The Doorway to Heaven?

May 3rd is a lucky day, but only every 5, 6 or 11 years!

The story was told to me by a great raconteur and bon vivant, Denys Laurence.

You ALL need to know about this so pay attention!

415.jpgSomewhere, nestled in the “petit village” of Correns, Provence, population 675 on a good day, is the door to salvation. Correns, a sleepy little French village off the beaten path between Aix-en-Provence and Cannes, is really just a collection of charming stone buildings that cluster at the base of the ancient and imposing Fort Gibron, a feudal castle that dates back to the 11th century. My friends Denys and Norma live in a restored 16th century mill teetering on the bank of the river Argens, right near the bridge that connects the two sides of the town. It is as close to paradise as you can find and I spent an idyllic few days there once upon a time.

The Village is situated on a small hill in the Var, one of the regions of Provence. It is surrounded by rolling hills planted with gnarly grape vines and its hot, dry summer, limestone outcrops and shady eucalypt trees reminded me much of the original landscape of Sydney. The little town goes way, way back. Its archeology reveals evidence of pre-historic and pre-Roman settlement. It became an active Roman citadel, was a bustling concern during medieval times and in 1011, Edelbergt of Chateaurenard and his wife Mathilde Correns built a little Christian church there.

p-de-p1.jpgWhile the palette of Italy consists of varying shades of terracotta reds and rusty yellow the colors of France are creamy alabaster and the palest rosy pink with jet black trim. A wander through the village of Correns is like walking through a rose garden of delicate color with the occasional dash of lilac or periwinkle splashed on a door or window shutters. The narrow streets meander around the base of the hill, but sooner or later you will happen upon the dignified little church of Notre-Dame-de-Correns.

correns-porte-pardon.jpgThe church boasts a most imposing front door, but this is not the door of which I speak. Over to the right is a much smaller, more discreet door with the words “Porte de Pardon” written on its mantle. THIS is the door of miracles, for it would seem that early in the life of the church, the very obliging Pope Sergius IV issued a Papal Bull that decreed that anyone passing through this door would be absolved of their non-mortal sins – but only if you passed through on the day on which the 3rd of May falls on a Friday!  You can imagine the Stampede!

The people of the region knew a good deal when they saw one, so Correns celebrated its “Pardon” with a flurry of religious fervour and the sleepy little hamlet became famous throughout the region. The population of Correns has barely, in the last two or three year’s, increased to over seven hundred souls but in medieval times and during the Renaissance it was considerably greater. On 3rd May 1613 for instance, the population was over a thousand and that year 53,235 persons passed through the Porte de Pardon and had their little sins forgiven. WooHoo!   

Faithful sinners descended on Correns from far and wide - until disaster struck on the night of 5th May 1734. The church fell down.  No-one really knows why but you can imagine the distress. Now sinners would have to be a bit more circumspect, a bit more wary about coveting the neighbour’s wife. Plans for a rather grand new Church were scratched and a simplified version was re-built with considerable haste. They had reason to be concerned. Apparently the right to be pardoned was attached to the church that had fallen down, and did not automatically pass to the new church.  Concerned citizens sent a delegation to Pope Clement XII, and their journey to Rome was rewarded with a new Papal bull, which ensured the Pardon privilege was extended to the new church and the new door.  In fact the delegation was so successful in its supplications to the Holy Father that the new Pardon was applied to ALL sins, not just the little ones.  Major Woohoo!

Now you could be seriously bad and as long as you made it to the next Friday May 3rd, all would be forgiven. Since 1741, when the new church was consecrated, that bull has been hung outside the church every time the 3rd of May has fallen on a Friday and sinners have streamed through the door. But beware! It can only be THOSE Fridays and THAT door!

Yes, like many things in life timing is all important. I’m not sure why it only works on the thirds of May that fall on a Friday but it does, so just be grateful for what we got! Perhaps the thoughtful old Popes were trying to spare the town an annual inundation! Mathematically, the third of May falling on a Friday only occurs every 5, 6 or 11 years depending on leap years.The last Pardon was in 2002. The next Pardon is in 2013 and it will be known as the Grand Pardon of 2013. Apparently, the elderly of the area pray every night that they will make it! After that there’s only a 6 year wait till 2019. It’s all in the timing.Book your flights!

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