Shem, Frank and the Great Tablecloth of Wonder

Many, many years ago a couple of salesmen (let’s call them Shem and Frank) were a bit hard up for ready cash. They would roam the countryside, selling their wares from off the back of their donkey called Job. Times, however had been a bit lean; people weren’t buying what they were selling. Shem and Frank were having problems making ends meet and things were not easy for Job either.

In time honoured tradition they would buy from one person and sell to another. No matter that the first person was in Egypt while the second was in France. They would roam to and from anywhere in order to make a shekel or two.

It was around 1100 when they found themselves in a tavern in the Holy Land, Crusaders all around, when a chap entered and ordered something strong from the tavern wench. Shem noticed this fellow paid in silver and knew he’d found himself someone of wealth. Nudging Frank, he told him he had a plan.

He went outside to Job, the donkey, and took from their pack a smallish tablecloth which he’d managed to steal back in Northern Africa somewhere. He folded it up reverentially and carried it back inside. He went to the bar and spoke to the serving wench.

Excuse me, Miss. Would you have somewhere safe I can store this holiest of holy relics while I head down to the public baths? I wouldn’t have it stolen for anything.

Before the wench could say anything, however, the stranger had turned to Shem and asked him what the relic was. Shem looked surprised and became rather guarded.

What relic, sir? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said as he hid the tablecloth behind his back with all the subtlety of a Vogon.
It’s alright, my good man. You may not have recognised me but I am Adhemar de Monteil recently come from the Pope himself. You can speak freely to me.

Shem looked warily at the stranger but then, as if convinced by some unseen force he showed him the cloth. He then lowered his voice and moved in close to Monteil’s ear.

It is part of the shroud within which was wrapped the body of our saviour, Jesus Christ.” Both men urgently crossed themselves sort of in the manner of World Cup footballers. “I had it from my father. He from his and so forth down our family line since the crucifixion itself. Apparently one of my ancestors was there and managed to grab it. I would hate to lose it but must find a safe place to hide it just now. Particularly given all the crusaders about at the moment.
Please, good fellow, let me see this wondrous object!

And Shem knew he had him. He sold the tablecloth to Adhemar de Monteil for a considerable amount of money after a lot of baffling haggling – it went the wrong way because Adhemar de Monteil really wanted it but Shem didn’t want to sell it. Adhemar de Monteil then took it back to France. He donated it, in 1117 to an abbey in a place called Cadouin. A whole system of chains, a capstan and a big box were constructed and prayed over before being suspended over the altar of the church in Cadouin. The tablecloth was placed, very carefully, in the box.

And there it hung for 800 years. It was taken out every now and then so that the townspeople of Cadouin could sing songs to it and generally follow it around the town. Then, in 1935, someone realised it was just a tablecloth dating from around 1100. It even had the tailor’s name embroidered into the edging in Arabic.

Nowadays, the cloth has been taken away and safely stored for the wonderful old thing it really is while the chains still hang in the church as if testament to the stupidity of blind faith.

Chains hang meekly from the ceiling where is painted the resurrection of Christ

Apparently Shem and Frank also sold Jesus’ romper suit to a church in Tremolat but I’ve yet to see it so that story will have to wait.

The church is next door to the most amazing cloister I’ve seen for a long time. It’s not just me who thinks that. It is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

The beauty of the cloister mostly lies in the story it tells as you wander down the corridors. Starting at the beginning, the monks would have wandered beneath small statues telling them how to conduct themselves, warning them of the dangers of sin and the vices associated with normal god-given life. The little statues are sometimes on the wall, other times on the ceiling, even others at the top of columns. They all tell a story of some sort or other.

Sometimes the story makes sense, other times it will make you screw up your face in confusion and other times they will make your blood boil. The way women are treated around the cloister was definitely in the latter camp.

Mrs Noah tries to poison her husband in order to find out about his secret conversations with god

Amazingly the cloister (and the abbey attached) has been destroyed a number of times during various conflicts through the ages (Wars of Religion, French Revolution, Hundred Years War, etc) and repaired by adding to rather than recreating. In the 1960’s however, a new threat was uncovered. Water was destroying the statues by seeping in and causing them to slowly melt away. A company was employed to help stop the damage. They succeeded but did not recreate, they merely repaired. It’s a significant and very important difference.

One of the best things about the cloister is that you are free to enter the cloister garden, something that isn’t usually the case. Of course it helped that the day was so beautifully blue and bright, but the yellow stone looked radiant in the sunshine even though we were melting.

I took a lot of photographs (with both camera and phone) but really think the panno I took from one corner the best for showing what the place looked like. And, amazingly, it was peaceful as well.

Cloister panno

Having had a coffee in the town square, a wander around the cloister then church and finished with a second coffee (beer) we decided to have a wander around before leaving for Beaumont because there was rumoured to be an ATM there.

Cash has been a bit of a problem since we left the chateau because we had to pay in cash and it was the limit of our withdrawals on the day. This meant we were using our reserves of cash and employing the card whenever we could. This came to a head today in Cadouin when the bill for the coffee (beer) came to almost exactly what I had left in liquid funds.

There was rumoured to be an ATM in the post office at Cadouin which opened today at 1:30 but by the time we’d left at 1:45 it was still closed so we headed for Beaumont instead.

Beaumont is a bastide town. I’ve discussed these before so won’t go into what one actually is however, this one is interesting because it was built by Edward I of England in 1272 when he was shoring up his French holdings. It also has a very military style church. This served as a sort of keep for the townsfolk to run to in times of trouble.

The other wonderful thing about Beaumont is the terrific salads served at the Bistrot. I had goats cheese, Mirinda had duck; both were superb. They may have been enhanced by the fact that the ATM across the square was in complete, money giving mood. Still, they were delicious whatever the reason.

Salad for Mon

After lunch we headed around the bastide for a little look see. That took about ten minutes so we went inside the church where I found a monochrome Joan. I’ve never seen a monochrome Joan statue before. I think she looks quite ethereal though the light shining in her upraised face must be a bit annoying.

I have searched in vain to discover who created such a beatific looking Joan, which is annoying because I really like the monochrome.

Monochrome Joan

Eventually we made our hot and dusty way back to the car and headed for the gite to drink wine (beer), eat cheese and French sausage and generally rest up after the tiring morning. It’s never easy getting up and leaving the house by 10am.

I’d also like to mention that the search for Hornzy Twigs continues in the US. Hopefully he will soon be reunited with his grieving family. Here’s an police identikit picture of him. If anyone sees him please get in touch.

This entry was posted in Dordogne 2018, Gary's Posts. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Shem, Frank and the Great Tablecloth of Wonder

  1. mum says:

    That was great and as you said a very different Joan. love mum xxxx

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