Mysteries of the Magdalene
and Secrets of the Cathars

Mary Magdalene TourWith Kathleen McGowan & Isobel Denham

June 16 – 28, 2018

Our journey follows the footsteps of The Magdalene, from her arrival on the shores of Provence, to her time as a refugee in sacred grottoes and her ministry in the Languedoc region. We then immerse ourselves in the culture of Cathar Country, where the descendants of the Magdalene have kept the Way of Love alive – and still do.

Your Guides on the Journey

KatheenKathleen McGowan – International bestselling author of The Magdalene Line series, including The Expected One and The Book of Love, both inspired by her own adventures and experiences in this region for almost twenty years. An expert on the early Christian traditions of Southwestern France and the legends of Mary Magdalene and her family, Kathleen will take you to many of the locations which have inspired her current and future books.

isyIsobel Denham – Activist and humanitarian, known throughout the region as “Isy,” she has been guiding pilgrims through Sacred France for many years and has lived in Cathar Country for two decades. She has a broad and inspiring understanding of the Cathar culture, Women’s mysteries and the history of the Black Madonna. Her knowledge, warmth and generosity of spirit was such an inspiration to Kathleen that Isobel became the model for one of the characters – also named Isobel – in the bestselling The Book of Love.


Day 1: Saturday, June 16 – Arrival in Marseilles / to and In Stes. Maries-de-la-Mer  (D)
Arrival day in Marseilles.  Arrive/meet at Marseilles Airport by 12 noon for our pick up.  We head to our beachfront hotel in the legendary village of Stes. Maries-de-la-Mer, the place on the Mediterranean Sea where Mary Magdalene came ashore, together with some other members of the holy family and friends. We drive through and into the marshlands known as “The Camargue” where wild white horses and black bulls roam, and pink flamingoes migrate from Africa – it is a truly mythical landscape. The town is named after “the Marys” who accompanied Mary Magdalene, Mary Jacobe and Mary Salome – relatives of the Mother of Jesus.

The maritime village is charming and known for its connections to gypsy culture. Although we will not be there during the chaos of the festivals (this is a good thing) there is still a flavor of the gitane here, where the traditions feel both Spanish and French. This is a village of Flamenco and Paella. We will have two days to explore the history of this special village, and learn more about the amazing women who made history here.  Free time to relax on the beach before a walk through the heart of the village takes us to our welcome meal.  Dinner with Sangria at a favorite local restaurant included. Overnight at Hotel Camille.

Day 2: Sunday, June 17 – In Stes. Maries-de-la-Mer  (B)           
Morning walk to the landing beach (directly across from our hotel!) and then on to the extraordinary Church of the Sainte Marys of the Sea.  The crypt is where the bones of Sainte Sarah and the two “other” Marys were discovered by Good King Rene d’Anjou during his excavations in the 15th century, and there is a first century stone altar on display which may be the first Christian altar in the world – used entirely by female disciples. The church is indescribable as a treasure trove of history – and perhaps heresy, as the crypt also contains one of the most spectacular black Madonna statues in the world – the nearly life sized image of Sainte Sarah.  Balance of the day is free to choose how best to enjoy this special village.  Time to enjoy the Mediterranean, where you may choose a boat excursion along the Petite Rhone River and along the shoreline to experience the feeling of arriving on the beaches here (not included, but inexpensive and easily arranged). There is very tempting shopping here (Kathleen’s favorite shopping town in France – she knows all the good places and will show you) for traditional gifts from Provence. Optional excursions can be arranged for riding the white horses (let us know in advance if this is something you want to do).  Relax, enjoy the plentiful gypsy music and a pitcher of Sangria!                            

Day 3: Monday, June 18 – To Tarascon and in St. Maximin-la-Ste. Baume (B/L/D)
After breakfast, We take our leave of the magical Stes. Maries-de-la-Mer, stopping first in nearby Tarascon. It is here that Martha, Mary Magdalene’s sister, lived and preached. The name of the village comes from the legendary monster, The Tarasque, that lived in the Rhone River and terrorized the local community – until Martha tamed it with love and prayer (and a bucket of holy water). In medieval times, the remains of her church were found on the very spot tradition said she preached and we will visit her “church” – she is very much a living force here, as is her sister. Martha’s remains can be seen in the crypt of the cathedral where they have been since she was buried here 2000 years ago.

After included lunch in Tarascon, we make our way to St. Maximin-la-Ste. Baume, the region where Mary Magdalene spent years of her life, living in hiding high up in the protection of the jagged mountains. There are conflicting legends regarding the time periods in which she lived here, all of which will be discussed in detail over the course of our journey this week.  Upon her death, she was buried on the site that would later become the Basilica of St Maximin, skeleton intact, but her bones have been the reason for wars between Provence and Burgundy, and are now scattered throughout France.

