Monday, 1 June 2015

A Celebrant in France | Wedding in romantic ruins at Chateau de Clerbise

A celebrant in France wanders and wonders about walking on dead priests...

Someone asked me recently whether I prefer celebrating weddings in France or in England - I love both, but this week maybe France had the edge...

It was a wedding, north of where we live, in the Charente. I left home just as the sun was touching the top of the grasses in our meadow - early - as the wedding was scheduled for noon - a beautiful, pink morning.

I was the only one on the roads for the first hour, as my clever GPS took me through woods and on tiny roads, avoiding the Bordeaux rush hour and then smaller towns and villages, where I might have been held up by weekly markets - typically, on these occasions, the road through the town is closed so that people can wander about choosing their vegetables, and then sit outside a bar for a breakfast coffee and croissant - all enormously charming and civilised - but not when you have to be somewhere by the 10.30 eta I had given myself...

The final stretch took me towards the Chateau and I slowed to overtake, very slowly, a horse and carriage - the driver, without even looking round, had gestured me on...

The wedding was at Chateau de Clerbise - a labour of love, brought, by the owners, from virtually derelict to a romantic holiday and wedding venue, over a period of some twenty years - during which time they have built up a great local network: the photographer was local, the florist, setting up glorious clouds of gypsophila, was local - the amazing harpist was local...

I checked in with bride and groom and then wandered over the grass from the chateau to the ruins of a 13th church - the romantic backdrop for the wedding. 


To enter, through the arched doorway, visitors had to walk on a tomb - the depression in which was distinctly human-shaped ...a priest, who, apparently, had asked to be buried there, so that he would be walked on daily - I presume out of humility rather than something more fetishistic! 

Whilst I find myself not terribly keen on priests generally, I found I couldn't walk on him...everyone else did though, so I suppose he got his wish...

By 12.00 the guests had walked on the dead priest and were assembled in the atmospheric ruins. All eyes were focused, over the lawns, to the door where the bride would emerge...but there was no bride to be seen. 

The bridesmaids and pageboys walked on the dead priest and waited at the arch...still no bride.The best man and groom, now being heckled by the assembled company, were waiting, ready ...still no bride. The harpist, having carted her harp over the dead priest, was playing softly...



And then we heard it - the sound of hooves and wheels on the gravelled road behind the church and then into view came a horse and carriage - horse galloping which had a few guests, and apparently bride, gasping slightly... Off the road and over the lawn it came, coming to a dramatic halt for the bride to descend (somewhat shakily I thought...) to cheers - the mode of transport a surprise for all except the groom, who had, manfully, kept the secret, despite the heckling.


The bride walked over the dead priest and we began...

Well, the bride was lovely and the wedding was lovely - a hand fasting ceremony - and, at the end of the ceremony, the carriage driver loaded up bride and groom - and galloped them round to the front of the chateau where guests were waiting with confetti and restorative champagne.

Guy with his invention, 'pour reculer...'

As the little attendants were offered a ride in the carriage, I had to ask the driver what the odd thing projecting from his specs was - 'pour reculer' - for reversing - he told me in a how-could-she-not-have-known sort of voice...I loved it - his own invention - and it explained how he had seen me behind him on the road all those hours ago, for it was him of course, gesturing for me to overtake. 

Another local, Guy is well known in those parts for his expert carriage driving.


And so I said my goodbyes, then in the spirit of all things local, stopped at a nearby restaurant for the best Salade Paysanne, washed down with a glass of cold, local wine...totally, locally delicious.

And that's why being a celebrant in France, this week, had the edge...