Montpellier/Montpelhièr -- Nîmes -- Arles -- Orange/Aurenja -- Castres & Castries
More places that will have Pages one day, but not one day too soon


Cathédrale Saint-Pierre

Église Sainte Jeanne d'Arc

Montpellier (Occitan Montpelhièr) sits near la mer Méditerranée in southern France -- the capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon région, the préfecture (administrative capital) of the Hérault départment. Served by regular railway (SCNF), it also has TGV (fast-train) access as well as a modern tramway system. The name of the city, originally Monspessulanus, may have stood for mont pelé, a hill with no vegetation, or ... (Pestalario). Montpellier, first mentioned in a document of 985, is one of the few cities in France without a Gallo-Roman background; never-the-less, the region's history goes back much further. In contrast to the city's relatively recent founding, the University at Montpellier remains one of the oldest in the World (1160).

Montpelhièr transferred to the kings of Aragon in 1213, by reason of the marriage of Peter II of Aragon with the daughter and heiress of William VIII of Montpellier. Marie brought the city as her dowry, she was later discarded. He (who fought against the Arab domination on the Iberian peninsula and the Cathars (Albigensian Crusade)) died the same year as she -- He in a foolish battle against Simon de Montfort, she in Rome, a saintly figure. Several generations later, the city was sold to the French King Philip VI (1349). At the time of the Reformation during the 16th century, many of its inhabitants became Protestants (Huguenots as known in France), so it became a stronghold of Protestant resistance, as did much of the south, to the (mainly Catholic) French crown. Carcassonne, Rouergue, Lauraguais, Béziers, Montpellier et Nîmes, le magistrat ou commissaire député pour ladite instruction, s'il est catholique ... Édit de Nantes -- (le texte intégral). In 1622, King Louis XIII besieged the city and took it after eight months.;

Église (Paroisse-Sanctuaire) de St. Roch in Montpelhièr, France, is one of dozens of churches throughout Europe, North America and elsewhere dedicated to this citizen of Montpellier -- in places as diverse as Minsk, Glascow, Johnstown, Kahuku and Tamil Nadu (where there are two). El perro de san Roque no tiene rabo porque Ramón Ramírez se lo ha robado. The main train station of Montpellier, France is named after Saint Roch, as well as a church and many squares and streets. Saint Rocco's procession (August 16th) is the Saint featured in the movie The Godfather (part deux). This Saint (most often) is conventionally portrayed with pilgrim's wide-brimmed hat, staff and purse. He is seen often lifting his tunic to demonstrate the plague sore on his leg (like the scar of Odysseus a sign of his identity), and accompanied by a dog carrying a loaf of bread in its mouth. No Pope canonized him until the 17th Century, and although associated with pestilence, he lived before the time of the Black Death. The Scuola Grande di San Marco (Venice) retains a sequence of paintings by Tintoretto, who painted Saint Roch in glory upon a ceiling canvas (1564).

In 2009 the city hosted the Tour de France, when for stage 4, it was the starting and stopping point for the team time-trial. The Tour was on its way to the mountains in the south, emerging at Tarbes on Stage 9. As the eighth largest city in France today, Montpellier's modern Tramway system should have helped with the people traffic during the biking event. Indeed, around 75,000 people live within five minutes' walk of a current tram stop, and additional lines and expansions are on the way. The Tour de France 2011 ends a stage at Montpelhièr.

December 29, 1825: Jacques-Louis David died on this date. The painting of Saint Roch was commissioned of Jaques-Louis David by the city of Marseilles, a port city wherein the plague often entered. Montpellier is reasonably close to the port, such that Saint Roch might be considered a hometown patron. David (the principal proponent of the Neoclassical style) was the painter for the Revolution, kept his head, and later painted under the Empire (Napoleon). After Napoleon fell in 1815, David was exiled to Brussels, Belgium, where he lost much of his creative energy. Ten years into his exile, he was struck by a carriage, sustaining injuries from which he would never recover.

Jacques-Louis David died on December 29, 1825, in Brussels, Belgium. Because he had participated in the execution of King Louis XVI, David's body was not permitted back in France, so he was buried at Evere Cemetery in Brussels. His heart, meanwhile, was buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. I have visited his grave at a cemetery in Paris.

I reminded that August 16th is Saint Roch's Feast Day.... Of course, some of you know him better as St. Rocco -- So, who was he, you ask?