This afternoon we visit the impressive St. Maximin Basilica, which holds some of the bones of Mary Magdalene in the crypt, as well as the stone coffin in which her body resided for many centuries. Her skull is enshrined and on display in the crypt in a golden reliquary, which is paraded through the town every year on her feast day, July 22nd. It has been authenticated as a skull from the first century of a petite woman who likely died in her late 50s or early 60s. There are still strands of red-gold hair on the skull (although they are not visible through the reliquary). Viewing it can be a very emotional experience for Magdalene devotees. This church was one of the main pilgrimage destinations in medieval France and its size and glamour continue to testify to its glorious past. Exploring it in depth reveals some true jewels of medieval and Renaissance art pertaining to Our Lady – for those with eyes to see!  Our hotel is a stunning 13th century former monastery/convent with exceptional atmosphere. Dinner with wine tonight at the stunning gastronomic restaurant. Overnight at Le Couvent Royal.                  

Day 4: Tuesday, June 19th – In St. Maximin-la-Ste. Baume (B)
After breakfast at Le Couvent Royal, we drive up the mountains to Ste. Baume, the astonishing cavern cathedral carved into the top of a mountain. Enduring local legends indicate that Mary Magdalene lived here after she came to France. In medieval times, royals and nobles came here to visit this remote cliff sanctuary and make the pilgrimage up the hill. So popular was this act of devotion to Mary Magdalene that a “Royal Road” was created to make the ascent easier. The walk is slightly challenging, but if you take your time it is also beautiful and well worth it. For those of you who have climbed Montsegur, this is not as difficult and the path is in better condition. It takes about 45 minutes to make the ascent.

Kathleen’s research for her new book, The Boleyn Heresy, indicates that a teenaged Anne Boleyn came here as a pilgrim and made the climb with the Queen of France and the Queen Mother – she will discuss this and other research from Ste. Baume along the way.  After our descent, we visit the small church and convent at the foot of the cliff face, which has some beautiful displays as well as the breathtaking Magdalene murals painted here in the early 1900s. This was the main site welcoming pilgrims – it still is! If you are hungry, there is a snack bar for a quick bite and drinks, as well as a gift shop where lovely and inexpensive Magdalene medals can be purchased to commemorate your climb. In the afternoon, we return to the hotel for free time to explore the lively village of St Maximin and dine in one of the local restaurants on your own.

Day 5: Wednesday, June 20  – To Alet-les-Bains (B/D)
We depart Provence and head west to the magical medieval village of Alet-les-Bains, known to the ancients as “The Chosen Place” by late afternoon.  Our hotel is in a spectacular ancient location, set amid ruins from the 9th century.  The hotel is composed of buildings from the 12th to the 19th centuries and is perched on the edge of the fabled Aude river.  Tonight, we will hear the legend of how sparkling wine was invented just down the road – and how the recipe was stolen by a crafty monk from Champagne – with a tasting, of course! 

Overnight at Hotel L’Eveche.

Day 6: Thursday, June 21 – In Alet-les-Bains for Summer Solstice. To Carcassonne (B/D)
After breakfast, we gather by the River Aude for a celebration of the Summer Solstice, which arrives this morning at 10:07 am!  We then depart for the stunning walled city of Carcassonne where we will learn about the formidable Dame Carcas for whom the town is named and view the alchemist window and some special madonnas in the Cathedral of St. Nazaire.  Free time to roam, explore the ramparts, do some fabulous medieval shopping or enjoy lunch on your own at one of the many 
atmospheric restaurants.   Dinner at the hotel. 

Day 7: Friday, June 22 – ­­ In Alet-les-Bains To Minerve and Aigne (B/L/D)
Today we make our way to the Cathar’s sacred city of Minerve, the place Kathleen refers to as the Cathar Camelot.  Minerve is a spectacular, fortified medieval town which is one of the landmarks of The Way of Love.  On July 22, 1210, almost 200 Cathar leaders were burned here as heretics by the Catholic Church, for refusing to recant their truth.  Minerve stands as a monument to the Way and how these extraordinary people lived.  It holds a special atmosphere which some have found to be life-changing.  Lunch at a village restaurant.  After lunch we will visit the “snail village” of Aigne, a special place of artists and a secret Cathar stronghold during the Crusades.  Even entering the village through its spiral path is an initiation!  Dinner at the hotel.

