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France Retreat and Tour
The Accidental Pentagram
© Vincent Bridges 2010
Early on in my research on the Grail in Provence,
I noticed something unusual about the landscape. Not only was the region roughly a triangle,
the delta of the Rhone delta, with a small mountain range across the
center, but the area around Glanum seemed to be the center or connecting
point of some kind of invisible web that apparently animated the larger
landscape. The pattern was hard to make out as it wasn’t an alignment
of churches or shrines, or even pilgrim routes, but a structural component,
formed by geology, which shaped the pattern. Humans, for thousands
of years, made use of the pattern on the landscape, without perhaps
ever being aware of it directly.
From the top of the Alpilles, the view to the
south is unobstructed to the horizon, which on a clear day is the Mediterranean. To the east
is the Luberon hills and above that the edge of the Vaucluse plateau.
To the west lies Nimes and the rough hills to the north of it, and
due north the view is clear all the way to Avignon, the papal city
at the confluence of the Durance and the Rhone. Further north is the
Rhone valley and beyond that looms the hills and gorges of the Ardeche.
It is plain to see that the rivers, the Rhone
and the Durance have shaped the landscape, and other rivers emptying into the Rhone have
created even more contours and gorges around the edges. This creates
the tension of the landscape, defining the places that suggest “holiness.” The
confluence of the two great rivers would have been an obvious sacred
site, now co-opted by the Catholic Church, as would the spring at the
base of the Holy Mountain of the Alpilles. The line between them, slightly
west of north, continues up the Rhone valley until in the Ardeche it
hits a small village called St. Mountain, Holy Mountain, where there
is a grotto, the Grotto de le Ste. Baume, said to be one of Mary Magdalene’s
With one line, we have connected three very ancient
and sacred locations,
two Holy Mountains with grottoes and springs and the confluence of
the two rivers that shape the landscape. To the ancient people who
inhabited the valley, these were unmistakably sacred sites and their
alignment would have been seen as a spiritual, and actual, axis of
the region. The curious point is that attribution of a cave or grotto
in the Ardeche to Mary Magdalene, la Ste. Baume.
Traditionally, the better known chapel and grotto
in the Massif de la Sainte Baume, far to the southeast from the Ardeche
and almost on the coast, has been seen as the focus of the 12th century’s stories
of Mary Magdalene’s penitence and hermitage. There seems to be
no connection at all to the Ardeche in any of the surviving Magdalene
legends, yet there it is. More than just the grotto, the region is
full of Madeleine names, including the sharp bend in the Ardeche River
and the Templar hospital and fort defending it. Perhaps the Templars
were the source for the local and somewhat late Madeleine/Magdalene
tradition; however the evidence for long term habitation and importance
as a sacred site, going back to the Neolithic era, includes a set of
monoliths near another grotto a few kilometers east of the Magdalene
This spot marks the north end of the axis line
from Glanum, through
the confluence of the rivers and on to the monoliths, which are on
the same level as the Robinet de Donzere, the rocky out cropping that
forms the narrows of the Rhone, just before the Ardeche empties into
it. This clearly, from deep prehistory, was the gateway to the valley
and the delta beyond. And the connection from the gateway, in the far
north, to the center, the sacred springs and caves of the Alpilles
in the delta, is also quite clear. But there must be more, even if
this is the main line of the invisible web.
My next logical step was to draw a line on my
map connecting the Ardeche’s
la Baume grotto with the more famous one in the far southeast of Provence. This line ran along the edge of the Vaucluse plateau and near many
famous cave and spring locations, including Fontaine de Vaucluse and
Pernes-le-Fontaine, but no odd attributions to the Magdalene. The line
crosses the Durance northwest of Aix-en-Provence, passes west of the
Forest of Peyrolles and the Montagne Ste. Victorie and east of the
Chaine de l’etoile, through a gap marked by range of low hills
to the Grotto and its chapel. From there, aligning yourself along the
low pass or col in front of you, would direct you along the water edge
of the Vaucluse and on to the Gateway of the Rhone. Because of its
12th century overhaul and the continuing presence of the Catholic Church,
we have little evidence of Neolithic habitation near the grotto or
chapel, but the importance of the site clearly predates its Christian
Our next line, from Glanum’s sacred mountain to the
Grotto and chapel of la Ste. Baume, makes this clear as it encloses Aix-en-Provence
to the south. Aix was originally named Aquae Sextae Salluviorium for
the thermal spring of sweet water around which the Romans founded a
town in 123 BCE. So the idea of a sacred spring is reinforced by the
lines connecting the center and the two widely separated holy grotto
locations, as they converge on the most famous holy spring of the region.
Also, the line from Glanum to the Grotto la Ste. Baume falls in between
the Montagne Ste. Victorie and the Chaine de l’etoile, with an
even better and more direct line of sight back to the eastern Alpilles.
This gives us a triangle, tilted from the north to the southeast, centered
on Glanum’s sacred mountain.
But where are the lines for the western and the southern directions?
It just felt like there had to be more of the pattern there, and so
I kept on looking.
