Pau in Béarn (Pyrénées-Atlantiques département en région Aquitaine)  

Béarn was once a small semi-independent province, immediately north of the Pyrénées, about 45 miles long and 35 miles wide. Pau, its capital, lies at the center. It formed a considerable portion of the Kingdom of Navarre. The city had become the seat of the viscounts of Béarn. Pau was made the capital of Béarn Province in 1464. With magnificent views of the mountains in the NW portion of the Pyrenees range, in the early 16th century the Château de Pau became the residence of the kings of Navarre, who were also counts of Béarn.

The beautiful sky of Pau, Beth Ceü de Paü, about which (with enthusiasm) the inhabitants of Béarn continue to sing, is not a legend without substance. Under this sky one must stroll to find the testimony of the long history of this city that saw two kings being born: Henri IV (Navarre and France) and Bernadotte (Roi de Suède) and un peu histoire anglais.

Pont de 14 JuiletPau overlooks its river and valley, Gave de Pau, a gateway to Spain for centuries. Up river (south-east) sits Lourdes; Bayonne, downstream, is near the coast. The ancient pilgrimage trail to Spain (Chemins de Saint-Jacques) crosses the valley here. The site was fortified by the 11th century — the word pau-paü means palisade in Occitan language, one of the medieval dialects of Langue d'oc (southern France). Some pictures are found HERE.

Today, Pau sits in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques département,, but that description historically is not enough. Basses-Pyrénées was one of the original 83 Departments of France created during the French Revolution (March 4, 1790). It was created from parts of the former provinces of Guyenne, Béarn, and Gascony and included the three traditional provinces of the northern Basque Country: Labourd, Soule and Basse-Navarre. On October 10, 1969, Basses-Pyrénées was renamed Pyrénées-Atlantiques, part of the Aquitaine region of Southwest France. Both the Gascon language and the Basque language remain indigenous to this region. Gascon, an Occitan language, is more closely related to Catalan than to French. Basque (Euskera) is an isolated tongue.

The Kingdom of Navarre was one of the Christian kingdoms to emerge in northern Spain after the Muslim conquest had ended in the 8th century, in addition to Asturias, Leon, Castile and Aragon. It had encompassed regions north and south of the Pyrénées. When the local dynasty died out, the counts of Champagne inherited it. One heiress, Jeanne, married the King of France, Philippe IV (d. 1314). The kingdom of Navarre passed by marriage to Aragon in 1425, then to Foix in 1480, then it merged into the then powerful Albret holdings. In 1512, the part of the kingdom south of the mountains broke off, lost by the Spanish reConquista. Then, by a quirk of fate and much fighting (rights of succession being contested by force), France and Navarre reunited. Pau was the birthplace (December 13, 1553) of Prince Henry of Navarre (d.1610). Henri IV had become the King of Navarre by right of his mother Jeanne d'Albret (1572), who was the political force behind the French Protestant movement. Navarre acceded to France, when he became King of France by his father's right (House of Bourbon) in 1589.

It was more complicated than that, the times affected by the period of Protestant Reformation. Protestant King Henry of Navarre became Catholic King Henry IV of France to calm the fears of excommunication by the general public and the nation's nobility, {}. He became the first of the Bourbon Kings. He may be best remembered for the Edict of Nantes, which ended the Wars of Religion in France, as well as giving some measure of freedom to worship. He remarked to the local notables, as he left Pau to become Roi of all France, that he was not giving Béarn to France, he was giving France to Béarn. His son finished the job of consolidating the southern kingdom into France.

Eglise Saint PaulNapoleon III refurbished the château, while Pau added streets of Belle Époque architecture, before fashion transferred its fancy to nearby Biarritz on the coast. Alas, this writer has been to Biarritz and Bayonne, but not Pau. A tour from the early 19th Century, with photographs.

