Friday, July 13, 2012


Convent of the Paraclete
Many years ago I discovered Books-on-Tape at my local library. I had an hour commute in each direction every day so the ten to twenty cassettes it took to record each book kept me entertained in the miserable traffic on I-45.

Listening to the library's offerings, I fell in love with a wonderful series set in medieval France—the Catherine LeVendeur mysteries by Sharan Newman, a medieval historian who also writes a darn good mystery with a bit of romance. The first book, DEATH COMES AS EPIPHANY, opens at the Convent of the Paraclete where Catherine is a young scholar under the Abbess Heloise (yes, the same star-crossed lover of Peter Abelard). The story weaves Catherine’s story in with the history of the famous lovers and their son, and brings the world of the convent, its people to life brilliantly. So, naturally, I decided that a pilgrimage to the Paraclete was a must for a road trip in France in 1998. Easier said than done.
Paraclete Now

Somehow the abbey had fallen into obscurity over the years and after hours and hours of pouring over travel books, all I found was a single mention in a list of historical sites in the Aube. Determined to visit the place that had captured my imagination, I examined page after page of maps at 1”=1/4 mi scale until I finally found in tiny print: Le Paraclet near the town of Ferreux-Quincey. Victory! I knew our detour would take a couple of hours and Steve navigated while I drove the narrow back roads, winding through countryside tourists usual by-passed. And then we were there. A sign in front of the stone wall informed us the abbey compound was open from July 1 to July 31. It was early June. Disappointed, we went on without even taking a photo-- something I now regret.

You might expect that with the massive amount of information now available in the internet, it would be easy to find information and photos of this place that was so famous in it’s own time. It isn’t. Wikipedia has a mention, a couple French websites gives its history  and visit information. Google images only had the old postcard painting above so I resorted to Google Earth for the current pictures posted here. I avoid France in July and so it's unlikely I’ll ever go there again when it’s open. Still, I find it ironic that the internet is filled with information on Dr. Newman and barely mentions the intriguing setting of her book.

Have you ever made an eccentric  “literary pilgrimage”? How did it turn out?


fOIS In The City said...

Lark, this is such a lovely post. It was a shame that after all your efforts, you were not able to gain entrance.

My dream pilgrimage is to visit an out island of Sardinia; Saint Pietro and the village where my father was born and where I still have family ... Califorte ...

Califore is a unique place on the globe with a unique dialect of Italian. Seven men traveled on merchant ships and found their way to Poughkeepsie NY and married seven local women. Two brothers married two sisters. Six couples moved to Brooklyn and worked the NY docks. My dad saw my mom at sixteen and came back when she was "old" enough to be escorted out. That's the stuff that dreams are made of :)

Lark Howard said...

What a lovely story, fOIS! And a wonderful destination for a Bucket List!! Dreams can come true so happy voyage planning.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Wow, Lark, I'm as puzzled as you are to discover so little has been written about the Convent of the Paraclete. The French are enthusiastic readers, after all, and I considered them proud chroniclers of local history. By the way, thanks for tipping me to Sharan Newman's mysteries; now I want to read DEATH COMES AS AN EPIPHANY. (The French may not know of American Newman's mysteries, but it's not like them to miss an Heloise and Abelard connection.)

In Ireland, I visited a tower the poet W.B. Yeats restored. It exceeded my expectations because of the lovely dining room and the stream that ran beside the tower. Apparently, though, the tower was too cold for Yeats' children, so the family mostly resided in a cottage adjoining the tower.

Florence, you have to visit San Pietro.

Sarah Andre said...

After devouring "Angels and Demons" by Dan Brown (still believe it's his best) I put the book in my back pocket when we went on our first trip through Rome.

Among all the usual sites, we had a 'Dan Brown Day' and specifically went where his character went. (And in my defense to this geeky behavior- half the people we met at these places had the paperback out too!)

I found his descriptions of places, architecture, symbolic meanings SO much more enticing and exciting than standing at the exact site in his book and gazing upon the stucture, statue, hidden manhole cover, obelisk, etc.!

I also felt a bit let down, which is crazy, because I was viewing beautiful ROME! But it was an exceptional novel and real life didn't bring the rapid heartbeat that his work did.

Nice post- sorry it ended in disappointment, but those novels sound terrific!

Lark Howard said...

In defense of the French, Pat, I believe the structures were damaged, restored and partially replaced since the 12th century and it is now privately owned. Heloise and Abelard's tomb in Pere Lachaise is much more celebrated.

The Yates tower sounds intriguing but I can understand how it might be chilly.

Lark Howard said...

We visited some of the DiVinci Code sites in Paris, Sarah, and noticed a few fan tourists at those as well. Steve read the book while we were there and it was before the book became huge so we thought we were being rather original. Silly us. But you were in Rome and we were in Paris, so it had to be fun.

The books were definitely better than the Paraclete itself. I have them all in hardcover if you want a change of pace.

Louise Behiel said...

what a shame you couldn't see it after all that work. I'm going to have to try audio books. i have a long commute too.