Provincial Priory of Worcestershire

Triennial Conference at Avignon

 

VISIT TO THE 9th TRIENNIAL INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE IN AVIGNON 

 

My wife, Anne, and I visited the 9th Triennial International Conference of Great Priories in Avignon between the 6th & 8th September this year.

We received notification that the Conference was in Avignon back in June. We had not long come back from holiday in that part of France and had visited all the tourist sites in Avignon, so we were familiar with the historic Templar connections with Avignon. When I received the notification, I thought that it was a chance in a lifetime to take part in a Templar ceremony in the very buildings with which those ancient Templars would have been familiar. Anne also was enthusiastic to visit Avignon again and was attracted by the Ladies’ entertainment that had been arranged. We therefore registered and booked our transport (train from Pershore to Avignon).

We arrived in Avignon with some trepidation as I was attending as a “private” Knight, ie not part of a delegation. However, I should have had more faith in Templar hospitality. As the activities started on Thursday morning (6th Sept) we arrived on Wednesday afternoon. The first port of call was the Novotel Hotel in the evening, to pick up our information pack and tickets for the dinners and visits. We were greeted by a French knight who spoke perfect English, who made us very welcome and introduced us to the Australian and New Zealand contingents. As more delegates arrived, both that evening and the next morning, I found that there were also delegates from Singapore, Brazil, Finland, and Greece as well as the European countries adjoining France. Interestingly, I did not come across any delegates from America and when I questioned others, nobody else had either. I thought KT was strong in the States.

On the Thursday morning there was a reception in the Hotel de Ville where ME&SKt André Bassou, Grand Master of France, gave an excellent welcoming speech, alternately in English and French. In the meantime, the ladies had been taken on a guided walking tour of the old town the other side of the Rhone, Villeneuve les Avignon.  In the afternoon, the delegates were taken on a tour of  a 17th century town house that now housed a school run by a Compagnonnage (the French equivalent of a guild) that trains disadvantaged teenagers, 16-20 years old, to become craftsmen/craftswomen in woodwork, stone masonry and metalwork. The ladies went on a boat trip on the Rhone.

The welcoming dinner on Thursday evening was held in the original Templar Chapel. This chapel is commemorated in a sign outside the hotel, shown in the photo, of which it is now part.

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The translation of the text on the sign is as follows. “Near to the old library founded by the poet Joseph Roumanille is found the chapel of the Templars, the only vestige of the commandary of the Knights of the Order of the Temple who were established in Avignon at the end of the 12th century. This chapel, built in 1273, has a unique nave comprising four pointed spans. It is considered as the oldest gothic edifice in France Midi. After the dissolution of the Order by Clement V in 1312, all the buildings were occupied until the Revolution by the Hospitalers of St. John of Jerusalem, becoming the Knights of Rhodes then of Malta. In the 19th Century, the old commandery housed the hotel du Louvre managed by the poet Anselme Mathieu. The Felibrige (no translation, an association of Occitan poets), founded in 1854 around Frederic Mistral, for the maintenance of the language and traditions of the pays d’Oc, organised memorable banquets there.”

I have to say that our dinner was also memorable. The welcome and hospitality laid on by the French Templars excelled itself. We were met and escorted by a troupe of actors dressed as medieval knights and peasants and led into a shady courtyard for pre-dinner drinks. The dinner itself and the accompanying wines were to the high standard that we expect of French cuisine. Between courses we were entertained by the troupe with songs and exhibitions of sword play.

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On Friday there was the conference itself in the morning. As it was for official representatives only, I was not eligible to attend so I had a free morning and Anne and I explored parts of Avignon that we had not visited before.

The Templar ceremony took place Friday afternoon to which all delegates were invited. The ceremony took place in the Pope’s Audience room, a huge vaulted medieval hall, a very fitting location for the ceremony. The ceremony was in full Templar regalia and was the Consecration of a Preceptory. It was carried out to a very high standard by ME&SKt André Bassou. The Ceremony was in French, so most of it I did not understand. However, I could understand the gist of the floor work which was carried out with great precision. The whole atmosphere and the setting with all the Knights in full regalia in that ancient building was indeed a sight to behold. I don’t wish to spoil the image, but brother knights, you have to appreciate that in Avignon, over the time that we were there, the temperature was hovering in the low 30’s. The inside of the Pope’s Palace was not much cooler and was probably in the mid to high 20’s. We sat and stood there in full regalia, with hats and leather gauntlets and perspired freely. Those engaged in the floor work were even warmer.

Come Friday evening and it had been 24 hours since we had partaken of our last banquet and some of the Knights and their ladies were feeling quite faint for lack of nourishment (the lunch didn’t count of course). This was remedied by the formal Conference banquet. It was held in the Audience Chamber, the same as the ceremony. Again the food and wine were to an extremely high standard. Anne and I were seated at a table with French knights and their ladies. They made us most welcome and as their English was better than our French they spoke to us in English throughout the meal, apart from a few occasions when we practised our French. It was a most convivial and enjoyable evening.

 

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Saturday was the last day, but we had one more test of endurance to undertake. A wine tasting at Chateauneuf-de-Pape. We went to two vineyards for the tastings, within walking distance and as you can see from the photo it was such an arduous task that the knights’ ladies had to be brought along to assist.

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We thought that the wine tasting was the end of the entertainment, but not quite. The young French woman who was our guide asked if we would like to have lunch at a local restaurant if she booked it. It was not on the schedule, but very welcome, so we all joined in. The coach that had taken us to the wine tasting took us to a small restaurant near Villeneuve les Avignon. A delightful 3 course lunch in the garden under the shade of trees and it was only €29 each including wine. A perfect end to the conference.

In the afternoon there was an Interdenominational Evensong scheduled in full KT regalia, but we missed that. When I explain why, brother knights, I am sure that you will sympathise with us. We had had a wine tasting at two vineyards, a 3-course lunch with wine and it was 32oC. Anne and I decided to go back to our air-conditioned room and have a rest before the afternoon’s activities. Unfortunately we lay on the bed and fell asleep, only to wake up and find that we had missed the Evensong. However, we were still able to say goodbye to the friends that we had made, both at breakfast next morning and on Avignon station.

We both thoroughly enjoyed the three days; it was an experience that we will remember for a long time.

 

Kt Lionel Matthews

St Amand Preceptory No 68

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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