Aizier, Archeology, France, History, Leper Colony, Leprosy, Romanesque, Walking
This is a post about a walk in the woods to a mysterious place not far from our cottage. From the village and from nearby Azier, there are signs pointing to the Chapelle Saint-Thomas, up in the hills. Follow the signs and you will find yourself climbing this wooded road.
Chapelle Saint-Thomas isn’t listed in the guidebooks yet. It’s been around since the 1200s, and was inhabited until the eighteenth century. Over the last decade, the site has been the subject of an archeological excavation to expose the foundations and history of the Leproserie de Saint-Thomas d’Aizier.
How did medieval lepers live? In Biblical society (it’s Holy Week, I’ve been thinking about the gospels), leprosy was a symbol of sin, and lepers were stigmatised and lived on the margins of civilisation. That’s why it’s a story worth telling when Jesus engages with lepers. Who would do that? You can’t imagine that wherever the Biblical or medieval lepers ended up living was much of a place.
But here, overlooking a curve in the Seine (which is visible through the leafless trees in winter), is the loveliest place, all silvery birches and green velvet moss. There is an excellent set of display boards marking out the various areas of the settlement – the living and working areas, the Romanesque chapel, the cemetery. Not a slum at all, it seems, but rather a working, monastic-type community and hospital.
People still come to think and pray in this peaceful, verdant spot. Lovers knot branches which grow up in these strange curved shapes as the years go on.