Going to a town church or a mosque or a synagogue is one way to discover something about about its community. So, attending a Sunday morning service at the Cathedral of St Ettienne this Sunday morning was a natural part of my voyage of discovery here in Agde.
With a style more defensive and military than ecclesiastical, St Etienne’s Cathedral is a massive black, lava stone edifice on the Agde waterfront. It’s a jutting landmark from everywhere in the town. This morning the bells peel out at 10.30 and we join other attenders walking down the streets to the side entrance. The buzz in and around the building tells us something very special is happening here.
Inside, before the richly decorated Louis x111 altarpiece, a great crowd is gathering – talking, calling across to each other, making spaces, kneeling, genuflecting, chatting, laughing. And there is a lot of kissing! Everyone is kissing each other: it’s a matrix of kissing - between old men, young men, teenagers, old women, young women, children aunts, uncles, cousins…
I begin to realise that there exists a code of relationships that you can discover by counting the kisses. One for slight, two for friends, three for intimates. Nobody kisses four times, although I remember people kissing four times in Paris. (I suddenly realise that I was somewhat over-intimate with someone I met on Friday…)
No church I’ve ever attended in Britain was ever so full of greeting, comradeship and vocal neighbourliness. Then through all the chatter the music master gets to the microphone and, without quelling the movement or noise, rehearses the anthems to come. He has a sweet voice and generates some sweet response. But still the people go on greeting and kissing.
The cathedral is now packed and we decide to vacate our seats so that genuine Agathoise could have their places in what is obviously an important local event. We go out through the great front doors which give out straight onto the quay side and the broad sweeps of the harbour area of the River Herault. This is truly a seamen's, even a pirates’ church.
A crowd of girls in white robes with flowers in their hair are chatting, laughing, and beginning to queue up to make their entrance into the service.
When all the kissing began….
Work In Progress from
‘At The Villa d’Estella’;
- We’d not been speaking for three days when, out of the blue, someone in Philip’s office offered him a house in the Languedoc for two months. Seemed she’d rented it but couldn’t make the dates now. He was very keen to do this. Perhaps he thought it was the last chance for us. He broke his silence. ‘So it would be a chance, Stella, to get away, to freshen up.’ He rubbed his hand down his face. ‘It might help… you…’ -