Wayside crosses are very common around here. Some date back to the Middle Ages; others are more recent. We’ve even seen one erected on top of a dolmen, imposing the supremacy of Christianity over earlier pagan religions. Sometimes, they had a particular purpose, like the one above, known as la Croix des Miracles. It celebrates the halt of the plague during one of the many epidemics that affected the region.
The 14th-century plague (it wasn’t called the Black Death until the 17th century) – or la peste in French – was the most devastating pandemic ever known in recorded history. No one knows exactly how many people died; estimates vary from 75 to 200 million worldwide. It probably started in central Asia, travelled along the Silk Road and quickly spread from Italy throughout Europe, where it peaked between 1347 and 1353.
According to recent estimates, the European death toll could have been as high as 45-50% with considerable variation. In the south of France and Spain it could even have reached 75-80%, with corresponding social and economic upheaval.
After the initial outbreak, the disease returned regularly up to the 17th century. By the 18th century, which marked the last outbreak in France, it was dying out in Europe.
Little wonder, then, that people were mightily relieved when their village avoided it. This seems to have been the case at some point in the history of Caylus. La Croix des Miracles marks the spot where the plague is supposed to have stopped during one of the epidemics. It’s located at the lieu-dit Mondésir on the road that runs alongside the River Bonnette, north of Caylus.
The date of the cross is not certain. Estimates put it at 15th or 16th century. Although the first catastrophic outbreak was over, the disease was still very much in evidence.
Carved from the local porous limestone, the cross is now eroded and in poor condition. However, it’s just possible to see that one side depicts the Virgin Mary. Two figures might be suppliants. The other side shows the crucifixion.
I’m grateful to the Office de Tourisme de Caylus for mentioning it on Facebook, otherwise I would surely have missed it.
Crosses erected to stave off other scourges had disappointingly little effect. This elaborately-carved cross at Saint-Igne was meant to ward off the Phylloxera bug that did such terrible damage to vines and the wine trade in the late 19th century. But the bug marched on regardless through the region.
You might also like:
When the Plague Came to Southwest France
Wine Blight: How the French Wine Industry was almost Wiped Out
Five Curiosities in Caylus
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I’ll have to see if I can find it! If it’s right on the road that runs along the river, I’ve probably passed it and not noticed it.
Coming from the Caylus direction, it’s easy to miss. You have to go past the petrified waterfall; there’s then a road leading up the back way to Saint-Pierre-Livron and the cross is on the grassy angle between the two roads. Coming down the river from Saint-Projet/Loze it’s probably easier to spot.
Fascinating! As a point of interest – here in Cantal, infact all over Auvergne the figures on such crosses are depicted with over-sized hands. Odd.
That’s interesting. Perhaps they had big hands in the Auvergne. Seriously, hands are difficult to get right – just look at Vermeer’s paintings and you’ll see he was hopeless at them. And Michelangelo’s David has huge hands. In both paintings and on crosses, you often see oversized Virgin Marys with much smaller people around them – presumably to emphasise her significance and holiness. I must look at the hands next time.
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