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You are here:Home / Family News / NEF 2016 / Family News - January 14th, 2016 / The Calvary of Betharram (1)
Jan 14, 2016

The Calvary of Betharram (1)

In the year 1616

The Calvary of Betharram (1)

Classed as a historic monument in 2002 with the Stations of the Cross, the Calvary of Betharram is a unique site that is above all a place of prayer which is very popular with pilgrims. Since 2007, our brothers in the Vicariate of France-Spain, several associations (“Friends of the Sanctuaries of Betharram”, “La Pyrénéenne”), supported by many friends and benefactors and the town community of Lestelle are contributing to the preservation and restoration of this piece of the Congregation’s heritage.

This year the NEF magazine will be dedicated to its story that tells of course a tale of men and which, like the most beautiful stories, begins with a wonderful event, we could even say... a miracle.

In this year 1616, the Béarn sky lost its serenity. The Duke of Laforce, Governor of the country, raised some troops and maintained a climate of rebellion. The small valley of Betharram, on the other hand, prepared itself for some memorable days. Under the impetus of Pierre Geoffroy, priest of Garaison, the Christian population of the valley had revived the old pilgrimage. All that was missing was the official consecration. In the month of July - we are told by Pierre de Marca, Historian and witness - Mgr Léonard de Trapes, Archbishop of Auch, came amongst several thousand of the faithful, to place a statue of the Virgin Mother on the Chapel altar. “Then”, continued Marca, “he installed a cross on the hilltop to consecrate it to God’s service”. This hill belonged to the inhabitants of Lestelle.

The chaplains of Betharram, planning to extend the work of the pilgrimage, wished to purchase it. The donation was given to them for it, with the support of the brothers of Albret, the Barons of Coarraze, and the act was signed at Montaut on the 19th August 1616. Betharram was ready to receive a new sign from the sky. September came to rest upon the hillside. The nights were already cool. Lime trees, birch trees and chestnut trees started to shake off their worn leaves in the thickets. The vast slopes of Montaut which follow the length of the Mousde were covered again in red fern.

Summer often finishes in our region with an abundance of sunshine. On the hill of Montaut (today known as the hill of Lassalle), five farmers prepared the stock of bedding for the Winter: fern, gorse and dried grass fell under the scythe. It was nice weather; no time was lost – the work progressed. Then came the break. They sat for a moment on the bare slope, facing the valley which looked over the hill of Betharram; a large cross had been raised for two months on top of the overhang above the River Gave. They got out their snacks, they got their breath back and they finished with a drink. Suddenly: “listen!”, - “what?”, “a storm?” – “There are no clouds”. Over there, on the hill of Betharram, a hurricane suddenly shook the thicket. The farmers leapt up: “Look! The Bishop’s cross is on the ground!”. – “No! But look! It’s getting back up!”. It couldn’t be doubted. The cross, formerly installed by Léonard de Trapes, had just been knocked over by a gust of unexpected wind and in front of the mesmerised eyes of these simple men. And it just as quickly raised itself back up, surrounded by light. The noise of this event resounded quickly. The reapers of Montaut didn’t need chaplains, who were absent anyway, to ring the bells. They (the Chaplains) learned of the news, in turn, but after more than 40 years of resisting heresy didn’t let themselves pass on the news. The investigation began – it was long and painstaking. [...]

The interrogations, retold, annoyed the farmers somewhat. But their common sense responses finally defeated the “Scholars’ trap”. The air of the Gave must be particularly beneficial for spiritual health, as 200 years later a certain Bernadette Soubirous withstood even greater attack. Lacking any explanation, they had to admit defeat, and the miracle of the raised cross was recorded. Nowadays, one would without doubt test a “valid explanation”, a hypothesis, anything, everything that is not at odds with a prior theory. Fine, as long as on the following day we give the same welcome to another theory which may destroy the first. For my own part, I prefer the witness of five pairs of good eyes who, during that day in September, saw the victorious cross on the hill.

Raymond Descomps scj (1916 - 2009)
in the bulletin «L’Écho de Bétharram» Nr. 274 (1973)

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