Sanctuary of "La Sainte Baume"
For those who are willing to travel to the gorgeous south of France, the "pilgrim" will be enchanted by two very special
sanctuaries. The first one is the sanctuary of La Sainte Baume. This very special site is where Mary Magdalene spent the last
thirty years of her life. Later, her body was buried in the Basilique of Sainte Marie Madeleine in Saint Maximin; a 45 minutes
drive from La Sainte Baume. (for more information on historical facts please go on the links page)
Direction: Airport of Nice France or Marseilles then by car direction Aix en Provence; take the highway to Saint-Maximin
then follow direction for La Sainte Baume.
La Sainte Baume
Leaving the friendly village of Sainte Maximin, the road winds its way up the hill. It is " La Provence" in all its beauty;
pines trees, lovely little houses and finally we park our car in the Hotellerie of La Sainte Baume which is run by the Benedictine
sisters. Every year, this hotel lodges hundreds of pilgrims willing to climb the trail up to "la Grotte". The old beautiful
hotel stands alone in the valley and above we can see through the forest, the cliff and the sanctuary carved in the mountain.
It is an austere cliff, and it is a very special feeling to imagine that so long ago, Mary Magdalene, stood in this valley,
searching for the same spot.
A little back pack with water and a snack will do. The trail is obvious and we start through the forest. The trees are
majestic and this is a very healthy forest, it must have water hidden in its soil, and does not fit with its arid surrounding,
The trees are old , and it is said that this forest was not cut, because it was considered sacred. It is lush with an ancient
and worn path. Old rocks form large steps up the hill. The birds are starting their days and the noises of the leaves are
swishing around. It is a quiet morning at the Sainte Baume and no one is there. We keep climbing through the forest for about
forty five minutes.
Approaching the sanctuary, many signs have been posted asking us to be quiet. Up above soaring, are big nets of steel,
protecting the trail from falling stones, as we are standing on the bottom of the cliff. A new road on the left is reserved
to the access by the community of the Dominicans which are guardians of the sanctuary. The building where the Monks lives
seemed anchored up on the cliff, a crane stick out, so the monks can lift up supply. For more information on the sanctuary
activity go to
A column of stairs leads to a huge and rather "ghoulish" Christ with Mary Magdalene at his feet. It is a disturbing picture,
as the inspiration was to picture a "realistic" view of the crucifixion. Unfortunately it does not fit in the awesome surrounding.
Thankfully it is not located at the grotte itself, but standing on the left side of the sanctuary.
The place is deserted as it is very early, just the sound of birds chirping. It is cold and the building where the community
of the Dominicans live, looks asleep.
The grotte had been enclosed with a stone wall and a large wooden door. But it looks open, so we walked in.
Minutes later with a flurry of robes enters 2 Dominican monks. We are greeted very warmly and one of the monks gave me
a nice tour. It is a very large cave dripping with water and we can imagine Mary Magdalene who must have climbed the steep
rocks so she could Access the grotte. It is warm and humid and also dark because the grotte has been walled-in.
But seven beautiful stained glass lets some light in. The sun is rising so we are in the shade, but in the afternoon, Mary
Magdalene must have enjoyed the sun and the magnificent view.
Inside on the left stands an altar with a large sculpture of Mary Magdalene where the Sainte used to stay dry. According
to the Monks, the bottom of the cave sometimes fills up with water. There is a spring, which must have been essential for
Mary to survive. Springs are notoriously very difficult to find in the dry southern country. In a typical old southern property,
water was shared with their neighbors, and springs like this were like gold.
Under the massif altar are relics from her body encased in a very elaborate box. There is another white statue on the right
and candles are lit everywhere.
The sanctuary is used all the time for special masses and processions. We light up a candle, and then we come out in the
It is a magnificent view, of the valley and continuing our pilgrimage, we turned right heading for the summit of the Saint
Pilon which sits above the cliff of the sanctuary.
The trail winds up, and we finally get on top of the crest, where a little chapel stands. It is gleaming white against
a blue sky; we could nearly be in Greece. What a glorious morning, it is cold and there is a bit of old snow and ice stuck
in the rocks. The wind is picking up as we are approaching the top of the crest, and here we are, with the exceptional view
of the massif of la Sainte Baume. The little chapel is very cute and the trail is well marked with white and red paint. This
is one of thousands of the well kept paths throughout France, which can still be discovered completely by foot.
A quick picnic on the step of the chapel, which is protecting us from the cold wind, and we head down.
There is lots of wild thyme everywhere, and in the summer, it must smell the typical fragrance of the south of France.
We go down slowly and looking back up, we are glad that we made it all the way up. It was a great day.