The walk toward Navarrenx is through steep and wooded country. Buildings and houses mix rustic and elegant in a style I’d simply call béarnais. I noticed other pilgrims gaping at this gorgeous heap.
And on the outskirts of Navarrenx, this simple beauty caught my eye.
The town of Navarrenx was a stronghold, and in one period it was a stronghold of the protestant Huguenots. When you see them, it’s not surprising that the fortifications have lasted to this day. Nor is it surprising that the protestants were able to hold out for so long till their hero Montgomery arrived. (He’s the one we keep saying damaged this and that church along the Camino.) Here are the fortifications looking toward the river.
The reason the town was protestant comes back to the will of a single woman, who wanted it that way against the will of her husband, and against the will of France. This perfume shop occupies part of her former home in Navarrenx.
And here is the church, since the subject of a famed restoration, where the lady made her confession of protestant faith, Easter Sunday 1563.
If there are protestants in this part of France, it should not surprise. In the sixteenth century, when the queen of this region ruled it firmly in a period of great prosperity, a majority of people were protestant. When Jeanne d’Albret was in charge, it was best just to go along with her. Yet – wouldn’t you know it? – for all the woman’s great competence and ferocious will, she ended up gaining greatest fame just for giving birth.
Ah, but what a birth!
Her son, though hated by many in his life, has become the French Elvis. Neither Bonaparte nor Bardot can draw so much affection as this remote historical figure, still none too famous outside France. And walking through what was once his kingdom of Navarre on the four hundredth anniversary of his assassination, it was hard not to get caught up in the myth of good King Henry, King of Navarre, then King of France. Here in the Béarn they still call him lou nouste Enric, “our Henry”. Leading up to the twelfth of May, books and magazines commemorating him were everywhere.
And the tricky, ambitious, equivocating and womanising Enric deserves much of his great popularity. There was a balance and warmth in his character that was lacking in his extraordinary mother – and lacking in all who ruled France after him.
So, as I walked along the Chemin du Puy on the twelfth of the month, across the Béarn the bells rang out for Henry of Navarre, who wished all his subjects could enjoy chicken-in-the-pot every week. And, because he really meant it, I say: Ring those bells!
Enough history. Here’s a pic of a favourite spot in Paris, the Place des Vosges. It was built by Henry, and reflects him.
Warm and balanced, don’t you think?