By Veronica

Hands on

It's Les Journées du Patrimoine this weekend. That means many historical sites are either free to enter, or have special events/exhibitions. We decided to visit the Maternité d'Elne, since we totally failed the last time we were in Elne.

This is a very handsome country house just outside Elne. During WWII, it became a maternity home for refugee women, many of them Spanish refugees, but the home also sheltered Jewish women and their babies. It was run by a Swiss woman called Elisabeth Eidenbenz. She was a teacher, not a nurse, but she was completely committed to helping and protecting these vulnerable women and their children -- whether from starvation on the local refugee camps, or extermination in German death camps. She managed to find this derelict house (formerly belonging to the founder of the company that made JOB cigarette papers) and get it into sufficiently good shape to house her maternity home. Almost 600 babies were born here in the five years it was open. Strangely, her work was not officially recognised until almost 60 years later (she was awarded honours by Israel, Spain, and France).

The house is now a fairly conventional exhibition space. As we already knew the story, we didn't find the exhibition particularly informative. But it was evocative to be there, imagining how it must have looked to women who had come from disgusting, inhumane conditions in camps such as Argelès and Rivesaltes. Here there were blazing fires, ample food, cots and cradles for the babies, a vegetable garden, sunny terraces to sit and sew or knit, midwives and nurses to deliver and care for the babies. It truly must have seemed like paradise.

As we left, it was still quite early and S spontaneously suggested going to Cabestany, since it was nearby. Its only claim to fame is Le Maître de Cabestany, a sculptor in the late 12th century who like Homer is known only for his work. A fine sculpted tympanum in the church in Cabestany was discovered in the 1930s. The style was so distinctive that subsequently other works in the local area (including Lagrasse and other abbeys in the Aude) and even further afield (Navarre and Italy) were attributed to this anonymous person of whom nothing at all is known.

Cabestany initially looked unpromising, a dormitory suburb of Perpignan, but sure enough there is a museum dedicated to the master. It features casts of his most important works. This actually works well, because you get to see a lot of his work together, emphasising the common features, and it's also beautifully lit and accessible, not often the case in situ. It was an interesting and well displayed exhibition, and thanks largely to our ignorance we found it more interesting than the Maternité.

Today's small set of photos right from here

Sign in or get an account to comment.