The legend of Saint Leon

In his foreword, the author notes that in the two lives of Saint Leo, “hagiography – texts of the saint intended to promote him – is of no help for the knowledge of the period when the saint passes for having evangelized the city of Bayonne in the 9th century”. The historical source is missing. The author then delves into the works of historians: Pierre Hourmat, Veillet, Jaurgain, Menjoulet and Mussot-Goulard. This period when the Viking pirates, the Vascons, the Frankish kings, the Gascon counts, the Christian missionaries and the Saracens, in merciless struggles, forged, for 1130 years, the identity of Lapurdum, a Roman castrum built in the 4th century, became Bayonne.

Around 890, “Bishop Léon de Carentan was appointed by the Church to convert the pagans and reorganize the Church on the spot. He was a native of Neustria (Normandy) and stood out from the Catholic hierarchy for his charisma. and his presence. He speaks the language of the North perfectly. The memory of this character will be kept until our days”.

Leaving Rouen with his two brothers Philippe and Gervais, Léon arrives in Bayonne, “den of pagan pirates”. The doors are closed. They spend the night outside. The next day, the priests of Mars (adored divinity) lead them to a public square where Leon makes the sign of the cross and announces the word of God to them. This sermon will convert 718 people according to the “little legend”. But the priests fear the spy. Léon will continue his way in the Basque, Navarrese and Spanish forests. Returning to Bayonne, Léon meets the priests of Mars who see their temple destroyed. “They rush on the blessed busy preaching the Gospel on the banks of the Nive”. Their leader chops off his head. “The saint’s body remains upright, bows, picks up the head, an angel will carry it to where it now rests.” A historical description of the gate, fountain and hospital of Saint Leon follows. Excellent work having required many and scholarly researches, illustrated by magnificent illuminations.

(1) “Vikings of Bayonne – The legend of Saint Leon” by Koldo Robles-Aranguiz & Michou Padrones – Atlantica Editions – 29 €

Anne Lasserre-Vergne is too modest. Her little story of Henry Russell is not a biography of the famous pyreneist, she says (1). Irish by his father and French by his mother, Henry Russell was born in 1834, in Toulouse, where his parents settled. “His family, his social background, his tireless legs, his intelligence, his musical gifts, his passionate feelings, his vibrant soul and his strength of character” define him perfectly and all those who knew him recognize in him the man of mind and manners of a gentleman. For the Pyrenees of the time “physical exercise is not in the mentality”. Climbs are scary. People fear “weariness, dizziness, nausea, asphyxiation”. A female ascent is a feat. For Russell, happiness is up there, near the glaciers. His eccentricity is mocked. He has visited the New World, Asia, Oceania, but at the foot of the Pyrenees it is adventure, the real thing… Accompanied by a guide, this romantic of the summits possesses a courage that borders on heroism. It will climb for half a century. Judge for yourself: the Pic de Ger (2612), the Balaïtous (3146), the Ardiden (2988), the Grand Vignemale (3298), the Pic de Marboré (3253), the Pic long (3194), the Néouvielle (3092), Campbieil (3175), Arbizon (2831), Gours-Blancs (3202), Crabioules (3116), Montcalm (3080), Canigou (2785), Mont Perdu (3352), the Cotieilla (2910), the Posets (3367), the Maladetta (3312), the Néthou called Aneto (3404), the Pic des Tempêtes (3290), the Taillon (3146), for the best known. His cave villa in the Vignemale glacier is the living room of the greatest mountaineers. Snow, hail, fog, nothing stops it. Slender at 1.82m, he has extraordinary physical abilities and a mind of steel. A man of conquests, he is not looking for sporting achievement but he wants to appropriate all these mountains. A devouring passion for the burning twilights, the snow mirrors, the unfathomable abysses, the chaos of the mountains. Thank you for this dazzling research.

1 – “Short story of Henry Russell mountain dweller in the Pyrenees” by Anne Lasserre-Vergne – Éditions Cairn – July 2021 – €10.

The legend of Saint Leon