Saint Stephen’s Church of Capestang is located in the beautiful Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, and was designed as a Collegiate where monks and nuns could come, live and learn the word of god.
Collegiate Church of St. Etienne (the French name) was started in the 13th century over older church remains thought from the 11th century.
If the plans were carried out, it would have been the largest church in the region, and if the economy held fast from fish export and salt works it would have made sense, as they started building during the peek of Capestang when the population was close to 4000. Salt was the only way to preserve meat back in the day and between Capestang towards Beziers and Narbonne, was fertile farmland. This combination brought wealth to the people from this region. They exported along the River Aude, the E’Tang towards the sea, and eventually up and down the Canal du Midi.
The church was never completed when the money allocated for the venture had to be divided between the Narbonne and Capestang church construction, leaving both incomplete. The demise of the area was accredited to many reasons: River Aude’s course change, as well as salt not being as much a vital resource as once was. Then came the Plague and the church construction for both stood frozen in mid stream. Narbonne church required breaking down the 15th century wall, a wall now needed to protect Narbonne against the disease. Both areas were hit hard by the Plague.
With the Canal du Midi and de la Robine built, they could still have access to the sea, and sustain trade, and the areas stayed alive, especially with wine being so sought after even during the 17th century to present.
Alfonz and I were lucky to have the head of tourism Capestang meet us at the Capestang church to open the doors of the bell tower and give us a grand tour of the bells and the remarkable view of our village from above. It was quite an honor.
We climbed the 200+ steps up towards the heavens. Quite a trek, leaving us all panting at the top. Some had to stop to catch their breathe, others with gear nearly ran to the top. No matter, the view is worth a thousand words or in my case 774!
The winter wind blew hard, it was minus 5, the sky was crystal clear, and Capestang looked perfect. I could see the graveyard; beautiful tombs standing tall taking up the far side of the canal. Generations of people have lived their lives out here, in the heart of Hérault.
Little huddled together homes, with colored roof tiles, line the narrow streets of Capestang.
Crackling ice covered the Canal du Midi and in some spots the ducks walk across.
The plane trees stood at attention like soldiers surrounding the village.
Quoted as the “American dream” we check out from the rat race, and find a slowed pace of life. This little village is a visual spectacle, and exactly what we envisioned. (Maybe watched Ratatouille once too often with the kid’s?)
Capestang is a small community offering a fully functioning village with all the amenities; great schools, preschool until graduation, outdoor activities for our nature loving family and the list goes on. We could see the kid’s new school, the life we chose from a bird’s eye view. We got very excited to think we chose this village, found a life based on time currency and feel like we found what we were looking for here. It was an emotional moment.
We could see all the way to Narbonne. The rolling vine covered countryside leads to mist-covered towns that look like far away fairytale lands. As I looked around the village, I imagined the history. Below our feet are checkerboards dug into the rock for the soldiers to play games on as they guarded Capestang. Simply amazing!
The main part of the church had colorful stain glass windows featuring saints, Jesus and mother Mary. The wooden pews, the stone floors, the coves display bible stories shown through statues and carvings, and give a sense of peace to her faithful visitors.
The church is the focal point for tourists visiting the South of France, and is an architectural treasure located directly on the square. The entire village is built around her, and she watches over us. No matter where you find yourself in Capestang, you get your bearings from her tall tower, a watchful eye peeking high above our homes, looking over her village, protecting her people.