I turned my attention to places with a Magdalene connection, and immediately
it occurred to me that Ste. Maries-de-le-Mer, with its Sarah
the Egyptian grotto and fresh water spring, was, as the Magalene’s supposed
landing spot in Provence, an obvious choice. A line from Glanum through
the sacred mountain to Ste. Maries-de-le-Mer runs through Les Baux
and the ancient Drudic valleys, so that felt correct. The line from
La Ste. Baume to Ste. Maries-de-le-Mer passed the Chaine de etoile
to the south and along the coast north and west of Marseilles and created
a counterpart to the eastern section of the larger triangle.
So, I looked west toward Nimes, which had a large
nympheum and spring
as the center of its ancient settlement. The nympheum is just below
the ancient Greco-Roman watch tower, the Tour Magne, with its odd multi-lingual
connections to Magdalene/Magdala, (The words mean roughly the same
thing in Latin and Aramaic, “great tower”.) However, Nimes,
for all its suggestive connotations, has never had a direct Magdalene
But to the north, in the Gorges de Gardon, there
is a curious story about the Magdalene’s original, pre-la Baume,
hermitage spot. A few kilometers up the Gard from the Pont-du-Gard aqueduct, this Grotto
de la Baume is the only one without the Sainte prefix, indicating that
it was a hermitage for all Baume, or cave dwelling anchorites. In fact,
a Hellenistic 2nd century BCE statue of a seated Buddha was found in
this grotto, indicating that it was used by many traditions as a hermitage
spot. The story is that the Magdalene spent a few years there soon
after her arrival, then was miraculously flown across Provence to the
Grotto southeast of Aix by an angel. This immediately caught my attention,
because, assuming an angel would fly in a straight line, then a line
connecting the Grotto de la Baume and the Grotto de la Ste. Baume would
pass directly over Glanum’s sacred mountain.
I now had two western triangles, centered on
the grotto north of Nimes,
and a southern triangle anchored by Ste Maries-de-le-Mer, to accompany
the north to southeastern original triangle, and all focused on Glanum.
But it still felt incomplete. Four lines from the sacred mountain above
Glanum connecting Magdalene caves and springs, making a larger sense
of some ancient mother/water goddess connection and this knowing continued
as part of the early Christian/Magdalene anchorite tradition. The southern
triangle along the sea felt whole, it needed no division into smaller
pieces like the western section. However, that northern to southeastern
triangle seemed to beg for another division to match the western sections.
And then it hit me.
If I just continued the line from Ste. Maries-de-le-Mer
through Les Baux and Glanum until it touched the long side of the triangle,
then I would indeed have five sections or triangles; northeast, southeast,
south, southwest, and northwest. And the center would be a pentagonal
alignment focused on a spot on the top of the sacred mountain above
This is what I call the accidental pentagram. No one planned it, but
the ancient pattern of goddesses and caves and springs, and the legends
grafted onto them, point to the larger archetype on the landscape.
I had four interconnected sacred sites, with Glanum at the center,
but could there really be five? What of that point where the Ste. Maries/Les
Baux/Glanum line crossed the long side of the triangle, could there
be something there that clinched the connection?
On the map, there was nothing there but a bend
in the road coming
down across the Vaucluse plateau from St. Didier to Sausaune-de-Vauclause.
But, when I began to look closer, I found something truly strange.
In the odd bend in the road where the lines crossed was an old hermitage
and shrine to a local Dark Age local saint, St. Gens. On the right
hand wall of the hermitage is a large dark stone said to be the hidden
location of St. Gens’ cave and perhaps either his tomb or where
he awaits the end of the world. Gens, in the local dialect, is pronounced
as “jean” and so we have a mysterious St. “Jean” or
John with a cave hermitage/tomb and above that a miraculous spring.
Recently, I redrew my original somewhat rough
diagram of the accidental pentagram. In making it more accurate, I stumbled on a very important
point, literally. In my first version, I knew the intersection point
was somewhere above Glanum, about halfway between Glanum and Les Baux,
on the slopes of the Mount Gaussier, the sacred mountain, but locating
the exact spot required a better map and a larger scale. When I did
that, I found that the spot where the five lines of the Nuit star/pentagram
meet fell just off the side of the old road that climbs from Glanum
and St. Remy over the Alpilles.
I had accidentally stopped at that very spot
in 1999 and noticed the
similarities between the spot and the foreground and rock seat of Leonardo’s
St. John in the Wilderness. I was so impressed that I looked up the
painting in the Louvre, amazed that Leonardo Da Vinci had placed his
oddly heretical saint on that hillside in the Alpilles. And, this particular
spot turns out to be the exact location of the pentagram’s center…
With this, the pattern of our pentagram seems
complete. Four Magdalene
sites, caves with springs, and a fifth connected to a mysterious Gens
or Jean, with a cave and a spring, and all focused on Glanum and its
nympheum, a temple to the mother goddess of living water. This ancient
sacred pattern on the landscape provides the most vital clue of all
to the mysteries of Provence and the Holy Grail. As the true history
of the Grail in Provence emerges, these curious locations – a
Templar hospital and grotto, the church’s chapel and grotto,
the gypsy’s sea-side shrine to the Maries, the old hermitage
site above Nimes, the hidden saint and his tomb in the Vaucluse, and
of course Glanum – will develop into key, but hidden, components
of the story.