at Saint Hilaire

If you leave Carcassonne and drive south through the placid rolling hills and the picturesque vineyards, you reach the abbey Saint Hilaire (Hilarius). The monastery dates back to the 9th century and for a long time was inhabited by monks who stood under the patronage of the counts of Carcassonne.

During the crusades in the Middle Ages, in the course of which the institutional Church tried to obliterate the Cathars, also the monks of St. Hilaire, who were close to the Cathars, were accused of blasphemy. Therefore, their monastery was destroyed. The Romanesque-Gothic church and the beautiful cloister are especially worth visiting.

However, what I consider to be the most exceptional is the semi-relief which represents Jesus hugging a woman and a woman sitting next to him. Who this woman is with whom Jesus is represented to be very familiar, is a question that should be answered by everyone himself. In the course of our SPIRITUAL JOURNEY 2014 I am going to show this beauty spot to the participants.

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SPIRITUAL JOURNEY 2014: How Carcassonne came by its name

Once upon a time the castle of Carcassonne was inhabited by a lady named Carcas. Rumour has it that she wangled to end the long lasting siege of the castle through Charlemagne. When nearly all the food supplies had been consumed and the inhabitants of the castle town came near suffering death by starvation, she ordered the last pig to be fattened and to be thrown across the castle walls. The enemies fell for this trick and thought that the castle still was far from being conquered, since the inhabitants obviously still had enough to eat and were not starving. Resignedly they withdrew. Subsequently, Madame Carcas let the bells chime in order to make peace with Charlemagne. Her stone bust can be admired in one of the gateways until the present day.

Carcassonne is a mere tourist village with about 250 inhabitants, the other residents stay in the town for touristic reasons only. In 1997 the beautiful old castle town with its double castle wall was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

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SPIRITUAL JOURNEY 2014: The castle town Carcassonne

The castle town Carcassonne in the heartland of the Cathars is so tawdrily beautiful that it served Walt Disney as a model for the castle in his movie “Sleeping Beauty”. Plunging oneself into the throng of people within the castle walls one is taken back to the Middle Ages immediately. Then one is standing in a small town, which hides behind mighty battlements which have already given shelter and security to the Cathars.

Already in the Middle Ages this faith group, of whom it is said that they have the same origin as the Essenes, has been a thorn in the institutional Church’s flesh, since they refused unwaveringly to acknowledge Jesus as God’s son, but “merely” considered him to be a very enlightened human being. Also gender equality was one of their big concerns and, therefore, male as well as female itinerant preachers propagated the Word of God.

Also the inhabitants of Carcassonne had to make a heroic stand against the superior troops of the king of France and the Pope, nevertheless, the fortress was won in 1209. In the course of our spiritual journey 2014 we are going to have plenty of time to explore Carcassonne and to follow the tracks of the Cathars.

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SPIRITUAL JOURNEY 2014: The Cathars in Toulouse

During the Albigensian Crusades in the Middle Ages the counts of Toulouse were on the side of the “dissenters”, namely the Cathars, who are often mentioned in the same breath with Mary Magdalene and her successors. The town originally carried the epithet “city of hundred towers” and in the course of the religious wars the counts of Toulouse supported those who were persecuted for their faith and harboured them. Hence the town was number one on the hit list of the king of France and the Pope. Although the inhabitants of Toulouse were able to brave the siege for some time, they ultimately had to bend to the superior numbers of the attackers.

We are going to begin and end our spiritual journey through Languedoc in Toulouse. Those who know me well won’t be surprised to hear that I have chosen two beautiful hotels, so that the delightful and aesthetic parts do not go short. On the last day of our circular tour we are going to have the opportunity to visit the most interesting buildings and places in Toulouse, and there is going to be ample opportunity for shopping and rambling about the city.

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SPIRITUAL JOURNEY 2014: Toulouse is much more beautiful than its reputation!

