Provence legends:’Only in Provence’ – Part 3

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.

And let’s not forget the famous sardine that blocked the port of Marseille!

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.

Provence legends: only in Provence —Part 3

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.

Provence legends: only in Provence —Part 3

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.

Image Credits
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 
4. Tarasque statue copyright author Keith Van Sickle

Only in Provence

There is much to celebrate and experience in Provence.
This series sets out to create a collection of highlights – unique features and experiences to be had in Provence.

Use this series to create your very own must-do list.

Only in Provence Part 1 – Brilliant Roussillon
Only in Provence Part 2 – Carrières de Lumières
Only in Provence Part 3Provence legends
Only in Provence Part 4 Surprising history of Jewish Provence
Only in Provence Part 5The Animal Kingdom of Provence
Only in Provence Part 6 – Roman Provence

About the Contributor

Keith Van Sickle

I am a lifelong traveler who lives part of the year in Provence. I am the author of Are We French Yet and One Sip at a Time, as well as the upcoming An Insider’s Guide to Provence, all available at Amazon. You can follow me on Facebook,  Twitter and

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