12 Apr
Wed / 2017

The Muse of Provence: A Blog for the Dora Maar House
La Grotte de Saint Castor

On September 21, 2016, I discovered—right next to my home—the cave of a 5th-century hermit, monk, and saint. He’s called Saint Castor of Apt, or Castor d’Apt in French; San Castré in Provençal; and Castorius in Latin.

La Grotte de Saint Castor is a cave (grotte in French) that’s only about 20 minutes from my front door, up a steep and narrow footpath into the Luberon Mountains. You find the path by finding the large wild boar wallow. The path is practically not there anymore, and hardly anyone knows about this site. But up until the end of the 18th century, oral tradition recounts that there was an annual pilgrimage to Saint Castor’s cave on September 21.

The Site
To enter, you have to crawl through a small opening on all fours. Once inside, you discover a spacious cave. Much of the interior has collapsed over the past 1,600 years, but I can still imagine Saint Castor perched in the mountains here.

The Life
Very little is known about this saint. He was born sometime after AD 350 in Nimes, France. He became a lawyer, and in AD 395 he married a beauty from Arles whose family had land in the Luberon. The legend is that this family—along with their daughter, Perculiarita (love the name!)—founded a monastery in Ménerbes. A local spring named San Castre honors the memory of Saint Castor, and a place called Le Pied de Moustier marks the site of the monastery, which was destroyed in 576 by hordes of Saxons and Lombards.

The Legend
The story goes that Saint Castor came to Le Pied de Moustier to escape being chosen as the next bishop of Apt—though in the end he seems to have succumbed to public pressure. But for four years, he lived as a hermit in this cave with his pet wild boar. (One of his miracles is that he hid a wounded boar from hunters under his cloak, and the boar became his loyal friend).

The End
Saint Castor died sometime before AD 426, around the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire, as the Goths were sieging Arles. This was the beginning of the Migration Period, when Germanic tribes overran Western Europe. Goths and Vandals were only the first of many waves of invaders that flooded France. Some lived only for war and pillage and disdained Roman ways. Saint Castor may have come running to his cave and thought the world was ending.

So whenever I need to get some inspiration, I like to hike up to La Grotte de Saint Castor and think about him as he meditated on the state of the world, some 1,600 years ago.