Monday, December 22, 2014

Curious about French crosses

There is one picnic table nearby
(Zénières, Gages-Montrozier, Aveyron)

Since I have been blogging again, I have been opening my eyes more. 

And I have suddenly noticed the incredible number of outdoor crosses and crucifixes one finds every few kilometers here in Aveyron and, probably, all over France.

This is not a revelation, of course. I've seen them around for years. But I have never paid that much attention, or realized how frequently one comes across them. 

Right on a bridge
(Montrozier, Gages-Montrozier, Aveyron)

After taking a good look at some local crosses, I was struck by curiosity that I figured Google could resolve in a few seconds. I thought that with a few cleverly formulated searches, in French and/or in English, I would find the "National Directory of French Crosses," or some such.

So far, no result.

Crucifix near a town center
(Sébazac, Aveyron)

The French Wikipedia offers a short yet mind-boggling entry about "Croix Monumentale," with references going as far as Texas (?). But it is hardly encyclopedic.

Part of this crucifix is credited to someone named Vernhes
(Sébazac, Aveyron -- detail)

If you live in France, what do you know about crosses in your area?


Susan said...

A lot of them are 19thC and are presumably connected with the Catholic revival of the mid to late 19thC, which got quite competitive in terms of publically demonstrating a community's piety. There is also a connection to crossroads, where they were erected as a reminder to take the right path and to offer protection to travellers. Some of them are specifically dedicated to a date when a village was 'reChristianised'. Others, in wine growing areas have prayers asking God to deliver the area from the plague of phylloxera. And there are some genuinely old ones, perhaps on pilgrim routes and dating back to the middle ages, or occasionally to commemorate striking people or events.

Betty Carlson said...

Thank you Susan, I thought you might know something about the subject! I had read about the crossroads aspect, and commemorative crosses, but didn't know about the other points you mention (although they don't surprise me.)

What I find interesting is the vast array of styles, eras and reasons for erecting them, as well as the fact that they seem to rarely be accompanied by any explanation, such as plaques...

Susan said...

I guess they were all erected in a time when everyone would have known why you would erect a cross. Nowadays it requires a bit more justification.

Nadege said...

Hi Betty,
Here is what I found, sorry it is in french ;

Les croix de carrefour qui se sont multipliées au XIXe siècle, étaient destinées à marquer les limites d'une paroisse et de ses différents hameaux ainsi qu'à rappeler au peuple l'importance de la religion.

A la Révolution de 1789, tous les signes religieux (dont les croix) ont été supprimés.

Au retour du royalisme (Louis XVIII et Charles X),
l'Eglise catholique romaine est repartie de plus belle
et nous a gratifié de croix à tous les carrefours
et de madones en pierre jusqu'au sommets de montagnes.

Betty Carlson said...

Thank you Nadège. "Croix de carrefour" was one of the categories I found, but I took it more literally, thinking that just meant it marked a crossroads (hmm, I wonder if there is a connection to that term...)

Perpetua said...

There are plenty of crosses in the area around our second home in southern Normandy, where they are often referred to as calvaires. Many of them are at crossroads, but some were erected as a mark of piety by individuals or families. The one at the crossroads just down the lane from our house has the date 1697, so predates the Revolution by a good while. I'm surprised it survived the upheaval.

Kim J said...

Interesting info! I popped across from Phoebe's link up #Allaboutfrance

Phoebe @ Lou Messugo said...

Now that you mention it, I don't think there are quite as many crosses around me in the Alpes Maritimes as I've seen in other parts of France but maybe I'm just beng unobservant. Interesting that it's hard to find out about them. Thanks for linking up to #AllAboutFrance again Betty. I'm enjoying getting to know your little part of this great country.

margo said...

Very interesting! I'm in a city (Nice) so don't see too many of these, but I think I have seen them in more rural areas. I would be interested to find out more about them.

Christy Swagerty said...

The crosses in my area of France (Picardy) are mostly for war memorials, I believe. But you're right; I often wonder about who cared enough to mark the space, and is the real reason now long forgotten? I might start poking around my region a bit more now!

bobleponge216 said...

I read something last night in a book I'm currently ploughing through, which said that their origins were as a system of weighpoints when the first cartographers were plotting the whole of France to put it onto maps.
Since then the vast majority of them have been transformed into religious artefacts and war memorials, but their origin was to assist the map makers.
I only read this last night, not yet had time to confirm, but that's my tuppence worth.

Cathy Sweeney said...

It would be such an interesting project to locate and document all of the French crosses. Next time I'm in France, particularly if I make it to Aveyron, I'll keep a look out for them.

Eco Gites of Lénault said...

I live in a tiny village in Normandy yet we still have 3 crosses here, 2 of which are huge and elaborate but none at on cross roads. I have often wondered who put them there and why and who maintains them now. Jesus slipped from one cross recently but shortly after he was back in place. Who did that? #AllAboutFrance

Betty Carlson said...

Thank you for all of your comments. Indeed there are many different types of crosses, so certainly some served different purposes. I hadn't heard the cartographer connection, but maybe.

Unfortunately, I have noticed that large muncipal garbage bins are often placed next to them around here, making it hard to take good photos!

Wander Mum said...

I often see these France and have often wondered. There's also a lot of small little 'altars' with crosses around where we go in the Haute-savoir region which I'm curious about #allaboutfrance

Mel said...

Absolutely nothing! Thinking about it, we do have crosses everywhere in Champagne, too. I'll ask my friend, who is a historian. Curious, now.