Posted by: Brad Nixon | April 2, 2010

Palmers

If you ever learned any Chaucer, you learned the first lines of The Canterbury Tales:

“Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote/The droghte of March hath perced to the roote.”

Those determined to get more of the Prologue went on to lines 12 and 13:

“Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages/And palmers for to seken straunge strondes.”

Well, ol’ Geoff was not so good a speller, and could’ve used a good proofreader, but we get the basics: it’s rainy in April and in the spring season — around Easter — people set out on pilgrimages. “Palmers” are pilgrims to a shrine who carry palms in imitation of those who welcomed Jesus back to town, the event that’s also observed in the Christian Palm Sunday. (It would be interesting here to look up the connection with the English last name, “Palmer,” but that’ll have to be another day. If you know, leave a comment for all our benefits.) “Straunge strondes” translates as something like “foreign strands.”

Nice Palms in Nice

Nice Palms in Nice

In many cultures, the presence of the palms is carried to impressive degrees. Some years ago, we were in southern France during the Easter season. This photo was taken outside the Catedral de la Reparate in Old Town Nice, but at scores of similar churches were women like the one you see here, selling palm fronds bent and woven into simple or extremely elaborate shapes. In all likelihood, this woman is a member of a lay group that supports the church, and for whom the selling of the woven palms is an annual fund-raising affair.

Although I was familiar with Palm Sunday and with Chaucer and the traditions around the pilgrimages, I did not realize that those palms Geoff’s characters might’ve been carrying may have been woven into these elaborate shapes. What I learned is that palm-crafting dates back to the middle ages, and the shapes represent crosses, crowns of thorns and so forth. It’s a fascinating convergence of folk art and religious practice, still evident today.

Thanks to fellow traveler and faithful commenter Bill P. on the name and location of the photo.

© Brad Nixon 2010, 2017

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Responses

  1. Brad, thanks for the “nice” memory of our 2000 trip to Italy and France during Easter season. And for connecting the dots to Chaucer, a connection I never would have thought of.

    Your photo of palm crafting looks like it was taken in the plaza in front of the Catedral de la Reparate, Old Town Nice. (It was unseasonably cool and rainy that April!) The Reparate is one of those pretty little “matchbox” baroque churches sprinkled around Nice and the Riviera.

    Congrats on your 100th! And on the 5,000th! And many more!

    Like

    • You are correct. You really know Nice! Thanks for the details. I’m going to add them to the post!

      Like


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