Secrets of the Cathars and Mysteries of the Magdalene
With Kathleen McGowan & Isobel Denham
Including private concerts by
Devayani and Ani Williams
June 16 – 27, 2015
from Provence to the Languedoc
Since 1995, Kathleen has been exploring the mysteries of Sacred France. The journey has been a transformational one through a world filled with magic and mysticism, and steeped in some of the most inspirational stories in human history. Over the years, Kathleen has shared these mysteries through her books – The Magdalene Line series and The Source of Miracles. Most recently, Kathleen has been seen as the official tour guide to the French mysteries for the History Channel on the hit show, The Curse of Oak Island.
In this tour, we step into the footsteps of Mary Magdalene herself, after she arrived on the shores of France. This is a pilgrimage, a spiritual and historical journey. Experiences in this region can be very intense and transformational. They can also be just plain fun.
Be prepared for anything and open to the experiences and the possibilities of a fluctuating schedule. This region has a way of designing the journey for you – there is a reason that this land has been sacred ground for thousands of years!
On this tour, we take you to some of the most important sites connected with the Magdalene and the tradition of the Book of Love, as well as scenes straight out of The Expected One. As there is a fair amount of traveling involved, we have also made sure to give you a little free time to take it all in and see the sites at your own pace, wherever needed. Many of your exceptional meals featuring local and freshly prepared food are included, as mentioned in the itinerary. A few meals will be on your own during those moments of “free time” when you can wander on your own. No one has ever left a Sacred France tour feeling hungry! All included dinners come with wine, and other beverages are available for those who choose not to drink anything alcoholic.
Your Guides on the Journey
Kathleen 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.
Isobel 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.
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 Royal, 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!
Best Western Marseilles Airport (1 night)
The Best Western Marseilles Airport is conveniently located near Marseilles Airport. It provides a free shuttle service from the airport to the hotel, which allows flexibility for your arrival schedule. If you want to explore Marseilles, the hotel also forms a good basis to get into the city. The hotel offers comfortable, modern rooms, a nice expansive breakfast and we will have a welcome dinner in a private baroque-style room or poolside if weather permits.
Hotel Camille (3 nights)
On 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 (5 nights)
Sitting 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.
Day 1: Tuesday, June 16
Arrival day in Marseille, where Provençal legend says Mary Magdalene preached and converted the local fishermen to Christianity, and where her brother Lazarus became the first bishop. Our hotel is a Best Western near the airport with a regular shuttle service to transport you to the hotel. Kathleen and Isy will be on hand to help you check in upon arrival. We have a welcome dinner tonight to get to know our fellow travelers. It will be amazing to see how quickly we turn into a community as we take this amazing journey together! Dinner included.
Day 2: Wednesday, June 17
After breakfast, 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, but the local Dominican community believe she lived her for many years and died here as well – the largest collection of her relics are in this region. 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 one of the stone coffins 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 glamor 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! There is an excellent exhibition on the Shroud of Turin here as well, which Kathleen is expert in and can discuss at length with those who want more information.
Dinner tonight at the gastronomic restaurant in the Couvent Royal.
Day 3: Thursday, June 18, 2015
After breakfast at Le Couvent Royal, we drive a few minutes 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 dinner at Le Couvent Royal.
(Included meals: breakfast and dinner.)
Days 4, 5 & 6: June 19, 20, and 21
We head southwest towards Stes. Maries-de-la-Mer, the place on the Mediterranean Sea where Mary Magdalene came ashore, together with some of her family, friends and servants. 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. The crypt is where the bones of Sainte Sarah and the two Marys were discovered by 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.
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 more Spanish than French. This is a village of Flamenco and Paella.
We will have three days to explore the history of this special village, and learn more about the amazing women who made history here. Time to enjoy the Mediterranean, including a boat excursion along the Petite Rhone River and along the shoreline to experience the feeling of arriving on the beaches here. There will be free time for the very tempting shopping here (Kathleen’s favorite shopping town in France – she knows all the good places) for traditional gifts from Provence. Optional excursions can be arranged for riding the white horses.
On June 21, we will have a special solstice ceremony on the beach, followed by a solstice dinner at one of the many lovely coastal restaurants. (Included meals are breakfast every day, dinner on the 19th and 21st.)
Day 7: Monday, June 22
We take our leave of the magical Stes. Maries-de-la-Mer en route to Cathar Country, 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 in her own “church” and 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 her 2000 years ago.
After an included lunch, we pass the local statue of Martha’s tamed Tarasque and visit Good King René d’Anjou’s castle, which is across the street from the cathedral. The castle is not only beautiful, but it also highlights how this king was solemnly devoted to the cult of the Magdalene. Indeed, he was one of the main instigators of her worship in medieval times and was the force behind the excavations at Saintes Maries de la Mer. He was also the patron of Joan of Arc, and some say perhaps he was even related to her by blood. The various theories and legends surrounding Good King Rene and Joan will be discussed en route. Kathleen portrays him in her book, The Poet Prince.
We arrive in the magical medieval village of Alet-les-Bains, known to the ancients as “The Chosen Place” by late afternoon. Tonight, we will hear the legend of how sparkling wine was invented just down the road – with a tasting, of course!
Day 8: Tuesday, June 23
After breakfast, we 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 before lunch, where we savor the famous Cassoulet (alternate selections will be available for vegetarians).
In the afternoon we are in for a very special treat as we travel to the small and special village of Brenac, where our own Cathar-inspired community welcomes us into their homes for a private piano concert with the extraordinary Devayani. Devayani’s music has had transformational impact on a number of our previous passengers and is always described as a highlight. This is where Kathleen brings you into her private France, within her community. Here, you are never a tourist. You are always a brother or sister. (Dinner at the hotel)
Day 9: Wednesday, June 24
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.
We then enter 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 10: Thursday, June 25
Today we ascend to Montségur, the eternal symbol of Catharism. Though Montségur’s ascent might seem difficult, it is a pilgrimage 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. Dinner at the hotel.
Day 11: Friday, June 26
After breakfast we have a walking tour of the town 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 once lived as a child in what was once a “safe house” for the wisdom keepers, if not a school of sorts. We will then walk to the amazing Angel Gallery.
The Angel Gallery is a very special environment, a magical example of the Renaissance of art and spirit which is happening throughout the region. Everyone we have taken to this place has been moved, if not transformed, by the energies here. Beautiful paintings of angels, meditation spaces, an ancient healing water source, and extraordinary stories told by beautiful people await you in this space.
After lunch, we will be treated to a special harp concert by Ani Williams, with time to relax by the river before dinner with your fellow travelers, now your bonded community, and share your most cherished memories of an unforgettable, and maybe even transformational, journey.
Farewell dinner in Alet les Bains.
Day 12: Saturday, June 27
A coach will transport passengers 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.
- 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
- Private concerts by Devayani & Ani Williams
- PLUS Group ceremonies and workshops
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