Monday, 6 February 2012

Carnaval de Limoux

The Limoux Carnival

This annual carnival has been held for centuries and its purpose seems to be to make fun of society and its rules. For 10 weeks, 3 times, each Saturday and Sunday leading up to the 2nd Sunday before Easter, different masked groups, representing various guilds, parade through the streets. The first parade, at 11am, is supposed to provide amusement and mock some local or national story from the past year. The last parade of the day, at 11pm, is torch lit and is more sombre and mystical.

We saw the 11am parade on Sunday 5th February. It was incredibly cold, and the snow started to fall during the parade. The musicians, wearing stunning red smocks, looked cold.....there was evidence of frozen moustaches, and clearly, some sore chapped lips attached to trombones, clarinets and various horns.

The actual characters in the parade we saw were monks, nuns, a priest, and a whore. The costumes were caricature like, all participants wearing expressionless masks. From the little we understood, and what we have read about the origins and purpose of the carnaval, it was referring to the Church's role in child abuse cases that have been in the news recently.
Haunting choral music flooded the square as a small crowd started to gather. This is February, it is incredibly cold, and tourists are thin on the ground, so I think we were the only non French observers.

Proceedings are carried out in the ancient Occitan language ( from Langue d’ Oc ..... the Languedoc ) of this region. To our ears it sounded a little Spanish, but some of it was basically comprehensible to our developing French understanding. For instance, it was clear, when the Priest character was being “judged” by the others, he was sentenced to being turned into a lapin, and then castrated.

In between set scenes, the masked figures paraded from cafe to cafe, in a stylised fashion, posing, tableau like and then furiously waving their arms above their heads. All through this the band followed them and played what varied from haunting anthems to almost fairground music.

No... we didn’t know exactly what was going on...... and apparently the origin of the carnival is lost in time, a pagan winter festival possibly, but one that runs for a considerable length of time and coincides with Lent. It has always made fun of local dignitaries, and has always included lewd and rude references..... and encourages members of the public to dress up in outrageous costumes to follow the parade.
This is a parade follower... dressed appropriately.

           The priest turned rabbit is clutching his genitals here !

Whatever was going on.. I am so glad we saw it.


  1. Bit like at school when at Xmas all the kids put on a "show" (can't remember what they were called) when the pupils took off or made fun of the school and its staff?

  2. mmmm, not sure about that Carole. It had a more serious and sinister feel about it....but completely fascinating. xx

  3. This really is fascinating Janice. Very different from the gentle/traditional/religious/fun stuff that goes on around Andalucia. The French are, I think, a more politically aware nationality and this parade shows that they are probably more socially aware too. Apart from the freezing temperatures, I'd have love to have been there with you! Very possibly, I'd have been a natural at the Occitan language...when I try to speak French now, it comes out absurdly Spanish!
    Wonder what they did in the previous weekends? And interesting that it culminates at the beginning of February, like so many other pagan and religious festivals.
    So glad you're blogging!!

  4. I did think how useful you would have been, at my side, as I tried to fathom out what was happening. I wish we were going to be here for more of it...but this is just a short trip, and we wont be back in France until April. However, I'm not intending to take more than a couple of very short visits to Yorkshire between April and October.
    From what I can gather, the final parade just before Easter is amazing....bonfires, burnings at the stake,Pierrots by the dozen for some reason,and the followers ( goudils) go really mad. I wish I was going to be here for that. I am really enjoying the idea of blogging, and getting into finding other people's as well.

  5. As Annie says, this is fascinating stuff, Janice. Of course anti-clericalism has been a feature of French life to a greater or lesser extent since the Revolution, so the mocking is nothing new, even if its emphasis is. I wonder whether another strand, going a long way back in history, may be a folk memory of the persecution of the Cathars by the Church back in the mediaeval period? It looks like there are elements of Mardi Gras too. :-)

  6. I am sure the Cathar heritage is somewhere in the mix.... what I am amazed by is the fact that these parades happen 6 times each weekend for 10 weeks... all with differing themes, performed by different groups within the town. It is a huge undertaking, and despite the freezing temeperatures, everyone involved was clearly, giving it their all. Not understanding it all makes it even more interesting I think. By the way, I did look up your cat blogs from last summer. Do you know how they are doing ?

  7. No idea at all, Janice, as we don't hear from our neighbour unless there is a problem. I'm guessing we'll see them around if they manage to get through this very cold weather.