Provence legends:’Only in Provence’ – Part 3
The world is rich with legends. We still dream of Camelot and King Arthur’s court and hope to one day find El Dorado and its streets paved with gold. And who wouldn’t love to take a dip in the Fountain of Youth?
Provence, too, has its legends.
Provence legends – have you heard these before?
There’s the one about Saint Gens, who saved Provence from a drought by poking two fingers into a rock and causing streams to pour forth—water on the left, wine on the right (this being France, after all.)
And there’s the Drac, the legendary creature that lived in rivers and lured its victims by floating leaves with jewels piled on top.
My two favorite legends are the one about Mary Magdalene and another about the Tarasque monster. Interestingly, the two legends are related—let’s take a look.
Lost at sea in Provence
In Provence, the story is told that after the death of Jesus, the authorities wanted to get rid of his followers. Several were put in a boat without a sail or a rudder and pushed out to sea to perish. But instead of meeting a grim fate, they were miraculously guided to Provence, where they landed at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Today, a huge procession commemorates this arrival every year.
The passengers in the boat vary depending on who’s telling the story, but they usually include Mary Magdalene, Mary Salomé, Mary Jacobé, Martha, Lazarus, Maximin, and their servant Sara.
After landing, the group split up to spread the Word throughout Provence.
Mary Magdalene worked with Lazarus to convert Marseille to Christianity, then spent her last years in prayer and penance in a remote grotto in the Sainte-Baume mountains.
At the end of her life, she made one last trip to Aix-en-Provence to receive communion from her old friend Maximin. Mary is said to be buried in the Basilica of Mary Magdalene in the town of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume.
The grotto where she lived is managed by the Dominicans and you can visit it today.
A terrible monster in Provence – Tarasque
Thousands of years ago, a terrible monster lived in the depths of the Rhône River. It was enormous and breathed fire, belching so much smoke that its head was surrounded by a blue cloud, pierced by bolts of red lightning.
Called the Tarasque, this creature preyed on the boats that plied the Rhône and on the villages along its shore. A dozen of the strongest men were no match for it, and the people of Provence lived in fear.
One day Martha, Mary Magdalene’s shipmate, heard of the monster and came to help.
At first, she was laughed at, because what could this simple woman do that the bravest men could not? But when the Tarasque next attacked and everyone fled, Martha calmly stepped forward. She gazed at the monster and spread her arms wide, making the sign of the holy cross.
The creature, stunned, fell to its knees and died.
The town of Tarascon today is named after the monster, and there is even a statue in its honor. Martha’s remains are said to rest in the nearby Church of Saint Martha.
Were you previously aware of these Provence legends? Do you know of any others? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
1. The Boy’s King Arthur: Sir Thomas Malory’s History of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by N. C. Wyeth via Wikipedia.
2. José de Ribera – Mary Magdalene in the Desert via Wikimedia
3. Tarasque and Martha: Legendes de Provence by Eugene Bressy illustration by Maria Crozet via Amazon.com
4. Tarasque statue copyright author Keith Van Sickle