The old, old church is a hearty eighty-six steps up a steep hill from the village. Even with our daily five miles, I started to feel winded. This is no gentle slope. Did there used to be more dwellings that high up in Bonnieux or was that all part of it? In the 12th century was this just what you did every Sunday? Or several times a week for that matter? And just as Gothic cathedrals’ heights help bring their congregations closer to heaven with their arches and steeples, are these steps supposed to signify a journey towards communion with God?
Of course in my state of rapture, in reaching the top, in Provençal July heat, and in Christian ruins, I didn’t bother to take any pictures of the church itself. There’s hardly enough room at the top of the hill to get far enough away from the wall of the church to capture it all in one shot anyway, and the church itself was locked (though it isn’t used as a church, classical music performances are held there occasionally).
There’s a little bench up there at the top under that big cypress tree that’s obscured by the tree’s shadows. It’s so quiet up there, and windy too. In a way it’s soothing to sit on that bench, and in a way it’s very eerie, being so high up, and so dwarfed by everything around you–the church, the trees, the vista, and time itself.
Sitting in the shade and peering through the big dark cypress branches makes you understand Cezanne and the awe he obviously felt a bit better (think Forest 1894 and Landscape Near Aix, the Plain of the Arc River). I have such a different perspective on Cezanne than I used to. In college I fought one of my art history professors constantly about him–I just never felt the still lives and thought he was over-credited for his perspective. Now looking at his landscapes that once seemed so benign to me, I see much more of the turbulence that I feel is the essence of Provence–it isn’t that calm lavender scented-rosé filled country the Brits, or whoever else might think it is–it’s thick and heavy. Life is really felt here. As the French say, it’s sauvage–wild.