Feast of St. Clair, 16 July 1999From: "Privateers" <Privateers@privateers.org>
Date: 26 July 1999 13:44
On a warm summer's evening in Normandy I went to St. Clair sur Epte, arriving at about 7.00 PM. I walked up to the holy well and into the enclosure around the comemmorative hut and beheading stone. A jolly man in his sixties, Marceau, was policing the pebbled floor and preparing for that night's festivities. After a short walk to the church I could see all was in preparation. The brothers of Charity, a lay group, dedicated to providing Christian burials had assembled to the left of the church in their tougers (tabbarts). At 7.45PM the priest of the church of St. Clair sur Epte offered a Roman Catholic mass and prayed for the intervention of Clair to all peoples afflicted by any sight disorder. In front of the altar was a small casket with the bones including the skull of Saint Cyrian. That casket was approximately 3 feet long and contained long poles for carrying by two men. Closer to the altar lay the bones of the sainted Clair. I looked in amazement that this saint's bones were a thousand years old were preserved in a glass and guilded casket, the casket in ornatley carved with glass windows. The casket together with the bones of the Saint weigh approx 80 kilos. Over each Cathedral shaped window sat a semi precious stone. The church was filled with flowers and on the restored part of the vaulted ceiling stood the arms of many knights who had prayed in this church. Too long poles stood on either side of the casket for carrying it. At precisely 8.20 a headless statue of approx 3 feet tall covered in a brilliant sparkly blue robe was carried into the church bearing precious stones around the feet. The statue bore the head of Clair in his hands.
The mayor received communion on behalf of the people in the town. He then introduced me as being the only person there with the name of Sinclair. He asked the approximate 500 people in the church to call the name Sinclair to God in remembrance of all those who bear that name. The brothers of charity slowly tolling a bell walked down the center of the church and turned into the brilliant sunshine. The sun does not set at that time of year until well after 10.00 PM.
Four of us then picked up the bones of the Sainted Clair and walked behind the brothers of Charity and three acolytes burning incense down the aisle, turning right and down the steps. we were followed by the Mayor and the priest in full vestments. When we reached the bottom of the steps of the church, the priest cried out for the approx 5000 people assembled in the place du Rolon (the principal square of St Clair sur Epte) there "be joyful for our patron still lives in the bosom of his Father. Those who have affliction come forth this day to gaze upon the healer." With the bell of the brothers of Charity slowly tolling we walked through the streets as people surged forward to touch the casket of the bones of the Sainted Clair. The short walk to the park of the holy well in normal times is 5 mins. It took 25 mins for us to reach the well. The well was desecrated as it has been every year for the last 900. With shock and horror the Mayor reached into the well and removed the bottle that had been thrown into the well. The Parish Priest announced that the well was once again purified. We walked slowly around the well on the lawn of the salon de fete. We carried the bones of the Saint followed by Cyrian to the place where he had been martyred and the hut where he had lived. On the other side of the hut, beyond the wall, a carnival had been set up. We walked, turned the caskets around, past the well and carried the caskets back to their repose in the church. The magistrate of the brothers of Charity placed his hand on my forehead and promised me wherever I be in the world for honouring the saint of the name I bore, a decent Christian burial. I suppose that is something to look forward to...
He invited me to go and meet another group of the brothers in Bratonne where they had built a great pyre of wood in the cemetery plot behind the church for the feu de St Clair. Just as the sun set (approx 10.30PM) the priest of that parish gave a short religious ceremony in honour of St. Clair. At exactly 11.00 PM the pyre was lit, the great cross on the top of it standing alone as the light shimmered off Yew trees. There were saplings where the great Rolon saw them which bounced the light of the fire back into the cemetery. After the magistrate of the bothers of Charity lit the fire. The townspeople stepped back beyond the low wall of the Cemetery. Tiered wooden seats had been set up that held about somewhere between 4-5000 people. For a seat on one of these wooden chairs, there was a charge of 30 Francs. Approx $4.60 The other 7-10,000 surrounding the cemetery wall stood without any charge. I was overwhelmed as the French people exchanged the kiss of peace.
I went back to St Clair Sur Epte where the salon du fete was laid out for the mayors invitees (approx 500 people) in a buffet style (Light refreshment). On the lawn in front of the holy well, a large dancefloor had been assembled between the time I had left for the fire and returned. The carnival rides were barely visible on the other side of the hut. The local parish priest read the bans of marriage for three of the residents of St Clair sur Epte. It is considered good luck to have your bans read on this day. The bans (announcement that the couple intends to marry) have to be read a certain amount of times before the actual ceremony.
The band began to play and we danced till 4 in the morning! Exhausted happy and totally satisfied, returned to La Behotierre full of too much wine and song. The overwhelming feelings of brotherhood made me feel totally at peace with the world.
I wish I could write better the feelings of that soft summer evening are virtually impossible to describe.
Last changed: 99/11/21 14:42:49