Es gibt so viele eindrucksvolle Orte, Landschaften und Plätze im Languedoc, der südwestlichsten Provinz von Frankreich, dass es mir sehr schwer fiel, eine Reiseroute mit den schönsten spirituellen Highlights dieser Region zusammenzustellen. Das größte Fragezeichen stellte sich mir bei der Überlegung, an welchem Ort wir die Rundreise beginnen würden. Denn die Bilderbuchstadt Carcassonne, die wir  besichtigen werden, kann nur aus  größeren mitteleuropäischen Städten direkt angeflogen werden. Jene Reisenden also, die aus  kleineren Flughäfen kommen, müssten mit einem Zwischenstopp in Paris nach Carcassonne weiterreisen. Und wer das Umsteigen am Pariser Airport “Charles de Gaulle”  schon einmal genossen hat, der weiß, dass er auf  Abenteuer dieser Art gerne verzichten kann.

Also fiel meine Wahl auf Toulouse als Ausgangspunkt unserer Rundreise. Diese Stadt befindet sich zwar schon außerhalb der Region des Languedoc, ist aber im Zusammenhang mit Maria Magdalena und ihren Nachfolgern historisch sehr bedeutsam. Aus meiner Schulzeit hatte sich tief in mir das Wissen eingeprägt, dass Toulouse ein hässlicher Industrieort sei, in dem vorwiegend Flugzeuge gebaut würden. Deshalb hatte ich vor meinem Besuch in dieser Metropole noch einige Vorbehalte gegen sie. Doch schon nach dem ersten Streifzug durch die Stadt erlag ich ihrem Charme. Denn die malerische Altstadt mit ihren Gassen, Plätzen und Wasserläufen zog nicht nur uns, sondern auch viele andere Menschen in ihren Bann. Die Universitätsstadt ist sehr lebendig, sie pulsiert, die Menschen sitzen im Freien, treffen einander in netten kleinen Restaurants oder Parks, und es gibt viele schöne Geschäfte und jede Menge Kultur. Toulouse ist es auf jeden Fall wert, Anfangs- und Endpunkt unsere Rundreise  zu sein!

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In the Footsteps of Mary Magdalene: St. Maximin – Mary Magdalene Grotto – St. Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume

“Today’s visit to the Mary Magdalene grotto was surely one of the absolute highlights of our spiritual journey. The weather angel looked out for us as it was supposed to rain, but didn’t. We arrived in Plan d-Aups and walked through a mystic forest, that supposedly consists of trees up to 1000 years old, to the grotto. Numerous kinds, aristocrats and popes walked on this path in the past centuries, because La Baume („The cave“) has been a well-known pilgrimage place since the 5th century. On the walk to the grotto, one also passes a larger-than-life cruxification-scene, which looks quite spectacular.

Standing at the entrance to the grotto, one has an amazing view of scenery of Eastern Provence, a region most commonly associated with Saint Maximin. As legend has it, Mary Magdalene lived in the cave for 30 years, to atone for her sins. The interior of the grotto houses two memorial sites as well as beautiful glass windows which depict scenes of Mary Magdalene’s life. Many of us could feel her energy and were touched by it.

After leaving the cave we drove to the basilica in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baum, which is dedicated to Mary Magdalene and Maximinus who are depicted by the main entrance of the church. The church is one huge commemoration site and depicts Mary Magdalene in various ways through paintings, sculptures, at the altar on carved or painted medallions. Especially noteworthy ist he golden ‚rose altar’ that depicts a view scenes of Mary Magdalene’s life and the carved pulpit.

In the church crypt one can view a sarcophagus that supposedly houses the human remains of Mary Magdalene. In addition, her head is displayed in a glass container behind the iron bars of the altar. The glas container is decorated with a golden mask in front, which can be removed. The reliquary is being carried through town during its annual procession.

Today our spiritual journey is coming to an end and we are celebrating with an evening meditation and dinner. It was a particularly harmonic, intense and transformative time together, during which many new friendships developed and existing friendships were deepend. Each of the participants went through his/her own transformation process during the course of the journey and could proceed towards his/her own spiritual developmental path.

The last few days were very touching and moving for all of us, at the same time we had a lot of fun and laughed together. We enjoyed eachother’s company, the excellent French cuisine and the exquisite French wine. Spirituality has nothing to do with being detached or with askesis, but can take place during one’s life on earth.

PS: Tomorrow, Gerd and I are traveling to Languedoc in order to prepare our Spiritual Journey 2014. …”

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