Rhone River Travel Journal—Day 4

Palace of the Popes

Palace of the Popes

This morning we went directly into the walled city of old Avignon to the church of Saint Agricol (the patron saint of storks, for the unspiritual and non-orinthologoists).

Our tour guide explained that the statue above the door was of Mary reading a book. I mentioned to Ann that books did not even exist at the time of Mary. Ann retorted, “She was a remarkable woman.”

The main attraction in Avignon is the Palace of the Popes. Construction began in 1252 and  the palace became the new residence of the papacy in 1309. It was one of the largest and most opulent structures built in the 14th century because let’s face it, if Jesus taught anything it was that his followers should live lives of opulence, luxury and prosperity.

Seven popes lived in Avignon from 1309 to 1377, the time referred to by some as the Babylonian Captivity of the Popes. These seven were followed by two “anti-popes.”  The wife and Ann, being less ecumenical than me, immediately sided with the antipopes. I didn’t tell them the antipopes were not like the anti-Christ; they were no less Catholic than the popes. They just were not recognized as legitimate after the papacy returned to Rome.

Our tour of the Palace of the Popes was a disappointment, not because it crushed idealistic views we had of the papacy but because our tour guide recited facts about the structure but ignored the history behind it. Like many tour guides, she knew the facts, but didn’t know the story.

The palace was opulent. In one enormous banquet hall the ceiling had been covered with lapis lazuli and gold so the monks would feel they were outside under the stars while  eating dinner. The popes of Avignon would be proud to know that 700 years after their deaths, tea is being sold in their names, along with a generous supply of tourist-trap chachka, in an elaborate gift shop in the palace. I refused to buy anything out of pure principle and because none of the books were in English.

After leaving the palace, we visited the Church of Saint Peter. Our tour guide told us statues were missing from the facade of the church because the crazies (not her word but mine) of the French Revolution destroyed them. It’s something we have heard at most of the churches we have visited in France. Of course, many of the Reformers did the same. At least the Reformers did it because they didn’t want people worshipping idols; the atheists did it because they didn’t want people worshipping God.

We returned to the ship early after some shopping. We sat on the deck at the bow of the ship enjoying the scenery of the Rhone and the drinks of the ship. I started blogging, and The Wife said, “Do you have to blog tonight?” I reminded her that my people were expecting me to blog for them. She said, “What; all 30 of them?” This is the kind of abuse I take as a I lay down my life to provide you with a travel journal. Just thought you should know.

More tomorrow. GS