Les Montagnes de St. Hippolyte du Fort
This week we're going on a tour of the beautiful mountains surrounding my little town. So grab your walking stick and hiking boots…just kidding! Sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery from a comfy chair, favorite beverage in hand.
We'll start with Le Cengle mountain, which is just across the river from us. Steeply rising from the road and river below, it boasts dramatic cliffs dotted with openings to mysterious caves.
One of these is called the Grotte des Camisards, named after the Huguenot fighters in the wars of religion of the early 18th century. Vastly outnumbered by King Louis XIV's dragoon soldiers, the Camisards miraculously and courageously held them off for several years throughout our region. This cave was one of their hide-outs and various names from this time period are etched on the walls.
Various other caves throughout the Cévennes also hosted clandestine church services during this period. The king outlawed Protestantism which left the faithful no other choice than to meet by night in caves. If caught by dragoons, the pastor was arrested and then publicly beaten to death on a torture device called the wheel. The men were sent to Marseille and chained in galley boats for the remainder of their lives. Women were incarcerated in prisons around France and their children were sent to convents to be "re-educated." It is a tragic chapter of French history.
Some of our more adventurous co-workers have hiked up and rappelled down inside. On the bottom, they made the grisly discovery of human bones, thought to be from those hiding from Napoleon's war campaigns. If only these wall could tell us the stories!
Le Cengle mountain was also the sight of another fascinating historical moment. In 1683, before Protestantism was declared illegal, King Louis XIV sent 1200 dragoons to St. Hippolyte to suppress the 4000 faithful Huguenots. When the Huguenots heard of the soldiers' imminent arrival, they took to Le Cengle mountain, in a move of self-defense and as a statement of passive resistance. Men, women, children–along with furniture (I can't quite picture that, but it's in the historical accounts), food, bedding, etc. They camped out on the mountain terraces for three days before returning home under threats of more "reprisals" if they did not. The dragoons arrived later that day and moved into their homes to force conversions. Our namesake fort was then built to control the Huguenots. The town was occupied for decades until freedom of religion was instituted after the French Revolution.
Beyond Belief (working towards publication) is my historical novel based upon these little-known events. When I walk by Le Cengle, which I often do, I cannot help but imagine thousands of Huguenots covering the mountain, standing their ground. They were determined to demonstrate loyalty to the king while maintaining their right to worship and live in line with their beliefs. Many died for their faith amidst much persecution. I find their courage and devotion highly inspirational.
From here, we head west to two mountains that together create an intriguing silhouette. What do you see?
From most angles, the profile of a slumbering pregnant woman appears. Interestingly, I saw a similar mountain on the island of Huahine in French Polynesia. I imagine there are others around the world, as a few rolling hills plus a little imagination easily evoke this image.
Continuing around to the south, we arrive at Puech de Mar, a tabletop mountain at the southern end of town. It is here that ancient settlements existed, dating to the first and second centuries. Eventually people moved in closer proximity to the river, to be near the all-important water needed to survive.
On the western end of Puech de Mar mountain, we find the Château de Roquefourcade. The ruins of this structure rise from the rocky terrain, creating an intriguing silhouette that can be seen from quite a distance. One of the things I love about France is the surprise of seeing ancient châteaux popping up across the countryside.
Circling on around St. Hippo, we find ourselves surrounded by vineyards. When we did the vendange grape harvest on our friend Emilien's land, we had this lovely view of Puech de Mar on the left and Le Cengle in the distance on the right.
We finish our tour back at our starting point, the Château de Planque. Behind us sits a hill that blends into a rocky outcropping that runs along the mountains leading north.
At the top left corner behind us, we find our watchtower. As mentioned in previous blogs, the views here are magnificent to the north, west and south.
The words of truth in the following French worship song spring to mind when I lift my eyes to the lovely mountains of St. Hippolyte du Fort.
“Je lève les yeux vers les hauts sommets,
Toi seul es mon Dieu, je proclamerai:
Toi seul es ma force, toi seul me restaures,
Mon secours est en toi.”
"I lift my eyes to the hills,
You, alone are my God, I proclaim:
You alone are my strength; you alone restore me,
My help comes from you."
La vie est belle!