Croix de Provence, a cross to protect the region
Croix de Provence is located on the western tip of the Montagne Sainte-Victoire, near Aix-en-Provence.
The 18.25m tall cross stands at 948m above sea level and can be seen from miles away, in the manner of a beacon.
It was erected in 1875 with the funds raised with a subscription initiated by the Abbé Meissonier, the priest of the nearby commune of Rousset.
This fund raising involved the 104 parishes of the diocese of Aix, Arles and Embrun.
The cross was erected in order to ward off the epidemic of smallpox that affected the country.
It also help people to cope with their disillusionment after the Prussians defeated France in 1871.
The Archbishop of Aix officially blessed the Croix de Provence on May 18, 1875 in the presence of 3,000 faithful donors.
Croix de Provence’s various dedications
The base of the cross contains the names of the subscribers and 104 parishes involved, and was engraved with four inscriptions.
The face looking towards Rome, in the east, was engraved in Latin:
“Dieu très bon, très grand, ô Croix, force de Dieu et la nôtre, salut ! Puisse votre lumière si douce aux cœurs qui aiment Jésus, et si miséricordieux à ceux qui, hélas, ne l’aiment pas, resplendir au loin”
“God very good, very great, O Cross, God’s strength and ours, salutations! May your light so sweet to the hearts who love Jesus, and merciful to those who, alas, do not like it, shine in the distance”
The norther side, facing Paris, was engraved in French:
“Croix de Provence, bénite par Monseigneur Théodore-Augustin Forcade, Archevêque d’Aix, Arles et Embrun le 18 mai 1875”
“Croix de Provence, blessed by Monsignor Theodore-Augustin Forcade, Archbishop of Aix, Arles and Embrun on May 18, 1875”
The southern side, facing Marseille (a port founded by the Phoenicians), was engraved in Greek:
“Voici, matelots, votre phare, négociants, votre gain, travailleurs, votre repos et votre richesse”
“Here is, sailors, your beacon, dealers, your gain, workers, your rest and wealth”
Finally, the western side facing Aix-en-Provence was engraved in Occitan:
“Ô Croix, salut ! Source d’éternelle lumière, avec le sang d’un Dieu, ô testament écrit, la Provence à tes pieds s’inclina la première. Protège la Provence, ô croix de Jésus-Christ”
“O Cross, salutations! Source of eternal light, with the blood of God, O written will, Provence was the first to bow in front of you. Protect Provence, O Cross of Jesus Christ”
Restoration of the cross
Lightnings damaged the Croix de Provence in 2002 and 2003.
The restoration that took place in 2004 was a perfect opportunity to rebuild and consolidate its base platform with reinforced concrete.
This new circular base boasts breathtaking 360° views of the region and the mountain.
The current Croix de Provence is actually the fourth cross erected on that spot.
In the 16th century, a sailor, who escaped alive from a shipwreck, vowed to erect a cross on the first mountain he would come across.
Sadly rain and winds quickly degraded his wooden cross.
A local man, named Jean Laurand, commissioned the construction of the second Croix de Provence in 1785; his cross underwent the same fate than the sailor’s!
A student of the Faculty of Law of Aix funded the construction of the third cross in 1842.
His cross soon became a renowned place of pilgrimage, however, suffered from excess of popularity!
Indeed, pilgrims took the habit of cutting a small piece of the holy cross as a good luck charm.
The winds and the rain eventually destroyed what was left of it!
The current Croix de Provence is made from metal, and is still a major place of pilgrimage in Provence.
A series of hiking trails lead to it.
Once there, you’ll enjoy some breathtaking views of the surroundings, but also of the 17th century Prieuré and Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Victoire farther downhill!
Directions: Bouches-du-Rhône department
Coordinates for Croix de Provence: Lat 43.530977 – Long 5.580350