Day 8: Saturday, June 23 – In Alet-les-Bains, to Mas Cabardes, Lastours (B/L/D)
We head into the Montaigne Noir, the Black Mountains, which were a haven for the Cathars to hide during the crusades.   We arrive at the stunning Cathar site of Lastours, a place of four castles dating to the 13th century.  Isobel and Kathleen will tell stories of what transpired here – of the troubadours and a femme fatale called the She Wolf –  from the viewing platform before we drive to the foot of the mountain for our hike to the chateaux.  This is a moderate plus hike and requires sturdy shoes.  

After lunch in the village, we view the Weaver’s Cross in the Cathar “bandit town” (a place where Cathars were hidden from persecution) and visit the very special church which sits over a vortex. 

Day 9: Sunday, June 24th – In Alet-les-Bains (B/D)
After breakfast we have a walking tour of our village of Alet-les-Bains, which means “The Chosen Place” and visit the encoded church with its mysterious Black Madonna – what is she holding in her hand? – and its gorgeous “Book of Love” windows. On the edge of the town square we will visit the exterior of the house where it is believed that Nostradamus visited as a child – legend says it was owned by his grandparents and was once a “safe house” for the wisdom keepers, perhaps even a mystery school. 

Balance of the day is free to swim in the river, rest, or write.   Before dinner, Kathleen will hold an informal Q & A session regarding the Magdalene Movement and also to disclose some exciting new research.  Dinner at the hotel. 

Day 10: Monday, June 25th In Alet-les-Bain, To Rennes-le-Château (B/L/D)
Our focus today is the mystery of Rennes-le-Château. This small village is at the origin of so many mysteries and has been the inspiration for so many books, including The Expected One, that it takes a full day to digest it all!  On our way over, we visit the very special energies of Notre-Dame-de-Marceille.  Philip Coppen’s book, The Secret Vault, explored the discovery of the underground network surrounding the church, once the haven of a Greco-Roman Oracle. A beautiful basilica on the outskirts of the town, the Black Madonna of Notre Dame de Marceille was considered so powerful and special that she has been kidnapped on several occasions. The site was a place of worship for the Cathars as recently as the early 14th century and the entire church is full of mystery and has special familial connections for Kathleen, who has paintings of her Paschal ancestors in the private museum here.

We then travel the few miles down the road to the domain of the mysterious priest of Rennes le Chateau, Berenger Saunière and his beloved partner Marie Denarnaud.  We explore the town first to understand the perspective of the treasure hunters. What were they looking for? What is the configuration of the underground tunnels and crypts? We will visit the famously encoded church dedicated to Mary Magdalene and the Villa Bethania Museum. But that is just one aspect of this multi-faceted place. After our included lunch, we see the village in a different perspective: this was a “doorway to heaven”, a magical place, a portal to a new world – and to personal and universal transformation. As a special treat, our friend Tobi Dobler will present us with his observations as a regional leader of the European Knights Templar and as someone who has lived in the village for many years and is intimately acquainted with the mysteries, if his schedule permits.  Viewers of “The Curse of Oak Island” would have seen Tobi on the show with Kathleen.

Day 11: Tuesday, June 26th – In Alet-les-Bains. To Montségur, (B/L/D)
Today we are officially pilgrims as we travel to the holy mountain of Montségur, the eternal symbol of Catharism. Though Montségur’s ascent might seem difficult, it is a hike worth attempting for those who are physically able.  Anyone with physical disabilities can stay in the lovely village if they choose not to make the climb. It will be a crowning achievement for an unforgettable adventure in France.

After our time on the Holy Mountain, we will descend to the village of Montsegur for lunch and briefly visit the two Black Madonnas which resides in the very special village church there, if permission is granted (this is in flux with the village at the moment).  Dinner at the hotel.

Day 12: Wednesday, June 27 – In Alet-les-Bains. To Arques

This morning we will visit the Gorge of Galamus, a moderate hike through a stunning canyon to a cavern where it is believed locally that Mary Magdalene once taught and preached.  It was converted to a chapel in ancient times and has connections to the Knights Templar.  A hermitage was built around it in 1395, and ancient legend says there were once blue mammoths which lived under the ground here!  Local lunch before heading to the 13th century Chateau d’Arques, where Kathleen received much of her inspiration for The Expected One.  Permission permitting from the village, we will visit the village church of Arques, where there is a stunning mural of Jesus – painted by Jewish residents who were hidden in the basement during Nazi occupation as a show of gratitude to the village that saved them. Back to the hotel for our farewell dinner party!

Day 13: Thursday, June 28 – Tour Ends (B)
A coach will transport us to arrive at Toulouse airport by 10 am.  Please try to schedule your return journeys in the afternoon to allow yourselves time.  Some passengers choose to stay in an airport hotel in Toulouse and take morning flights the next day.  We can help with the recommendation of an airport hotel for you if this is necessary to accommodate your schedule.

