Since we walk a lot, we are always making discoveries that we probably wouldn’t ever see if we were driving. When you’re on foot it’s pretty easy to take a quick detour to literally smell the roses, take a photo, or stop into some place inviting since you never have to find a parking place. That’s exactly what happened when we were walking on a road beside the river on what I’ll call “Wharf Street” when it turned to go uphill and changed names to St. Michel’s Cemetery Drive. When we got to the entrance, Bill took this photo of who was there to greet us. Despite what seemed to be a less than warm welcome, and my allergy to cat fur, we ventured inside.
After reaching the top of the short staircase we could see rows of graves stretching out like spokes on a wheel and we were at the center. There were dozens (well, it looked like it to me) of cats, spaced about 10 feet (3 meters) apart down each of the alleyways sunning, grooming, or just sitting but now suddenly all with their eyes on us. It was really spooky. Bill likes to read Stephen King novels so I can only guess what was going on in his mind. I certainly wasn’t going to ask!
At random we chose a pathway to walk down and as we approached each cat, he or she would dash behind a headstone or crypt. We continued our tour and the cats continued to scatter. When we returned to the entrance we noticed a plaque that mentioned famous names associated with Carcassonne and where the graves could be found. Perhaps it’s a bizarre choice of words, but street and place names such as Lacombe, Marcou, Ourtal, and Domec that we see on our daily walks suddenly “came alive” when we read that these former residents were buried here.
Investigating further online with one of the local newspapers and a website entitled Cemeteries of France, it appears that St. Michel’s started as a burying ground for victims of the plague in 1628 and 1652. A royal decree in 1778 led to church officials being interred there and now Bill and I will return in search of the oldest marked grave dated 1809.
But what about those cats? That mystery was solved by blog reader and new friend Sue who visited Carcassonne to volunteer in animal rescue. Apparently these are strays that until recently had been fed by a group of elderly women who have now themselves passed on. The caretakers of the cemetery are doing their best to keep the cats healthy but according to Rescue Forum they are still looking for help.
So now we know about St. Michel’s cemetery and the cats that wander between the graves. We’ll go back to find that oldest headstone but I wonder if the cats will be looking. For a hint, here’s the photo that Bill took as we left the cemetery gates. Happy Halloween!