Thursday, July 12, 2012

La Fête de Saint Benoît

Sometimes you just get lucky with your plans. When we laid out our itinerary back in November and December of last year, we most certainly did not have the sanctoral cycle – the cycle of feast days devoted to saints – in front of us. We looked at cities, and places of pilgrimage, and contacts, and tried to knit them all together in a way that made sense, at least by way of travel.

But this week is the Feast of Saint Benedict – La Fête de Saint Benoît. It's a big day for all the religious houses of both Trappists and Benedictines, and we just so happen to be at one of their monasteries on this important and festive holiday.

One of the things that impressed us most, as travelers, is how much the monks have gone out of their way to make us all comfortable during our stay. The guest master, Frère Pierre, gave us a tour of the whole facility as we arrived, including exhortations of places where we could speak (not many!). Each day, the table would be set with simple foods, cheeses, soups, and a carafe of red wine for each table. Pierre made sure that there was some lovely classical music playing during all the meals.

But today, at déjeuner, the main meal at midday, things were different. The monks had prepared fresh, grilled salmon, and roasted potatoes, and they served all of us a wonderful white wine from the Savoie region of France – the region of Tamié as well. As I ate of this joyous feast, I was taking in the recording of concerto grossi by Handel, and my eyes kept moving out the two huge windows of the refectory, to the forested French Alps outside. It was, quite simply, a feast for the eyes, the ears, and the pallet.

Père Ginépro, the abbot (who, by the way, looks very much the part of Albus Dumbledore – huge, flowing white beard, twinkle in his eye, and he plays the autoharp like a virtuoso!) invited Michele and me to do some music for the monastic community for their afternoon of community entertainment, in honor of the saint's day. "Just a few minutes," he said, in pretty good English, "so our friends from America can share."

I was ecstatic! I hadn't wrapped my hands around a guitar since we left the Pontifical College in Rome, and the Abbey came up with a marvelous classical guitar for me to play. We chose just a few selections, starting with The Lord's Prayer (in English), then O Mary of Promise, Set Your Heart on the Higher Gifts, and ending in French with Comme Lui.

Well, the monks were just wonderful in their reception of our song! Music has no boundaries, even though spoken language might, and at the end, all were warmly clasping hands and enthusiastically saying "Merçi bien!"

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Abbaye de Tamié, Plancherine, France

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