Your Homes for the Journey

We have chosen very special locations as our bases for this journey, so you will be immersed in the flavor of the region from the moment you arrive.

Le Couvent Royal (2 nights)
Le Couvent Royalimage003, a 13th century Gothic former monastery/convent, was built in honor or Mary Magdalene at the same time as the adjoining Basilica in 1295 by Charles II Anjou (the ancestor of Good King Rene d’Anjou) in the very heart of St Maximin. It has been called “the finest Gothic building in the Southeast of France” and when you walk through its corridors, both interior and around the central courtyard, you will absolutely agree. At night, we have an evening dinner in this hotel, either beneath the cross vaults of the ancient chapter house or outdoors in the magnificent cloister, weather permitting. Le Couvent Royal offers you the charm of a medieval building, but with all modern comforts and luxuries, as well as fine dining. The bones of Magdalene rest just behind the stone wall in the basilica. Previous passengers have had very interesting experiences in the cloisters at night!

Hotel Camille (2 nights)
image006On the shores of the Mediterranean in the vibrant village of Saintes Maries de la Mer is the charming Hotel Camille. Facing “the landing beach” where Mary Magdalene and her entourage arrived in France 2000 years ago, the Hotel Camille is a fresh and comfortable ocean front hotel.

Hotel L’Eveche (8 nights)
image007Sitting atop thousands of years of ancient ruins and layers of spiritual history, the Hotel L’Eveche was built to house the bishop of Alet les Bains in the Middle Ages. Your accommodations are in a renovated medieval structure, and our meeting space was once a secret meeting hall for the Knights Templar in the region. Rooms in the hotel are simple in a somewhat monastic style, in keeping with their origins. But it was our sense that staying in an unparalleled historical location was instrumental to the experience and more important than staying in a more modern location (i.e. there are no televisions in the rooms, although there is free wifi in the hotel). The hotel is in a stunning location, surrounded by trees and perched on the banks of the sacred River Aude. The ancient abbey ruins beside it glow in the moonlight and invoke the spirit of the women who once worshiped in this space. Long before it was claimed by the church, Alet les Bains was a place of active goddess worship, as is evidenced by the statue of the goddess in the town square. Ancient Celtic (pre-Christian) stonework can be seen in the churchyard. Alet means “The Chosen Place” and you will understand why after enjoying an extended stay here in these extraordinary energies.

Tour Includes:

  • Hotel accommodations as per itinerary
  • Daily buffet breakfasts
  • Additional lunches and dinners as indicated
  • Wine at many meals
  • Group transportation within France by coach
  • Sightseeing as per itinerary
  • All activities described in the itinerary
  • PLUS Group ceremonies and workshops

Please read the Terms and Conditions for this program.

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Per Person Double Occupancy: $4,400 by check or money order, $4,629 by credit card
Per Person Single Occupancy:  $4,987 by check or money order, $5,249 by credit card

Special Discounts

EARLY BIRD SPECIAL DISCOUNT (if prepaid by November 1, 2017)
Per Person Double Occupancy: $4,199 by check or money order, $4,419 by credit card

Per Person Single Occupancy:  $4,786 by check or money order, $5,039 by credit card

ALUMNI SPECIAL DISCOUNT (For Previous Sacred France Passengers)
Per Person Double Occupancy: $4,149 by check or money order, $4,369 by credit card
Per Person Single Occupancy:  $4,739 by check or money order, $4,988 by credit card

EARLY BIRD AND ALUMNI SPECIAL DISCOUNT (if prepaid by November 1, 2017)
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Per Person Single Occupancy:  $4,639 by check or money order, $4,879 by credit card

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Per Family Double Occupancy: $8,398 by check or money order, $8,839 by credit card

Deposit Schedule

FIRST NON-REFUNDABLE PAYMENT (Due as soon as possible in order to ensure a place on the tour)
Per Person Double Occupancy: $1,400 by check or money order, $1,475 by credit card
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2ND PAYMENT (Due on or before January 16, 2018)
Per Person Double Occupancy: $1,400 by check or money order, $1,475 by credit card
Per Person Single Occupancy: $1,500 by check or money order, $1,579 by credit card


BALANCES for payments (other than Early Bird reservation, in which the total balance is due in full by November 1, 2017) are due on or before April 1, 2018 as per your invoice

There is a limited number of rooms and configurations available. If you are willing to share a room, please let us know and we will do our best to match you up with a roommate with advanced introductions.  There is a private Facebook group for attendees where we can all begin to get acquainted in advance and remain in contact afterward!

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