Bernac. A simple ritual
Somewhere between belief and tradition, there’s a Christian ritual that has led people to Bernac for centuries. The custom is that people bring their babies to the village when they’re suffering from teething pains.
Saint Apolline (or Apolonia, according to some translations) lived in Alexandria in Egypt in the third century AD. The daughter of a pagan magistrate, she was martyred alongside other Christians in the year 249 for refusing to renounce her faith. In a disturbing and macabre manner that sadly appeared to fit with the ways of the time, her jaw was broken with stones, her teeth were ripped out and she was burned alive. This grisly fate led to her becoming the patron saint of dentists, so people look to her to alleviate their children’s teething pains.
A saint’s relic consisting of a pouch containing one tooth and a small fragment of jawbone explains the origins of this Bernac tradition. It was most likely brought back from Alexandria by a member of the church and is preserved in the Notre Dame de l’Assomption. People bring their babies, cheeks all red from the inflammation brought on by teething, on the first Sunday of the month to ask for the saint’s blessing to ease the pain.
Every month a register shows that between 35 and 60 babies from all across the region – the Haute-Garonne, the Gers, the Pyrénées-Atlantique and even from Bordeaux – are brought to Bernac to take part in this ritual.
The Cistercian barn
This entirely renovated Cistercian barn, a production house for wine, provides a great way of explaining the importance of monks in the development of a working wine industry. Belonging to the Abbey of Bonnecombe, which was situated between Rodez and Requista, the estate of the barn at Bernac extended well beyond the bounds of the commune, out towards Castelnau, Labastide and even Cestayrols.
The working practices in the barns were very strict. The ‘Rule of Saint-Benoit’ dictated eight hours of work, eight hours of prayer and eight hours of sleep. The barn was run by a ‘brother barnkeeper’ and the monks would regularly move between various barns and the Abbey de Bonnecombe.
The Notre Dame de L’Assomption church (H3)
The oldest parts of the church of Notre Dame at Bernac date from the 13th and 14th centuries, around the time the Cistercian barn was being developed. It also features a fine Annunciation dating from the 18th century.