It has been said that the town of Morlaàs (just outside Pau) lives a little on past glories, as it still touts its history as the one time capital of the Béarn region. Its 12th century church, a beautiful stone built town hall and an old half-timbered house constructed in a traditional style permit it to revel in its past. The town, a stopping place for the pilgrims travelling to Santiago de Compostela, traditionally furnished food and lodging to weary walkers (the path from Toulouse. Yet, Morlaàs has a plethora modern facilities, with a good range of shops, supermarkets and other amenities for a town its size. On this day it had the Tour, too. The riders, however, did not get to enjoy the justly famed gastronomy of the south-west of France, rich in duck, fruits and cured hams. The wine list is here no poor relation in the town's eating establishments, as with the Madiran appellation on the doorstep (and Bordeaux not so far away) one has access to France's most endearing, well-known red wines.

After the Roman city of Benearnum (today's Lescar) was razed by the Vikings in 841, Morlaàs became the capital of the ancient province of Béarn (Charter 1101AD). It remained the capital until the 12th century, when Orthez took over. In the early thirteenth century, Morlaàs (a town of some 300 homes) also encompassed the priory of Sainte-Foi (or Sainte-Foy), the village of Saint-Nicolas (to the northwest) and Bourg-Neuf (east). The Romanesque cathedral-church of Sainte-time Foy is partially an eleventh century structure. Its construction was begun during the reign of Centulle V. The portal is part of greatest interest, and its style, detail and size demonstrates the importance of the city. A portion of the Church of St. André (rue Bourg-Neuf)is also late eleventh century, as well as the Benedictine priory (cloître) of Saint Foi. Yhe Cordeliers convent was founded before 1290 by Gaston VII of Béarn. The Ministry of Culture has identified several key elements of architecture (keystone and capitals for example). For the Protestants is a structure on Rue Bourg-Mayou, from a time after the restoration of Catholic worship in Béarn (1620).

Nai is also spelled as Nay in modern times. It sits further up into the mountains about 20 miles SE of Pau (Pyrénées-Atlantiques département). It lies in the former province of Béarn. The commune is crossed by the Gave de Pau and one of its tributaries, the Béez. Claracq, on the other side of the Gave de Pau, was once a separate town. Today, it is a district of Nay, along the canal. Nay had much to suffer throughout its more recent history. Nai burned in 1534, from a fire of unknown origin that entirely consumed the town. Shortly thereafter, during the religious wars that followed the papists plundered the town in 1569. The Huguenots returned with vigor to protect their claims. Among the Protestants who emigrated from Nai is a Mr. Olivier, an ancestor of British actor Sir Laurence Olivier. Notable is the church Saint-Vincent (15th Century). Its west wall was built before that time and the bell (of 1245) still rings. The bell tower (about 100 feet tall) was added in 1520. Down the road, further south and east are Lourdes and Tarbes.

Abbatiale Romane de Saint Savin, Hautes PyrénéesSaint Savin was one of the first Christians to have evangelized the valley of Lavedan, after a stint at the monastery of Ligugé, some time between the 5th and 9th Centuries. He established himself as a hermit in the mountains above a village (that now bears his name-then called Bencer) at a place called Pouy-Aspé. Today the tomb of Saint Savin, of Roman origin, is the main altar of the abby church dedicated him. On each side of the sarcophagus, two large paintings on wood and dated the fifteenth century, illustrate vividly the life of the saint. They cite evidence of his miracles and the fervor of a people for who will become the patron saint of this valley. The former abbey, now a parish gathering place. It annually hosts many groups of pilgrims for prayer time, worship and celebration of the Eucharist, in part due to the fact that is close to Lourdes, yet remains a quiet place. The church of Saint-Savin-en-Lavedan (not to be confused with the Abbaye de SAINT-SAVIN sur Gartempe), was built for a Benedictine monastery that became very influential in the Romanesque period. The current building dates from the twelfth century, but there seems to be some type of community there as early as 945AD (or before in the Carolingian-era). As the counts and viscounts de Bigorre prosper, so does the monastery, eventually building the structure we see today. Nothing remains of the abbey except the church and the chapter house.

