STEVE AND CAROLE IN VENCE

Easter in Vence
Patron Saints, a Flower Parade and Flying Bells

April 22, 2022

In France no church bells ring between Good Friday and Easter Sunday morning. Why? Well, they are gone. Gone? Yes, gone to Rome to mourn the death of Christ. One of the Easter traditions that I find most fascinating here in France is that of the bells. It is said that on Good Friday all the church bells in France grow wings and fly off to the Vatican in Rome where they are blessed by the Pope. They return to their homes on Sunday with treats and gifts for the local children (the well-behaved children to be exact). If we’re going to have nonsensical myths around the Easter holiday, I for one prefer the flying bells to the giant rabbit!

For most of the last two thousand years France evolved as a Catholic country. However, today secularism is one of the core concepts of the French Constitution. Article 1 of the French Constitution discourages religious involvement and influence in the government affairs and at the same time forbids government involvement in religious affairs. That said, everyone in France has the right to the free exercise of religion.

Still, much of the country remains steeped in Christian and Catholic influences. Numerous Christian holidays are also official state holidays when just about everyone in the country takes the day off (Christmas, etc.). Easter is one of those official holidays and everyone gets the Monday following Easter as a holiday. (The Alsace-Lorraine area also takes off for Good Friday, but that’s another story.) School holidays are also based around Easter with children getting two weeks off.

Poster for the Vence Fêtes de Pâques (Easter) celebrations.

Here in Vence the three day Easter weekend (Saturday, Sunday and Monday) is celebrated with a variety of activities including dances, parades, concerts and more. And it’s not just a celebration of the Christian traditions. Spring, traditional events and Vence customs are all important aspects of the festivities and everything is organized by Comité des Fêtes & des Traditions (the Festivals & Traditions Committee) and its volunteers.

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Easter in Vence

Several of the old town entrances and fountains are adorned with beautiful arrays of flowers and the main roundabout into town is decorated with Easter themed sculptures. For more than three weeks the children of Vence create Easter motifs and decorations resulting in a farandole (a lively Provençal dance in which the dancers join hands and wind in and out in a chain ) of dolls dressed in traditional Provençal dresses displayed under the Grand Frêne (a 500 year old ash tree).

There is a QR code hunt through the heart of the old town which aims to teach and inform children and adults alike about the heritage of Vence. Sunday afternoon La Brissaudo performed a small concert in the Salle des Meulles and in the evening a concert was held in the Vence Cathedral by Syrinx Concerts with Anna Fedorova on piano and Benedict Kloeckner on cello performing works by Brahms, Popper, Chostakovitch and Ducros.

Just like in the U.S. (and lots of other countries), chocolate is a significant part of the Easter celebrations. The local pâtisseries, chocolate shops and grocery stores are well stocked with lots of delicious goodies. Chocolate bunnies and eggs seem to be just as popular here as they are in the states. You’ll also find lots of chocolate bells (obviously) and fish (it has to do with April Fool’s Day).

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Le Grand Corso Fleuri & la Bataille de Fleurs

Vence saves the biggest and most boisterous event of the weekend for last. The Grand Corso Fleuri (Big Flower Parade) and Bataille de Fleurs (Battle of the Flowers) closed out the festivities on Monday afternoon and were attended by a huge amount of locals (and certainly some out-of-town visitors). An impressive array of huge flower floats (if you’re American think the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena on a much smaller scale), marching bands, dancers, horse drawn carriages and more moved through the center of town circling the Grand Jardin several times while people stood on the side of the road cheering, applauding and whooping with excitement. After two very long years of being cooped up with COVID restrictions (the parade was cancelled in 2019 and 2020) the inhabitants of Vence were ready to let loose and that’s exactly what they did.

Vendors were selling bags of paper confetti and cans of silly string and roving “gangs” of young children delighted in throwing the confetti and spraying the folks riding on the floats with the silly string. It was all in good fun and those on the floats responded in kind. Simply standing on the side of the road I ended up with silly string all over my shirt and my hair was full of confetti. It was an absolutely gorgeous day with bountiful sunshine and warm temperatures and everyone seemed to be having a blast.

After circling the Grand Jardin three or four times the floats stopped in the streets and the people riding on them began to pull the flowers off the wire frames and toss them into the crowd. This is what is known as the “Battle of the Flowers.” In truth, it’s not really much of a battle because no one really threw any flowers back at the floats. Instead they gathered them up, collecting as many as they could. It took quite awhile to dismantle the floats (there must have been tens of thousands of flowers) but by the time they were finished the frameworks were bare and empty and most everyone in the crowd went home with an armful of beautiful flowers. I really love this tradition of sharing the flowers with the crowd rather than just letting them rot on the floats.

The Grand Corso Fleuri in Vence is the main attraction for the Easter celebrations.

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Procession avec Saint Véran et Saint Lambert

Le Grand Corso Fleuri was a lot of fun but for me the real highlight of the weekend was what is known as the Procession vers le plateau Saint Michel avec Saint Véran et Saint Lambert (The Procession to the Saint Michel Plateau with Saint Véran and Saint Lambert) which took place on Monday morning. I’m not religious (in the least) but I admire, respect and even treasure the tradition, history and heritage involved in ceremonies like this.

