Saturday, June 15, 2019

Carpentras and visit to the oldest synagogue in France

It is not unusual to find us headed to Carpentras on Friday morning's for the weekly market or shopping for kid's clothes. Carpentras is a short 25 minute ride down the D-7 from Sablet. As we get near, we see Notre-Dame de l'Observance Church towering over Carpentras.

Carpentras is located along the banks of the Auzon River. Carpentras was a commercial site used by Greek merchants in ancient times, and known to Romans, first as Carpentoracte Meminorum, mentioned by Pliny, then renamed Forum Neronis ("Forum of Nero").

Pope Clement V took up residence in Carpentras at the beginning of the Avignon Papacy, along with the Roman Curia, in 1313. It was his successor Pope John XXII who settled definitively in Avignon. Nowadays, Carpentras is a commercial center for Comtat Venaissin and is famous for the black truffle market that takes place every Friday morning during the winter months.

The 14th-century Porte d'Orange, ("Orange entrance"), is a massive fortified gateway on the north side of historic Carpentras. This is all that remains of the defensive wall which consisted of 32 towers and 4 gates. This last tower stands proud and tall at 78 feet high. This tower was saved from destruction during a major urban renewal project which took place in the late 19th century.

Porte d'Orange

As you wander around Carpentras, you will come upon Saint-Siffrein Cathedral which was built on top of two previous churches; traces of one, a 13th century Romanesque church can be seen on the northern side of the apse. The cathedral was constructed in Gothic style by order of Pope Benedict XIII. The work lasted for more then a century, from 1404 to 1519. One of the cathedral's most unusual features is the south doorway known as the Porte Juive (Jews' Gate). This ornate Gothic doorway was designed as an entrance for Jews who wished to be baptized.

The interior of the cathedral testifies to the great artistic fervor during the papal presence in the Comtat Venaissin. Painted panels of the Crowning of the Virgin, 15th century stained glass windows, precious Genoan marble altarpieces, gilded wood sculptures by the Bernus family, outstanding wrought iron work by the Mille family, paintings signed by G.E. Grève, N. Mignard, E. Parrocel and Carpentras artist J.S. Duplessis.

Saint Siffrein Cathedral

Founded in 1585, the Brotherhood of White Penitents installed themselves near Saint-Jean-du-Bourg Church. Their chapel seen below was consecrated in 1661. The chapel was rebuilt in 1705 and 1779.

Chapelle des Penitents Blancs (White Penitents Chapel)

Street art on wall in Carpentras

Street art on wall in Carpentras

Street art on wall in Carpentras

The city of Carpentras has hosted Jews since at least February 28, 1276, according to tax rolls from that time. Expelled from France by Philipple le Bel, the Jews took refuge in the Papal lands where they were safe and enjoyed freedom of worship. Along with Avignon, Cavaillon and L'Isle sur la Sorgue, Carpentras was home to a large Jewish community in a neighborhood that did not become a ghetto until the end of the sixteenth century.

The synagogue in Carpentras is the oldest Jewish house of worship in existence in France today. The synagogue, built in 1367, has a Baroque-style interior and a gold-ornamented hall with a blue domed ceiling.

The synagogue is housed within a larger building that once functioned as a Jewish community center. The building boasts spectacular facilities, including a 30-foot-deep ritual bath, fed by turquoise waters from a natural spring, another heated bath, a kosher abattoir and two communal bakeries. The 18th century sanctuary is on the first floor.


Interior of Synagogue

A mikvah is a ritual bath used for ablution, which is necessary for rites of purity of Jewish women. It has to be dug to ground level and supplied with a natural source of water. The first mikvah for this synagogue was the small bath of 4 feet 3 inches deep shown below. It had a staircase of seven steps, and included a hand pump system for bringing heated water into the adjoining tub.

First ritual bath (Mikvah)

The second ritual bath was dug in the rock to a depth of 32 feet and 9 inches. It is fed with spring water. On our tour, the guide indicated that the source for the spring water may be the Fontaine de Vaucluse, that I told you about here.

Second ritual bath (Mikvah)

Among the Biblical prescriptions observed by Jews are ritual rules for food. The synagogue has two bakeries to meet these requirements. The one shown below is reserved to bake Shabbat's bread and for the ordinary days. The cupola oven is still intact.

Cupola oven

The other bakery shown below is reserved for the manufacture of unleavened bread called "coudoles" in Provence or what we know as Matzos. These are the only permissible loaves during the eight days of the Jewish Passover.

The kneading table

You enter the synagogue at street level and climb a grand if plainly made staircase to reach the sanctuary. Neither the spare facade (decreed by the Catholic Church, which forbade elaborate exterior decoration) nor the stairs prepares you for the explosion of color and craftsmanship that distinguish this spacious room, which is arranged on two levels and decorated in Louis XV style.


During our visit to the sanctuary, we were treated to the music of an Israeli violinist who was practicing for a concert he was to give in the sanctuary.

Striking colored home on the way to Chez Serge Restaurant

Friday, June 7, 2019

Sablet 1900 Festival

It has been a while, much too long in fact, since I have posted about Sablet where we have been blessed to own a beautiful stone house in the center of the village for the last 10 years.

For those of you who don't know, Sablet is a small village (population 1264) located at the base of the jagged Dentelles de Montmirail west of Mont Ventoux in the Vaucluse region of Provence, France. The village sits on a hill bordering the rich alluvial plain of the Ouvèze River.

Although the first fortifications of the village were most likely built in the 9th century to ward off attacks by the Saracens, the walls and towers were not started until the 14th century. These ramparts have recently been restored the by the Association des Compagnons des Barrys.

Sablet is filled with charming and picturesque shaded streets adorned with flowers, passageways with exposed beams, and fountains. Stone village houses like ours line the narrow streets that curl in concentric circles up to the Romanesque church of St. Nazaire (12th century). St. Nazaire’s bell tower is the highest point of the village.

Sablet is known for its production of Côtes du Rhône Villages wine. The vineyards were first cultivated by the Counts of Toulouse, to whom the area then belonged. During the 14th century, the vineyards became papal possessions when the papacy moved to Avignon. Sablet was awarded the classification of Côtes du Rhône Villages Sablet in 1974.

Sablet is also famous for its book fair, Journee du Livre de Sablet, celebrated in the center of the village which takes place this year on Saturday, July 21 and Sunday, July 21. Well known authors and literary enthusiasts from all over come to the village for book readings and signings for this fête which spreads to many of the Sablet wineries where special events are held with music and other entertainment.

Another village festival is "Sablet 1900" which celebrates the past through costumes, music, folk dancing and demonstrations. The pictures which follow are a few from last year's festival.


Sablet Entrance

Women demonstrating how clothes were laundered in olden times near the Sablet fountain and Lavoir near our house

Woman wearing clothes from olden times near her table with soap

Woman demonstrating how weaving was done in olden times

Sheep herder

Antique motorcycles

Costumed drummers

Strolling ladies and gentlemen

Costumed ladies and gentlemen stroll through Sablet

The parade of costumed ladies and gentlemen continues through Sablet

Costumed drummers

Dancing ladies

More dancing ladies

Costumed ladies and gentlemen

The parade continues past the Café des Sports

Costumed ladies and gentlemen stroll through Sablet


Dancing ladies

If you have been dreaming about visiting Provence, consider staying at our house in Sablet. We have weeks available for rental between June 22 and July 10 and August 14 to September 18. We are offering a special rate of $1100 per week or $950 per week for two or more weeks.