Making little saints

Bits of clay flew as he twirled the little figurine between his fingers, poking and prodding, until the shepherd was smooth and his cloak billowed in an imaginary gust of Mistral. I watched closely, amazed by his skill, as he placed the santon on the table, next to the dozens already assembled, before starting anew.

I gazed around at the shelves lined with rows of miniature village folk, wondering which would make the best souvenir of my pilgrimage to the workshop of a Santonnier in Aix-en-Provence. Hundreds of hand-painted eyes followed me as I admired the pattern on the shawl of one, and the deep violet of the lavender in the basket of another. It was going to be a difficult choice.

The workshop was stifling, the heat accentuating the damp smell of clay. It was empty apart from the craftsmen and us and I wasn’t surprised. Who else would be silly enough to think about Christmas in August? The craftsman had finished his batch of shepherds and had started work on a traditionally clad woman. He flicked the excess clay off her dress and recounted the history of the santons or little saints, in the thick, lilting accent of the south.

The Provencal crib or Crèche Provençale dates back to the French revolution. My passion for them only goes back to my arrival in France, but come December our sideboard will once again struggle under the load of our home-made village and its tiny inhabitants. Annual trips to the Foire aux Santons in Marseille provide us with the citizens – a baker perhaps or maybe a monk, or a couple of dancers… The rest is a family affair. It is an on-going project and everyone is put to work, whether it be building, town and country planning, or decoration.

I packed the latest addition carefully into my handbag, and followed my sister-in-law out of the boutique. She seemed as pleased with the guided tour as I was. The little clay figurines are highly contagious and most of my immediate family have become collectors, each building and populating their crib in accordance with beliefs or taste, all loving their santons as much as I do.

After all, in the darkness of December, who can resist the warmth and colours of a Provencal village bathed in summer sunlight, or the charms of an old shepherd watching over his sheep, his cloak flapping in a gust of Mistral?

From Scribbits prompt : Collection

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18 Responses to Making little saints

  1. This is very well-written and lyrical, thanks for entering.

  2. Kathleen says:

    Your writing always delights.
    I envy you your shopping trip. Thank you for exposing us to this charming custom. ( I, too, think of Christmas in August.)

  3. meredith says:

    I love going to look all the different manger scenes around provence at Christmas time. The lady across the street from us has and makes the most amazing “crêche” with her santons. I am going to ask if I can take some photos this year.

  4. Mary Alice says:

    So beautifully written, I felt as though I was there with you. What a lovely tradion you have created. Your children will always remember creating the villages at Christmas time.

  5. Gigi says:

    I’ve always loved santons but typically, although I promise myself each year to start a Provençal crêche, I’ve never done it. Partly because I’ve never had the room, of course 🙂 …

    Perhaps I’ll start this year, eh?

  6. Mary Alice says:

    Congratulations – I saw at Scribbit that you had won!

  7. janet says:

    Congratulations on winning Scribbits writing contest. Your blog is lovely.
    Your country reminds me a bit of mine.

  8. This was really a stunning piece and I feel honored to have a little peek into a life such as yours. The imagery inside the prose is magnificent. Well done. Congratulations on the First Place win.

  9. Kathleen says:

    Congratulations on the win! You are most deserving. Your writing is amazing. Enjoy your blog so much.
    Do you do any writing professionally? You certainly should.

  10. Lizzy says:

    I daily struggle to force out words that sound as easliy written as yours do. This is a lovely piece of writing and a lovely experience to share. How wonderful it must be to see your little figures being created by their maker.

  11. Lei says:

    Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing this story and congratulayions.

  12. Kayris says:

    What a lovely piece!

  13. Hexe says:

    Congrats on the win! A lovely piece.

  14. A gorgeous story and I love the way you write! I also took a tour of your home and was enthralled. I’m so jealous!

  15. Thanks very much to both Michelle and Jenn! I am thrilled about winning and have been smiling ever since!

  16. Paris Parfait says:

    Lovely piece about your visit. But I wish you would post photos of the treasures. 🙂

  17. Oh Santons! You were in Aix! Minutes away from were I live! Can I tempt you to come again if i find you an antique santon?

  18. Corey – I think that I can probably be tempted!

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