A little background: Saint Véran and Saint Lambert are the two patron saints of Vence. Saint Véran was bishop of Vence in the 5th century. Saint Lambert was bishop in the 12th century. Both saints were instrumental in the growth and evolution of the town and are celebrated throughout the year. There is a chapel dedicated to each saint inside the Cathedral, as well as wooden paintings, wooden busts and silver plated copper busts. Once a year the wooden busts are removed from their glass cabinet, placed on large wooden supports and carried through town to the Saint Michel Plateau in honor of the 1592 Siege of Vence. You can download an 1933 pamphlet about this siege here on the website.

The story goes that during the Wars of Religion Vence was attacked by its own lord, who had converted from Catholicism to Protestantism. He wanted to convert the city as well, but the inhabitants refused and a siege ensued. As the people were beginning to lose hope a canon of the Cathedral, Canon Laure, had the busts of Saint Véran and Saint Lambert placed on the tower of the Cathedral. This brought hope back to the people of the village and they gathered to fight. Seeing their determination the Protestant troops lifted the siege and the Lord of Vence abandoned his plans to remake the village into a Protestant stronghold.

Call it a parade or a procession, it involves a group of musicians, dancers, singers and more dressed in traditional Provençal clothing who slowly march from the Vence Cathedral (after a special mass) to the small plateau where the oppressors were camped during the siege. Once arriving there the busts are placed on tables and a ceremony commences. There are songs, history lessons, readings, speeches, etc. from a variety of people and dignitaries. Once these are over the marching band leads everyone back to the Cathedral and the busts are returned to their enclosure.

You can read a more in-depth article about the Procession of Saint Véran and Saint Lambert on our site.

The procession for Saint Véran and Saint Lambert moves through Vence.

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Games, Crafts, Food, Pony Rides and More

All day long on Saturday and Sunday both Place du Grand Jardin and Place Clemenceau (the two largest squares in the heart of Vence) were filled with activities for families and children. There are lots of games set up, chalk for creating street art, cooking lessons, craft lessons, a pottery class, a grain “library” and much more. Pony rides were available for small children. The World of Bees offered information and insight about natural beekeeping practices and local recipes using honey. Children were encouraged to bring their scooters and bikes to be decorated with flowers so that they might take part in the big Corso Fleuri (Flower Parade) on Monday. Face painting was available for children and several vendors sold food. A petting zoo was set up in Place Clemenceau with donkeys, rabbits, guinea pigs, goats, sheep and more.

Easter Egg Hunt

A traditional Easter egg hunt for children took place on Saturday morning in a large grassy garden area. Every thirty minutes for several hours a new hunt was organized and children waited impatiently at the edge of the grass for their turn to scour the field looking for eggs. Of course, the eggs weren’t really “hidden,” they were placed all over the grass in plain view to make it easier for the young children to find them. I watched one of the “hunts” and was very impressed with the organization and management of the activity. With children from 2 years to 10 it’s important to make sure that everyone is able to find some eggs and I thought they did a great job of making sure no one went home disappointed.

Traditional Dancing, More Parades & The Queen of Vence

On Saturday afternoon dancers from with group Roudelet Felibren from Château Gombert (a village on the outskirts of Marseille), dressed in traditional Provençal clothing, performed folk dances for a delighted crowd in the Grand Jardin.

The same group then held a parade on Sunday morning traveling through the center of town with a marching band leading the procession. Things began at the southeast corner of the Grand Jardin and moved west along Avenue de la Résistance to the big roundabout at the edge of town. From there they circled back around on Avenues des Poilus to Place Frédéric Mistral next to the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs (Chapel of the White Penitents) where everything stopped for a series of traditional songs and dances. Another stop was made at the Belvédère Fernand Moutet for more dancing and then the troupe made its way to Place Clemenceau in front of the Cathedral for a final series of dances.

After an Easter mass on Sunday the la Danse de la Souche (The Dance of the Vine), by the group La Brissaudo, was held in front of the town hall. This ceremony is an old Provençal tradition where a piece of a beautiful vine from the territory is decorated with flowers and foliage. A priest blesses a small fire and the vine is thrown into the flames. Dances and songs ensue and in the end the incineration of the vine is believed to promote the rebirth of new grape vines. The mayor of Vence, Régis Lebigre, even joined the group for a fun round of dancing. After the ceremony a young girl was crowned as the “Queen of Vence.”

All in all it was a fun packed weekend of events here in Vence to celebrate the Easter holiday. There was a bit of something for almost everyone with the dances, the parades, the games and activities, the concerts and so much more. What I really love most about everything is the fact that it is not just the religious traditions that are honored and celebrated but also the secular history, customs, heritage, folklore and legends of Vence. Regardless of your religious beliefs the Easter weekend here in Vence is a time for remembering, celebrating and honoring a very special town.

   Download a copy of the 2022 Fêtes de Pâques celebrations.

Access

Vence can easily be reached from just about anywhere in France by taking the A8 until you get to Cagnes-sur-Mer. If you are coming from the east get off on Exit 48 and if you are coming from the west you’ll want Exit 47. Take the M336, then the M36 and finally the M236 north into Vence. The most accessible parking is in the Parking du Grand Jardin, right next to the old town. Parking Toreille and Marie Antoinette Parking are both close by as well. The Vence Office de Tourisme is just across the street from the Grand Jardin.

Juste les Faits:
What: Easter in Vence
Where: Vence (Alpes-Maritimes) (Google Maps)
When: Easter Weekend
Phone: Vence Office de Tourisme: +33 04 93 58 06 38
Website: vence-tourisme.com
Facebook: vencetourisme

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