He is said to have been found at birth miraculously marked with a red cross-shaped birthmark on the left side of his chest. As a young child, St. Rocco showed great devotion to God and the Blessed Mother. He was orphaned when he was twenty and left under the care of his uncle, the Duke of Montpellier. Soon after, St. Rocco distributed his wealth among the poor and took a vow of poverty, setting out on a pilgrimage to Rome.

The last part sounds about right ....

At Piacenza, St. Rocco himself was stricken with the plague, which was evident by an open sore on his leg. He was banished from the city, and took refuge either in a cave or hut in the neighboring forest, sleeping on leaves and drinking water from a small stream. Miraculously, a dog that refused to eat faithfully brought him bread as a means of sustenance. The dog’s owner and Lord of the castle, a gentleman named Gothard, followed his dog into the woods one day and discovered St. Rocco there. The nobleman had pity on him and brought him to his castle, where St. Rocco was cured.

After he recovered, St. Rocco was reputed to have performed many more miracles of healing. He traveled through northern Italy for two or three more years before returning to his birthplace in France. Upon his return to Montpellier, however, he was imprisoned for five years as a spy in pilgrim’s disguise by his own uncle, who was governor and who failed to recognize him (while St. Rocco, for his part, refused to identify himself). According to the legend, on August 16, 1378, a guard entered his cell and found St. Rocco near death. The dungeon was illuminated with a blue light radiating from his body. Upon hearing this, the governor demanded to know St. Rocco’s identity. St. Rocco faintly replied, “I am your nephew, Rocco.” see (August 16th entry at the bottom of the page)


Nîmes, on the border between Provence and Languedoc, is inescapably linked to two textiles and the Roman Empire of the West. Maison Carrée (pictured above-model for the church of the Madeleine in Paris) and les Arènes are the most prominent of the Roman-era ruins. Carrée d'Art (also pictured), by British architect Norman Foster, provides a beautiful contrast. More HERE.

"La Madeleine" more formally, L'église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine is just north of the Place d'Concord. In 1806 Napoleon made his decision to erect a memorial, la Temple de la Gloire de la Grande Armée ("Temple to the Glory of the Great Army"); but, with completion of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in 1808, the original commemorative role for such a temple was reduced greatly. At the rear of the church, above the high altar, stands a statue by Charles Marochetti depicting Ste. Mary Magdalene being lifted by angels, which evokes the tradition concerning ecstasy that she is said to have entered in her daily prayer while in seclusion. The half-dome above the altar is frescoed by Jules-Claude Ziegler, and entitled "The History of Christianity.” It shows key figures in Christianity, with — a sign of its Second Empire date — Napoleon occupying centre stage. On the outside of the structure, the Pediment shows the Last Judgment. The bronze entrance doors follow the theme of the Ten Commandments. Nathan confronts David in bronze bas-relief on one of the doors. The style of Roman architecture best presented by a temple at Nîmes makes the Paris Church stand out. Maison Carrée is one of the best preserved structure of its genre to be found anywhere in the territory of the former Roman Empire. This style was chosen by Napolean in order to honor his French soldiers, like those Romans that colonized Nîmes.

Nîmes derives her name from that of a spring in the original Celtic/Roman village. The contemporary coat of arms of the city of Nîmes (like her ancient Roman coinage) includes a crocodile chained to a palm tree with the inscription COL NEM, for Colonia Nemausus, meaning the "colony" or "settlement" of Nemausus, the local Celtic deity of the underworld from which the spring had originated (perhaps similar to Nemisis the goddess of Vengence - more likely simply a deity of fertility). The coin honors the Roman Legion’s victory over Cleopatra’s minions in Egypt. Veterans of the legion who had served Julius Caesar in his Nile campaigns, at the end of fifteen years of soldiering, were given plots of land to cultivate on the plain of Nîmes. Think of it as a retirement village.

Some twenty kilometres from Nîmes, the Pont du Gard is the greatest surviving stretch of a fifty-kilometre-long aqueduct built by the Romans in the middle of the first century to supply fresh water to the city. Seventeen kilometres further away, near the start of the aqueduct (and served by daily buses from Nîmes), Uzès is an old town, full of charm, perched on a hill above the River Alzon. Half a dozen medieval towers – the most eye-catching is the Pisa-like Tour Fenestrelle, tacked onto the much later cathedral.

