Luck has been on my mind a lot lately, what with leaving Tokyo mere days before the devastating earthquake hit.
Yesterday I saw a photo of a 4-month old baby found alive in the rubble of one of the many Japanese villages destroyed by the Tsunami. Seeing that photo made me think about luck and miracles and hope and that made me think about the time Uncle Jim and I accidentally coasted into Notre Dame de Laghet, a famous shrine to miracles, luck, hope and gratitude....
All was cheery as we set out in our little convertible on a sunny Sunday afternoon, our backpack filled with peanut butter sandwiches and apples. Our destination: a hiking path in the beautiful Parc de la Justice in the Col d'Eze. We discovered the park by accident the week before, having used the entrance to turn our car around after delivering a lovely wedding cake to a nearby restaurant. Strangely, things didn't turn out quite as we planned...
Halfway there, rolling merrily along the Grand Corniche, high above the Mediterranean, the fuel light on the dashboard came on. Oops, we were almost out of gas!
Well I don't know if you've ever driven along the Grand Corniche but gas stations are few and far between and most shops and businesses in France are closed on Sundays including gas stations.
The situation looked a bit tenuous. Maps were pulled from glove boxes, fingernails were bitten, options were discussed and then with some quick thinking on Uncle Jim's part, we took a sharp right turn on the road towards Nice, La Trinité hoping to find a much needed gas station. As luck would have it, La Trinité is in a valley that is much lower than the Grand Corniche so we pressed in the clutch to save fuel and silently glided downwards through a beautiful forest.
After about 5 minutes of coasting with no gas station in sight, we found ourselves in the lovely little village of Laghet.
Who can resist an ancient little French village, especially one with a public washroom which by the time we had arrived had become a necessity. Plan "B" had begun!
In the spirit of exploration we parked the car, ignoring the gas situation for the moment and poked around the narrow streets that eventually led us to The Sanctuary of Notre Dame de Laghet.
Crowds were milling around the entrance to the Sanctuary and after confirming that we were allowed inside, in we went, our hiking plans abandoned for a different sort of adventure.
After a few minutes in the Sanctuary, there we stood, completely agog. Everywhere we looked there were drawings, poems, plaques, paintings and other heartfelt depictions of danger, survival and thanks. Holy cow.
Four thousand of these fascinating Ex Voto as they are known in Latin, line every available inch of the Chapel walls.
Displaying Ex Voto is not a new tradition by any means. They existed in ancient Egypt and can be found in many shrines and chapels throughout the world. They are given in gratitude and thanks for fulfillment of a wish or prayer and to show others what is possible.
We described our trip to Laghet to a friend and she asked us if we had gone to the crypt under the Sanctuary which she said was overflowing with canes, crutches and other such paraphernalia no longer needed by those who have been miraculously cured. Too bad we missed that.
French Revolutionaries ransacked the Sanctuary in 1792 and destroyed all the Ex Voto but thankfully since then it has been safe and protected, filled once again with heartfelt Ex Voto.
Laghet is descended upon annually by tens of thousands of visitors, all of whom I imagine thoughtfully plan their pilgrimages months or years in advance just like the first faithful who arrived there in 1652. We were the exceptions, having just coasted in looking for gas.
Hours later we left Laghet. Not far down the same road we coasted in on we found an open gas station, filled up, and drove quietly home, the images we had seen haunting us for days afterwards.
Even if you're not a religious person, it's hard to deny that creating Ex Voto is a lovely and memorable way to express thanks and gratitude.
Maybe we should all be making Ex Voto for people who deserve to be thanked and why not? Dust off those coloured pencils and let's all get to it!