France – Alet

An autumn morning. The vineyards are glittering with dew, and the river, though sparkling in the sunshine, is thoughtful in the shade. The sky is blue, pale blue, delave; and the mountains which bound the valley to the south, of lessening shades of purple, their summits shrouded in soft woolly clouds, so that it is difficult to say where earth ends and heaven begins.

A long, long avenue of trees, down which moves a never-ending procession of vintage waggons, drawn by slow-pacing oxen, ” their eyes still full of the visions of the night.” And here is Limoux, with memories of Simon de Montfort again. I don’t know whether the people of Limoux thought we had sinister designs when we inquired the road to Quillan; they certainly did their best to send us out of our way. But we persisted• in taking our course straight up the valley, and what a charming road it was! It led into the heart of steep and rocky mountains, covered for the most part with oak, ilex, and olive. Here and there were patches of vineyard, the leaves of such varied shades that, among the rocks and trees, they looked like gorgeous flower-beds.. At our side flowed the faithful Aude, younger and more playful as we neared the mountains. Following its banks, we presently came upon Met, most exquisite of little towns, for I would not for the world insult such an ancient place by calling it a village. I find that the old, books even describe it as a city, the city of Alectum, or, as one should say, Electus, the chosen. From very early times there was a Benedictine abbey here; its ruins may still be seen. The Romans, too, had a bathing establishment at Met; the waters are still in great repute. But the chief interest centres round the old Cathedral of Saint-Pierre.

I am ashamed to say we knew nothing what-ever of Met or its Cathedral; and were passing through on our road to Quillan, when the sight of a ruined apse on our right stopped us.

” How wonderful! ” I exclaimed, noticing the Roman capitals and arches. ” What can it be? ” A pleasant-faced priest was passing at the moment. ” May I show it you? ” said he, ” our old cathedral is still worth a visit.”

So we followed him, past the more modern church, into the ancient graveyard, where we found ourselves face to face with all that is left of the Cathedral of Alet. And while we wandered about, admiring the wonders of the sculpture, the priest told us how the ruined apse had formed. part of a Roman temple to Diana, to whom the thick forests which covered the district were once dedicated: though, to be sure, that was not the first building on the spot, for the Druids had a sanctuary here, and a college for priests. There are still evidences of them in the names of some of the villages around, such as Veraza, and Redde, which means the ” Serpent Runner,” a Celtic divinity, AEreda. An altar, dedicated to this god, was found near the village of Siradan. Then, too, there is the great Menhir at Saint-Salvaire. So it is not surprising that some archaeologists think that Saint-Pierre or its emplacement goes back to Gaulish times.

As we were leaving, the priest asked whither we were bound, and, on hearing that we intended to lunch at Quillan, told us to be sure and visit the Gorge of La Pierre-Lys.

” And ask some one at Quillan to tell you the story of the making of the road,” he cried after us as the automobile moved away.