Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A SITE ON "THE RETURN LIST"

From Martin's Quest by Billy Ledet
inside St. Martin de Tours
When I return to New Iberia, Louisiana every year following a sojourn on The Mountain in Sewanee, Tennessee, I usually have a mental list of places I want to re-visit while I'm in Cajun country. Yesterday, after I received the news about a friend's daughter being seriously injured in an automobile accident, I thought immediately about St. Martin de Tours Church in St. Martinville, Louisiana, a few miles down the road from me. Although I'm not Roman Catholic, I've made many short pilgrimages to the beautiful, historic church on the Square to light candles for family and loved ones. I'm always consoled while sitting in a pew of the old church, and when I return home I find that small miracles have occurred.

One of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in the U.S. and the third oldest in Louisiana, St. Martin de Tours was established in 1765 when Acadian exiles who had been driven out of their homes in Nova Scotia landed in Acadiana. A Capuchin missionary priest named Jean Francois helped establish the church and by 1814, it had become incorporated. The church that stands on the Square today was built by lottery funds in 1836 and dedicated in 1844. As I said, I'm not Roman Catholic, but I like to think that when I sit in one of the church pews, I'm sitting near one of my ancestors, an Acadian exile named Pierre Vincent who must have been a member of the predominantly Roman Catholic congregation at St. Martin de Tours.

Inside St. Martin de Tours are gated pews, remnants of a time when congregants were assigned pews according to their donations to the church. Crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and a blue ceiling with stars overhangs the altar. The space inside is large and has the ambience of a country church, and brilliant light fills the interior. For me, it is one of those "thin places," so designated because the space between God and the people is thin... and the connection with God is easily made. I've been in a few thin places and experienced this connectedness—near the red buttes of Sedona, Arizona; at St. Mary's Convent church on the bluff at Sewanee, Tennessee; in a small church named Church of the Holy Spirit in Graham, Texas; and in the Garden of Evangelism in Tehran, Iran. On my bucket list of thin places is the Isle of Iona as I've read and heard that it is the thinnest of thin places where spiritual experiences frequently occur.

St. Martin de Tours is mentioned several times in my young adult book, Martin's Quest, and a pencil drawing by Billy Ledet depicts Martin, the hero of the story who is a traiteur, lighting candles in the old church. Martin's grandmother explains to him that the Church "is only against traiteurs trying to cure someone if they leave God out. When the prayers are said, God isn't left out. The Church today believes in the gift of healing, just as in Jesus' day. But the priests don't like superstitious practices," she added.


In St. Martin de Tours
I have lit many candles in the small blue crystal holders on a stand near the side door by the gray-walled Grotto at the left of the altar. The Grotto is a copy of the famous Grotto at Lourdes in France where miracles still occur and was created of mud and green moss by a black man named Paul Martinez. On my return trip to St. Martin de Tours, I'll petition for the complete recovery of my daughter and for the healing of the young woman who was seriously injured in the auto accident. For those who wish to add your petitions, the names are Stephanie and Glenae.
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