The anonymous instrument of the Abby church of Saint-Savin (Lavedan) was, for four centuries, the only organ in all Lavedan. It remains as one of the oldest in France. The organ was built during the administation of François de Foix Candale, Abbott of the Convent of Saint Savin from 1543 to 1593, as may be gathered from the inscription painted above the keyboard: Hoc organu(m) factu(m) fuit ad honor(em) totius cursae celestis an(no) 1557 -- "This organ was built in honor of the whole celestial court in the year 1557."

Between 15-20 air miles southeast of Pau (20-25km) is the town of Lourdes. It was once a small farming community tucked against the mountains. Today it hosts a world-wide pilgrimage site.

Le 11 février 1858 -- C'est son fête Notre Dame de Lourdes: Près du village pyrénéen de Lourdes, une jeune femme serait apparue à Bernadette Soubirous, dans une grotte appelée Massabielle. Selon ses dires, la petite bergère assista dans les semaines qui suivirent à plusieurs apparitions du même type. Au cours de l'une d'elles, la Dame lui confia: « Je suis l'Immaculée Conception » (c'est-à-dire épargnée dès sa conception par le péché originel). La bergère rapporta ces mots à son curé sans savoir que le pape Pie IX avait proclamé quatre ans plus tôt le dogme de l'Immaculée Conception à propos de Marie, la mère du Christ. Les apparitions de la grotte miraculeuse stimulèrent la dévotion à Marie ... et firent de Lourdes l'un des plus célèbres pèlerinages du monde.

An interesting but long read (watch the movie when it's available); this looks like (in part) a translated page, but retains readable English: (The hymn of triumph burst forth: "te Deum laudamus." At the same moment the great bell of St. Peter's [Rome] rang out, and with it every bell in the Eternal City). This is the final chapter of "Saint Bernadette Soubirous" by Abbé François Trochu (published by Tan Books). -- He hath exalted the humble:

There was no trace of corruption. The flesh was parched but intact, and it had preserved its whiteness. Her head, which was covered in the cap and veil, and her hands, which were crossed over her heart, holding the tarnished crucifix and the rosary corroded with rust, were slightly inclined to the left. Her eyes, deeply sunk in their sockets, were found to be completely closed. Her lips were partially open, as in a smile.... The touching attitude of the little dead body, as Bishop Gauthey remarked, recalled that of the young virgins in the first centuries discovered in the catacombs. On August 13th, 1913, Pope Pius X signed the decree for the introduction of the Cause [of the Process of Beatification & Canonization]. By that very fact Bernadette received the title of Venerable.

You should clearly note that the pilgrimages for healing are not to the Sainte who saw Mary (Bernadette is elsewhere). The pilgrimage occurs because Mary appeared there and sanctified the place. Now a campus of worship structures (built to handle the crowds) has become the pilgrim's destination, as it memorializes the appearance, through the veneration of Mary and worship of the Lord. see also

Le 18 Février à été choisi pour fêter Sainte Bernadette, car c'est à cette date que la Vierge Marie lui dit : « Je ne vous promets pas de vous rendre heureuse en ce monde, mais dans l'autre. » Elle meurt le 16 avril 1879 à 35 ans. Elle est béatifiée le 14 juin 1925 puis canonisée le 8 décembre 1933. Son corps retrouvé intact, repose depuis 1925.

The burial place of Sainte Bernadette Soubirous (Convent of the Sisters of Charity) is at Nevers. Her remains have been placed in a gold and crystal reliquary in the Chapel of Sainte Bernadette at the mother house. Many pilgrims visit the body of Bernadette, which to this day remains intact, despite being over one hundred and thirty years old.

Current Newsletter -- Pau once again is a Tour de France 2011 Host site.

Maritime -- Bayonne and Dax -- Orléans -- Bordeaux -- Poitiers -- Nantes -- Auch -- Tarbes -- Foix and Tarascon-sur-Ariège

New: 05/26/08
last revised 14 February 2017