Château l'Ermitage (Vignoble de la Vallée du Rhône-Hdqrtr: 30800 Saint Gilles, FR) is one of the important names for wine makers in the area of Nîmes ( Les vins des Costères de Nîmes (A.O.C.) sont présents dans les deux caves "le vignot" à Mayenne et Saint Jean sur Mayenne. This air-mee-tahj, made from syrah grapes, comes from an area occupied by the Ermites of the ancient Sainte Cécile d’Estagel’s Abbaye (11th Century), a step in the Saint Jacques de Compostelle pilgrimage. Also cultivated are Grenache, Mourvèdre, Roussane, Grenache Blanc and Viognier vines (see


Arles is a city in the south of France, in the Bouches-du-Rhône department, and the historique Camargue region. The Rhône river divides into two branches upstream of Arles, forming the Camargue delta. The Greeks established a town there, as early as the 6th century BC called Theline. It in turn was captured by the Celtic Salluvii in 535 BC, who renamed it Arelate. The Romans took the town in 123 BC and expanded it, with a canal link to the Mediterranean Sea being constructed in 104 BC. It became a colony for veterans of the Roman legion (Legio VI Ferrata), which had its base there. Its full title as a military colony was Colonia Iulia Paterna Arelatensium Sextanorum in the province of Gallia Narbonensis. Arles prospered, still renowned as a cultural and religious center into the late period of the western Roman Empire.

By tradition the city's bishopric (part of the Archdiocese of Aix, Arles, and Embrun) was began with Saint Trophimus (circa 225-50AD), for whom the Cathedral is named and included Saint Honoré, St. Cæsarius of Arles and of course Saint Hilary of Arles. After surviving the Visagoth invasion generally unscathed, Arles suffered under the Muslim Saracens. In 855 it was made the capital of a Frankish Kingdom of Arles, which included Burgundy and part of Provence, but was frequently terrorised by Saracen and Viking raiders. The area progressively came under French control, while Arles' lost its population and much of the city was vacant ruins. Arles has important remains of Roman times: the Arena, Theatre, necropolis and Baths of Constantine. The Church of St. Trophime (Saint Trophimus), formerly a cathedral, is a major work of Romanesque architecture, and the representation of the Last Judgment on its portal is considered one of the finest examples of Romanesque sculpture. The 2009 Tour de France began its third stage on Monday at the old Harbor in Marseille. Racing north and west, the Tour crossed the Rhône at Arles (Bouches-du-Rhône department, into the historique Camargue region, an old Greek and Roman area).

St Rémy de ProvenceFifteen km east of Arles (via the D17) and 25 km from Avignon (via the D27), Les Baux de Provence, sits in the heart of the Alpilles on a rocky ridge 245m high, with views of the Camargue and Arles in the distance as you crest the hill. Rich with 22 architectural treasures classified as "Historic Monuments," Les Baux de Provence cultural resources include its church (Saint Vincent dating from the 12th and 16th centuries) chateaux (Citadelle des Baux), hôtel de Ville, hospital, several chapels, restored houses (hôtels particuliers) and more ... without counting Renaissance façades, doorways, items of furniture and an important collection of paintings. The town has lent its name to the mineral Bauxite (from which Aluminum is derived), which was first discovered in mineable quantities nearby. St Rémy de Provence is 8km to the north, a place with ancient ruins and one time stomping ground of Vincent Van Gogh. The road up to Les Baux from the southeast passes through olive groves and vineyards, (Cave Vignoble Sainte Berthe where one can stop and taste the local vendage). Both town centres for Les Baux de Provence and Arles were on the 2009 Tour de France (about halfway through Stage 3). Great pictures of these two places from the air were broadcast. Hope you saw them.

Orange is a town and commune in the département of Vaucluse, north of Avignon and Arles on the Rhône River. About 10 more km north and East is the heart of the Ventoux production area. For example 1912 Ventoux (Vignerons de Caractère) is centered at Vacqueyras. Mont Ventoux is 1912 metres (6273 feet). This mountain in the Provence region of southern France gives its name to the appellation and this particular wine. Grapes used in the red wine are Grenache (traditional base), Carignan, Sinsault and Syrah. Rosé and a white wine are also produced from the terroir around Vacqueyras.

