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  • Writer's pictureWill

feels like home to me

Photo: the "front" of the Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert Abbey.

Continued from

With half an hour to go before the abbey opened its doors to the hostel, I was quite happy watching a man get attacked by wasps, and then I heard the singing.

It was coming from behind the huge wooden doors to the closed abbey. I went closer. There was a person size door slightly ajar, I went through. What sounded far away on one side of the door was as clear as a bell on the other, I went in.

Time, details, environment all ceased to have any meaning as I was hypnotised by the combined voices of four black-robed nuns. To their left was a priest but it was the nuns that held my attention. I was a Baptist, an evangelical protestant Christian, for all the good or ill those labels do. I had been taught to doubt the accuracy and sincerity of Catholicism. It was a mixture of uneducated superstition with the evil power of popery.

I understood nothing. Those nuns were expressing a purity of love and devotion to God I never dreamed was possible. I quietly lowered my pack to the floor, silently slipped into the back pew, and for 15 minutes it feels like I have returned to my true spiritual roots.

(For an example of nuns singing high mass click on link

Cantus Ecclesiae - Benedictine Nuns of St. Celia's Abbey )

Maybe it was tiredness after a long and painful day, maybe the pizza and beer, the leftover emotion from having a conversation but I just wanted to cry.

All too soon, in perfect unity, the voices stopped. The priest waited until the echo too was silent. He said a few words and made the sign of the cross. I used to mock that sign, a symbol of fear to keep away the vampires, spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch. Now if felt this 2,000-year-old symbol calling me. I was envious of the way his sign was the same as 50 generations of believers.

I made the sign of the cross.

The priest paused for a moment, and without a word, exited stage left through a side door, he closed it behind him, and without a backward glance, was gone. My eyes returned to the nuns, who were still and silent for the count of three. One of them peeked at the door to make sure and … head coverings are thrown back, and life. It was obvious they knew the routine, candles were extinguished, table clothes folded, Bible gently closed, they were chatting and giggling. One nun, young and astonishingly pretty skipped, I kid you not, skipped like a young girl down the aisle leaning in to blow out the candles without stopping. From solemn ceremony to joyful life in the blink of an eye.

An older nun came towards me and said something in French but by the movement of her eyes, I guessed she wanted me to leave. Just before she closed and locked the person-sized door behind me, she pointed to the left.

A few steps later and I stood outside the door to the abbey albergue. The door opened and it was the same nun, she must have whizzed round the inside, although why I couldn’t have followed her was beyond me.

I followed her inside and waited while she sat behind a massive solid wood desk. I handed over my credencial, my pilgrims passport, and paid the €5 bed fee.

It feels like home to me.


Photo: my stamped credencial

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