This morning, Saturday, Chris and I went to a rather nice ceremony at St Clair’s in Nouzerines. It was a little service to bless the new clocher (bell tower). The weather was foul but at least it was dry inside the church, although it certainly wasn’t warmer than outside! We did wonder slightly why the powers that be had decided to celebrate in the middle of winter. The tower was actually finished last summer!
Père Arnaud Favard is the priest for this parish. He has a wonderful singing voice and is very strict about the musical standards of his flock. We always have to rehearse beforehand! He took us through the various chants and hymns and only when we were good enough, could we proceed to the ceremony proper. (He does the same thing every year at the St Francis Day animal ceremony.)
Stéphanie Josset, Président of Patrimoine Nouzerines, the fundraising body that has been the driving force behind the church renovations, opened the service and then there was one of the now perfect hymns and a prayer. Fellow English expat Christopher (not my Chris) played his piano accordion to liven things up. Then the priest gave a short sermon, explaining the different symbols that are usually to be found on top of every church’s bell tower in the form of the weather vane. There’s always a cock, as opposed to a pig, cow, sheep, llama etc, since this creature is the symbol of rejuvenation and new life. By crowing at dawn, the cock celebrates that night is over. Symbolically this represents him heralding the end of any period of physical or moral darkness. He always stands atop a globe to represent the world. Most church weather vanes also feaure a girouette – the wind indicator itself. Père Favard told us how important that was in the past, a real indication of what weather was heading our way. The Maire gave a short speech too.
One of the hymns had been about people coming to church from all four points of the horizon. These aren’t the points of the compass as you’d expect, but in fact east, west, up and down. Churches are on an east-west axis. The alter is at the eastern end so that the congregation sits and looks towards the rising daylight and life. In contrast the priest looks west, facing death. In Limousin statues of Christ always face west for this reason. The up and down represent heaven and hell. The weather vane draws eyes upwards towards heaven. He didn’t go into the hell thing in much detail!
After more expert singing, we finished the ceremony outside with the physical blessing of the clocher. The rain briefly held off while the priest read out the benediction (see below) and we sang the refrain beautifully. Then he threw holy water towards the bell tower before rushing back into the church to start ringing the bells.
We’d said the Lord’s prayer along the way. For the first time I saw the words of it in French, but I stuck to saying the English version. It occurred to me that our heathen youngest son doesn’t know that cornerstone of the Christian faith in either language! I guess that’s a bit of a giveaway that we don’t go to church all that often. I remember how Benj blurted out loudly once, when we were at a service, I forget for what reason: “Gosh we’re in Church. Is it Christmas!” Don’t you just love kids!