8 August 2013

Still on the Map

The Abbey at Cadouin

Cadouin, a town in the Dordogne region of France, rose and fell because of a length of cloth. 

A shroud, venerated over the centuries by thousands of pilgrims who came to see it hanging in a glass box in the abbey church, was proved a fake in 1934.  Instead of being the fabric that wrapped Christ’s body – or, to be more precise, his head - it was found to have been commissioned in the 11th century for a Caliph in Egypt.  Telltale writing in Arabic, mentioning Mohamed, was the unfortunate giveaway, after which the Archbishop had no option but to permanently suspend the pilgrimages.

The town and its faithful were devastated. 

Well, of course.   However, given that the cloth was in competition at the very least with the Turin Shroud and the Sudarium of Oviedo (some claims suggest that the Middle Ages were so awash with sheets purporting to have covered the body of Jesus that one could have opened a very successful holy laundry) the chances of this being a true relic were always slim.

Cadouin was unmasked and admonished publicly as an impostor.  Like cities that were once the seat of power (such as GuimarĂ£es in Portugal) or seaports that now find themselves stranded two miles inland (such as the Cinque Port of Sandwich in Kent) Cadouin was left high and dry.

Yet, in these days when Cadouin has regained popularity as a tourist site, are we still to mourn its downgrading?  Does its fate contain all the hallmarks of an inevitability that has nothing more to say to us? 

I think it's too easy to label Cadouin’s erstwhile mass duping as mere nincompoopery.   My heart bleeds for those whose world view shatters.  None of us are immune from such catastrophe.  None of us recognise how set is our own pathway - until the pathway peters out.  You trust.  There is betrayal.  You have unshakable belief in your judgement.  You are proved wrong.  You have faith in your job.  Redundancy occurs.  You rely on your body – one day, it fails you.  You give yourself fully to love.  A long-held relationship cracks open. 

Pieces scatter. 

And you are forced to decide whether to pick them up again, knowing they can never be shoe-horned into quite the same pattern, or discard them altogether.  Either way, the result leads you into uncertain terrain.

Thus, for my part, a trip to Cadouin is well worth it.  To confront and remember fallibility - in all its guises.