Authentic France Travel Tip #19: Go To Church


Unlike Franck, who found throughout his errant French youth that the prime place for meeting fetching girls from neighbouring villages was catechism classes, I didn’t spend much of my formative years in churches.

Well into adulthood I was deeply intimidated about attending religious services. This was a darn shame because French churches, from the largest cathedral to the smallest village Church like the Roman one across from La Maison des Deux Clochers in the above photo, are capsules of beauty and history.

At the few Catholic masses that Franck managed to drag me to I felt like everyone there spoke a language that I had never bothered learning. They knew when to stand up, when to sit down, how to make the sign of the cross without bonking their neighbours, when to chant, what to chant, when to kiss their neighbour and when (and how much) to drop into the collection basket.

Going to church anywhere, especially in France, made me feel like an idiot in very much the same way as when I had to learn to drive standard.

Then one day when we were working hard on La Maison de la Vieille Vigne we went to a Mass conducted in majestic style by Franck’s priest friend the Père Frot. That day, up to my ears in paint colour choices, our financing falling through, and trying to find a plumber, I was too exhausted to even attempt the standing up and sitting down and all the rest of that cryptic Catholic stuff.

Pinned down by the centrifugal force of exhaustion, I just sat. I sat and listened to the hymns. I sat and watched the play of light shining through the stained glass windows. I sat and actually ended up experiencing a very welcome moment of peace.

It dawned on me then that you don’t have to know the religious “language” to attend a church service.

Now I enjoy going to church. I still don’t know when to stand up or sit down, but I’ve realized that simply having the desire to step out of the mish-mash of life for a moment is all the Church-ese I need to speak.

So many aspects of French culture are rooted in the Catholic religion; attending a local church service helps you understand it on a whole new level. I have found that it is one of the most peaceful ways of taking part in French life.

*”Authentic France Travel Tips” are posted every Tuesday and give ideas for savvy travellers who want to experience the authentic side of France.

I just had to include this photo of my niece and nephew lighting a candle and praying for the departed souls of their dearly beloved cats in Notre-Dame while visiting Paris.