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Agen, the Prune Capital of Europe (their description), lies to the NW of Toulouse.  It was an important Roman centre, and it was here that the teenage martyr Ste-Foy lived her short life before being executed.


Foy was born around 290 to a noble family who lived in Agen.  She became a Christian, not a healthy idea with a nasty called Dacien as the regional Roman governor, and she was still only in her early teens when she was betrayed to the Roman authorities.   She was  executed, after refusing to recant her beliefs, on the 6th October 303 at the age of 13.  The tradition is further embellished by the details of the first attempt to execute her - by roasting on a griddle Laurence style - when the good Lord arranged a downpour to put the flames out.  So Dacien fell back on  the tried technique of a sword beheading. 


Only ten years later, the Edict of Milan in 313 gave Christians freedom of worship - the ability to assemble publicly,  build churches and collectively own assets.


Two hundred years later, Foy's remains were placed in a newly built basilica on the site of her martyrdom in Agen.  350 years after that (in 866 to be precise), they were stolen by monks from Conques in an act now known as a "discreet transfer".


In later medieval times Agen became a frontier town between the territories of  Plantagenet England and France - changing hands 11 times over 200 years.  


It's now a fair sized commercial town, but the old town area is pleasant to wander and relatively traffic free.  When travelling east or west it's best to cross the wide river (the Garonne) and use the motorway to the south, as the old main road along the canal to the north of the Garonne is painful and featureless. 


The IBIS hotel here in the old town worked really well as a base - thanks especially to Bénédicte for her help.  You could in fact access Toulouse for the day from here without too much trouble, though we did not !




this famous, moving and iconic Romanesque trumeau statue of the Prophet Jeremiah is in the portal of the abbey church of Moissac 



The Abbeye St-Pierre de Moissac (on the via Podiensis from Le Puy-en-Velay)


More photos from the Cloisters of the Abbaye St-Pierre de Moissac





Bazas and Sauterne Country





Flaran is an ex Cistercian Abbey to the south of Agen.  It is owned by the regional authority, and an impressive amount of creative effort has been put into displays and signage about Cistercian monastic life and about medieval pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela.  They deserve great credit for having more than made the best out of what they have got, but what they have got is not even vaguely in the same league as Noirlac or Fontenay, let alone a lot of the Spanish and Italian Cistercian Abbeys, as a basic structure.


On the way to Flaran, one passes through a pilgrimage town called Condom.  No-one knows why.





Further down the Garonne towards Bordeaux is l'Église St-Saveur - a pilgrimage church perched up against another high river defending rampart - this time of a medieval village called St-Macaire (sounds more like a health fund!). 


The frescos in the crossing were (October 2007) being restored, which meant a lot of scaffolding and darkness - below is a flash photo of the geometrically and symbolically rich apse ceiling. 


It is also possible that there are some interesting corbels around the east end, but we were running short of afternoon and did not have a proper look!  The rather unrestful face on the right was resting against the church wall.











Sunday lunch at La Daudine d'Aymet in the main square (place Gambetta) of Eymet (south of Bergerac).  Eymet is a Bastide - a word describing small planned towns in SW France which were set up and funded by rulers in the in the 1200s and 1300s, as a means of repopulating the areas ravaged by the Cathar wars and conflicts between Plantagenet England and France.  Nowadays the English have returned in force as property owners and holidaymakers, and you are more likely to hear English spoken than French over lunch (next to us was a loud English conversation about how Waitrose were outrageously trying to crash into Wimborne, Dorset, with a new supermarket).


The centres of several of the smaller Bastides - which typically consisted of a square surrounded with arcaded buildings - have been preserved - though the need for visitor car parking has mostly compromised their photogenic attractions, and the fact that a town is advertized as "a Bastide" is no guarantee that there will be anything attractively bastidey there!



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