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of the
City of Marvels
And Vicinity

IN THE HISTORY of the Maundy Grail, doubtless a key location is the place where it disappeared in 1307 and lay concealed for almost seven hundred years. Understanding the local geography and the setting is essential in appreciating the difficulties of the search and how the Sacred Basin and its associated artifacts were hidden, preserved, and finally located.


Modern Bellegraal
and the Cathedral

The Scolding Madonna

The “City of Marvels” as it appeared during the critical period of rediscovery in the summer of 2005.

A larger version is here.

The disappearance, as well as the Visions of the Holy Tub, took place in the South Transept of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Reprimand, before much more than the Sanctuary had been completed. On 13 October 1307, the Templars taking the Maundy Grail south holed up there to avoid arrest. Friar Lorenzo and his apprentices had just begun installing the Rose Line. The walls had been raised, but the transept was still completely unroofed. And there were still piles of stone and other building materials scattered about, which the Templars piled in front of the entrances.

Yet, that night, the Scolding Madonna appeared for the first time, and the next morning the Ark of the Maundy Grail, and all the accompanying treasure, could no longer be found.

The Cathedral

In this simplified floorplan of the Cathedral, the positions of the Danse Macabre and the Vault are also indicated.

Here's a helpfu blow-up, and below is the layout of the South Transept as it was in 2005.

The Scolding Madonna

Note: The transparent walkway over most of the floor except the centers of the roundels and the Rose Line and many small architectural details have been omitted for the sake of clarity.

At noon on the summer solstice, the Sun’s disk coming through the Oculus crosses the Rose Line from left to right at its southernmost extremity, due to the high elevation of the Sun. The image crosses further north every day as the Sun slowly sinks through the fall, just as it returns south as the solar disk rises further each day in the spring.

In the original design, at winter solstice, a few days before Christmas, it is said that the Sun would shine directly on the Christ child in the manger carved on the oak Altar Screen. Later, after the worm-eaten screen was covered by Silviano Alfini's masterpiece, The Ascension of the Sacred Reliquary, it illuminated the image of the Maundy Grail as it was being borne to Heaven by angels like a spotlight.

But the effect became even more glorious. Once Alfini installed the Birdcage around the Tomb of the Templars, the entire canvas would be covered with scattered bits of rainbows. They were prismatic refractions from bits of glass he had carefully mounted in the Birdcage’s roof.

Historic Bellegarde and Vicinity

By the time of the Scolding Madonna’s second and final visitation in June 1337, the Cathedral was all but finished, save for the glazing in the eastern rose window. Where she and the two angels with their brightly flaming torches stood on the ledge is today marked by statues on the walkway in front of the window.

Medieval Bellegarde

This map shows roughly how the town looked about twenty years later, after Heronimo le Mage had finished building his marvels, shortly before his death.

Here's a larger version.

Also critical to the mystery is the area due east of town, past the vast Gardens of Remembrance. This strange, haunted region of rolling hills surrounding a broad valley was once called “High Morven,” with mysterious connections to Scotland, likely because of St. Horrig, who emigrated from there as a missionary in the Dark Ages. The name somehow mutated over the centuries into the French, “Haute Maureven,” quite possibly to distinguish it from it’s Scottish namesake.

By any name, the area long had an evil reputation as a land haunted by ghosts and witches; which is likely why the holy man made his home there. But the effects of Horrig’s brave effort to clean up the place didn’t last. Under Tobias the Shoeless, the Endurists basically had free reign of the place, until his arrest on Beltane in 1672.

Now that it has been cleared of death traps, pitfalls, and all the mines and quarries closed off, Haute Maureven has lately been added as a UN World Heritage site.

Haute Maureven

This is a watercolor and pencil sketch by Silviano Alfini from around 1895. The names of the features in modern English are pasted over his illegibly-scrawled Italian labels.

Note the red “X” in the lower left corner that shows where the piece of the Ark was discovered by a road crew in 1986. Click here for a larger view.

Bellegarde was situated in the extreme western end of the small former county of Poictesme, located in the general region of southern France where Languedoc embraces Provence. Vieux Poictesme, as the area is often still called, was mostly only known outside there from the poetry of Jürgen, until his story was told in the early twentieth-century by James Branch Cabell in his celebrated fantasy novel, Jurgen.

Here are several maps Cabell published in connection with his novels.

Vieux Poictesme

The first is a rather fanciful map from the endpapers, illustrating events from the novel.

The drawings are much easier to appreciate at full size.

Poictesme by Bulg

This one is a far more accurate rendition of the area as it appeared around 1792, published by G.J. Bülg of Strassbourg in 1858, originally published by Cabell and colored for this presentation.

And here is its more legible larger version.



“Truly it is said that the often tawdry fa�ade
of Bellegraal
is like
the grin of a skull.
There is a certain bleak reality behind the smile,
but one never can be sure
just who the joke is on.”

– Fran�oise No�l, The Visions of Old Bellegarde, 1947

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