Serrabona

It was as  remote as you can imagine. We were in the foothills of the Canigou, the most  important mountain in the Pyrenees if you are a Catalan. We were there for the  Romanesque architecture. Well ,it is the sort of thing you do on a Sunday when  you are on holiday.
We had left  a quiet sun-baked road and driven along the twisty turny narrow road. On the  rare occasion that a car had come  in the  opposite direction we had driven into the rocky undergrowth to let them pass.  On their side there was quite a drop into the gorge, at the bottom of which the  river Boulès dawdled.  The countryside was steep, wooded and green and completely deserted. After all  who would live here?
We climbed  steadily. Then the signpost told us to turn off further into the hills. So we  climbed further, into  bright sunshine,  with glorious views of the route we had taken, with the Corbieres in the  background. After 10 minutes of hairpin bends, with the manic chatter of  cicadas from the dry vegetation around us, we arrived at the Priory of  Serrabone, or Serrabona as it is called in Catalan.
We were only about 30 km from Perpignan in the Aspres mountain range  but we could have entered another world.   It felt as if we had slipped further away from the things that anchor us  to our time.
Sainte-Marie de Serrabona (serra bona : the good  mountain) is situated in the valley of the Boulès in the heart of a densely green  oak forest. The Priory had once largely collapsed and was used for many years  only as a shelter for shepherds and their flocks during bad weather, of which I  am sure they had plenty. It was clearly once very important, then lost and  abandoned, before it was restored. Today it is a beautiful place to visit.
The place is famous for its unusual design. It is very  unorthodox, with beautiful pink marble and a curious inner cloister with a  window-less nave.

Serrabone Cloisters

A dry and rather dusty botanical garden has been developed on  the site to display the area’s plants.

Serrabone - gardens
It was certainly worth a visit. The carvings are beautiful  and the setting is spectacular. Once you have paid to go in and passed the  defibrillator, helpfully provided  for  vulnerable visitors, you can pick up details about the priory and its history.
They tell you that one of the priors was dismissed for doing  something unspeakable in the fifteenth century. That was good enough for me.  After all, it requires very little imagination to link him to that other local  attraction, the mysteries of Rennes le Chateau. It could be a new dimension to The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code. And of course in  these circumstances no one needs to be troubled too much by evidence.
It was hard to drive up to Serrabone and then down again,  but it must have been much harder to walk. In fact the Priory is on one of the  walking routes through to Spain for pilgrims going to St John de Compostella.  It must have been very very difficult.
There is a cemetery there and of course I couldn’t resist  it.

Serrabone Cemetery

It is old and neglected, rather overgrown in parts. I am sure it receives  few visitors. There are mounds of earth and forgotten headstones that mark the  end of forgotten lives. What a hard life it must have been up here in the  mountains. How isolated, how introverted, how intense.
However, the tentacles of war even reached these remote  parts of the Pyrenees. There was the grave of  a French soldier, Sebestien Tixador.  who died on 6 April 1918.

Serrabone - Tuxador

The battlefields of  Northern France must have seemed completely alien. Next to him was a broken  headstone, eroded by the weather into a strange and dramatic shape, adding to  the sense of mystery that surrounded the priory.

Serrabone Moragas

We looked for a while at the graves of Alphonsine and Yvonne Moragas, the  former originally also a Tixador. There were probably not many surnames in use  up here.  We looked at a past and a  family history slipping away. They are now merely names on a headstone, small  secrets in a landscape that holds many secrets.

The long descent to civilization, or at least to  Amelie les Bains, was 33 kilometres but it took us 45 minutes, although this  included a wait when a herd of unaccompanied goats blocked the road

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