04 February 2008

Sainte Devote and the burning of the boat

This bronze of St. Devote stands in front of the church which you can see if you click on the link.

According to legend, on the 27th January 312, a ship bound from Corsica, bearing the lifeless body of a young Christian martyr, ran aground here. It was discovered by some fishermen and the young martyr delcared the patron saint of Monaco.

Every year, with the Royal Family in attendance, a fishing vessel is burnt, from which rises a white dove symbolising the spirit of the Saint. One year my best buddy, Candy, was over from America and we went along to watch the burning of the boat. I'd forgotten the dramas that night and asked Candy to remind me:

"So...you've forgot what happened on the night of St. Devote, eh? I can't see HOW. It wasn't just the royal family-- Prince Rainier and Prince Albert and Stephanie and Caroline and all their chirren--we almost went up in flames too! If you remember, there was an enormous bonfire pile of palm fronds--with a wooden dory on top of them. There were about a half dozen Pompiers--every single one of them smoking--nonchalantly standing around with huge jerrycans of gasoline. The combination of Gitanes and gasoline alone gave me some pause...but nevermind...it looked very French. You and I were waiting next to the bonfire area--we'd decided to stand on the quai and see the fireworks. It turned out to be a perfect spot, because we were right next to the damn thing--which is where the Royal lighting-of-the-beacon was about to occur. As the Rainier entourage approached--the pompiers began sloshing away, emptying an alarming amount of gasoline on the pile. But I figured, hey-- there were a lot of fronds, and they'd probably need a good boost to get going. I also assumed that some designated fireman-flunky would do the actual lighting. I was so wrong. As I recall, almost all the adult members of the Royal family were handed some sort of burning torch (the pompiers were apparently lighting anything they could get their hands on). Now, remember, the Royals hadn't seen the gallons of gasoline that had just been glugged all over the fronds. They innocently stepped forward and put their torches on the pile and FWOOOOMPH!! There was a fireball that could be seen from outer space. I thought my face had melted. Whichever Princesse it was who was wearing the full length mink--jumped back and started patting her coat frantically, so as to put out any stray embers. I have this vision (seared, as it were, into my brain) of Prince Rainier and Prince Albert completely outlined in a corona of flame. Everybody was sort of stunned for a moment--the flash had been like one of those cartoon explosions--there was total silence (except for the crackling fire). Then bits of ash began to float gaily around us like black snowflakes, and everybody started to laugh. The fireworks went off with a bang, too, but they weren't near as dramatic as the lighting of the dory! Now do you remember?"

Now, of course I do. After, we sat on the port, feet dangling over the edge and watched the fireworks and listened to the accompanying music.


Gerald (SK14) said...

well that's a story to get me going on a Tuesday morning - I've never much cared for bonfires and fireworks since one hit me on the head one Guy Fawkes Night.

Anonymous said...

Sounds entertaining to me - i am keen to start other royals exploding in flames ... but i do want a republic :-)

Chris said...

I am sitting here laughing at Candy's description! :-) Thanks for the smile to start this grey, Nashville Tuesday!

Kate said...

Not exactly a flash in the pan, was it?

isa said...

Oh, Jilly - how could you possibly forget that incident? The entire Grimaldi dynasty would have been wiped out that night!

It's good to laugh now, though ;-)

Felicia said...

That is a jaw dropping story to have experienced! I'm surprised that everyone laughed afterwards instead of totally freaking out.

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