Christmas is a special moment on the Sainte-Baume mountain in Provence. The place has a mystical air as one climbs the stone steps through the thick forest up to the cave, where there is chapel and edifice, which sit precariously perched on the edge of a cliff facing a beautiful valley. It is hard to believe how the place was constructed, its position belies belief.
The history here is rich. In the early fifth century, a priory was set up in the cave near the top of the mountain by John Cassian. It was believed that Mary Magdalene and others were cast out of the Holy Land following Jesus' death. The legend goes that they crossed the Mediterranean and came to Provence. It was here that Mary Magdalene spent the rest of her life in prayer and contemplation. Many come to the cave as a pilgrimage today. It is called Magdalene's Grotto.
On Christmas Eve (late in the night) and on Christmas Day, there is a mass in the dark cave, illuminated by candles. Water drips from the stone walls and the place is steeped in a transcendental glow. It is a fitting place to honor the story of the origin of Christmas - as humble and crude as the place of Jesus' birth.