The abundent Roman ruins at Orange are some of the finest in the world (e.g. Théâtre and the Arch). Roman Orange was established (35BC) by retirees of the Second Gallica Roman legion or Colonia Julia Firma Secundanorum Arausio in full. A previous Celtic settlement with the same short-name existed in the same place (Arausio (after the local Celtic river spirit)). A major battle, which is generally known as the Battle of Arausio, had been fought in 105 BC between two Roman armies and the Cimbri and Teutones tribes. The town prospered, though it was sacked by the Visigoths in 412. It became a bishopric in the 4th century, and the hill fort of the Celtic Cavares was renamed for Saint Eutrope, the first bishop. The Diocese of Orange persisted until the French Revolution, and was formally suppressed in 1801.

From the 12th century, Orange was raised to a minor principality, the Principality of Orange, as a fief of the Holy Roman Empire. When William I "the Silent", count of Nassau, with estates in the Netherlands, inherited the title Prince of Orange in 1544, the Principality was incorporated into the holdings of what became the House of Orange-Nassau. This pitched it into the Protestant side in the Wars of Religion, during which the town was badly damaged. In 1568 the Eighty Years' War began with William as stadtholder leading the bid for independence from Spain.,_Vaucluse
Now, one wonders if the de la Croix dit LaRoche family is an offshoot of the "de la Croix, Baron de Castries" family (with the difference between Castres and Castries lost to the ages). In 1495 it is reported (at the Collège de Castries Website -- that William de la Croix bought the Barony of Castries ("Achat {bought} de la baronnie de Castries par Guillaume de la Croix"). At it is reported that a family line in France was known at the beginning of the 15th century as de Querret. Sometime in the 1400`s, Jean de Querret, bought or was granted a fief of the name "de la Croix," thus becoming the "Seigneurs de la Croix." Thus, subsequent descendants of the Jean de Querret (dit de la Croix), then took the de la Croix as a family name and passed it on to later generations. This appears to be the same family that acquired the de Castries title, too.

Also noted that it was until the French Revolution, that the "de la Croix de Castries" was in possession of the Saint Roch's walking staff. Roughly told, in 1792, when one of the de la Croix estates was ravaged, with blatant disregard for anything of historical and or family sentimental value, the revolutionists burnt the relic. See  It is unclear if there was any relation to Saint Roch, and one assumes it is a coincidence, perhaps, that LaRoche, de Castries  and the House of Orange are so tied together. For those who do not know --- Castries is near the Mediteranian Sea, just NE of Montpelier, in France. Castres is almost due west (50 miles) east of Toulouse --- Pau the capital of Béarn (the residence of my most distant de-la-Croix relative that I can trace) is another 50 miles west.

Castres Castres is about 17 km to the northwest of Mazamet, a bustling medieval town with more tourist appeal than our “home” city here in France. Almost every brochure or map we have picked up of Castres features a photo of the “textile houses” along the river l’Agout ... One pronounces Castres as “cast-ruh” with emphasis on the “cast” with a softer guttural and rolling r sound on the “ruh.” The French accent in these parts is very, very different from Paris and we find it often difficult to decipher. Interestingly, as we walk along the streets, we are often asked for directions, so we apparently look like a typical French couple. The only thing we are missing is a “petite chien.” The name of the town comes from Latin castrum, and means “fortified place”. Castres grew up round the Benedictine abbey of Saint Benoît, which is believed to have been founded in AD 647, possibly on the site of an old Roman fort (castrum). Castres became an important stop on the international pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela in Spain because its abbey-church, built in the 9th century, was keeping the relics of Saint Vincent, the renowned martyr of Spain. From: -- many excellent pictures of the region are here. Picture and text from post-37.

Castries méditerranéen Castries, pronounced kæs-tree-ez, is also the Capital of the island nation of Sainte Lucia in North America (renamed in 1756 after Charles Eugène Gabriel de La Croix, Marquis de Castries). Picture is of Castries in France (Hérault département). Chief places to visit: le château de Castries and la vieille (neo-gothic-1860) église Saint-Étienne; to hike: the 7km route of l'Aqueduc de la fontaine du château; another link: Le Duc de Castries; Voi aussi:

Some Mountains in Southern France -- Avignon -- Narbonne -- Toulouse -- Carcassonne -- Béziers -- A look at Lanuguedoc's Fab Four -- Aix-en-Provence -- Marseilles -- Nice (Monaco)

Current Newsletter -- le Saint-Suaire -- Grenoble -- Lyon -- Digne-les-Bains & Embrun -- A page about Paris

Celtic/Frank History -- Germaniæ Historicæ -- Anglo Saxons

Reformation from a French-Protestant point of view

Current Newsletter

New: 05/14/08