Notre Dame des Grace

St. Joseph

The village Pilgrim
Personal Pilgrimage to Notre Dame des Grace

by Michele Di Falco

The petite picturesque village of Cotignac has many paths to explore. Especially on, as well as up and down, it’s fascinating plateau-topped cliff. Another area of interest is the chapel and grounds of Notre Dame des Grace. One can make a personal pilgrimage here, to visit the site where the Blessed Mother is said to have appeared.
There is at least one very visible, devoted villager. He can be seen making his own personal pilgrimage each and every day in Cotignac. Beginning at the sacred site of the Virgin’s appearance at Notre Dame des Grace, he proceeds right through the center of the village and on to the monastery of St. Joseph in the hills North of the village. One need only to be on the same schedule as he, to catch the site of this faithful ritual. I, being a devotee of the sacred art of cafe sitting, partake often in the sight of this procession of one.
From my perfect spot under the plane trees, I sip my cafe creme, relishing one of my favorite pleasures in life, the cafe al fresco. Being only two hours from Italy, I ponder the serious implications of “the sweet faire niente” (in Italian: “to do nothing”) on the quality of our lives. It’s a real commitment, to give over some time every day to doing nothing. And one that is fully supported by the atmosphere and inhabitants of this village in the south of France. So I carry on, working diligently at this noblest of activity, or lack thereof. Interrupting my contemplation on the pleasures of life, is a ‘felt sense;’ an intuitive hunch, an irresistible urge to glance over. It must be that time again. I look up and there he is. There’s that familiar sight, du jour; Cotignac’s village pilgrim.
While the normal activity of daily village life carries on, no one seems to take any notice. Right through the center of the village, the pilgrim walks his path at a leisurely pace from one local shrine to the other. He carries a tall walking stick with a statue of the Blessed Virgin heavily draped with rosary beads affixed to the top. I smile to myself and take a moment to watch, gazing with almost a sense of reassurance or relief. It’s something one comes to count on each day and enjoy like freshly baked croissants in the morning, the chiming of the church bells, the coming dusk changing and deepening the colors of the sky. The ritual has become another part of daily village life. Proceeding from the South, beginning at the sacred sight of the Virgin’s appearance at Notre Dame des Grace he makes his way á la pied through the center of the village to the monastery of St. Joseph in the hills to the North above town.
Ending here at St. Joseph’s monastery creates a perfect finale for the daily ritual of our local pilgrim. The grounds are beautiful, with flowers and statues. Walking through the doors of the monastery chapel one seems to step through time and into the past. This is especially true if you have visited when you can hear the beautiful, timeless sounds of the nuns singing Gregorian chant from the ancient chapel.
In the seventeenth century at the site of Notre Dame des Grace, Ann of Austria, faithful devotee of the Blessed Mother, prayed fervently to be with child. Her prayers were answered it is said after an appearance by Mother Mary on these grounds. Shortly after the appearance she became pregnant and gave birth to her son Louis XIV.
Years later (around 1660) a grateful Anne of Austria returned with her son, Louis on a pilgrimage to the sight. This event has been commemorated with a black marble tablet on a pillar, in the garden area outside the church.
While you are there you can enjoy the lovely surroundings. From the esplainade around the church there is a beautiful view. One can look out and see the neighboring village of Carces and the Argens Valley from this lovely historic site on Mont Verdaille. One does not necessarily need to be a “believer” or a devotee to be receptive to the restorative peaceful energy of these beautiful surroundings. Explore the grounds with it’s historical marker. Enjoy the view, see the chapel of Notre Dame des Grace and the painting above the alter.
You also may wish to visit the grounds and chapel at St. Joseph’s monastery in the morning or late afternoon and hear the chanting. For some, this is quite a long walk, possibly too ambitious a hike. You may prefer to get into your car and drive there. In any case both places are lovely to visit.

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