A privilege location
On the shaded side of the mountain, the Sainte Baume forest of origin (130 ha) benefits from a micro-climate. That explains the presence of a beech forest characteristic of cool and wet countries. On the northern flank of a limestone cliff that protects it from the sun, it enjoys a high rainfall due to its relief. Indeed, the rock bar facilitates atmospheric condensation and mists cling and often persist.
Exceptional in the Mediterranean region, the Sainte-Baume beech forest is classified as a biological reserve.
An age-old occupation
The forest of Sainte-Baume, dominated by the impressive rocky barrier, is among the “sacred” mountains of Provence.The sacredness of the mountain dates back to ancient times. The Ligurians, Greeks and Romans already saw in this mountain a place inhabited by the goddesses of fertility Cybele or Artemis. Lucain, a Roman poet (1st century) wrote : “There was a sacred wood (…) sanctuary of Gods to barbaric cults”
“Our Mother of the waters” is the ancient name of this mountain which thousand years before JC was already a high place of pilgrimage. They worshiped “Isis”, the Black Virgin, the goddesses of fertility.
In Antiquity, Druids practiced barbaric rites on altars erected in the forest. Run-off of abundant blood reddened the moss. Our mother of waters is her old name. Water is omnipresent in the massif. It determines the vibratory quality of the sacred place. Water is the memory of the world. This is the very principle of life. Water is the connecting element: it connects our cells together, it connects man with the cosmos.
The holy place, in a general way, is a place where man can pass from his earthly condition to the world of light. Water is involved in this exchange process. Because it carries essential information to a sacred place, water was always linked to the construction of sanctuaries
On the other hand, this particular forest has been extremely protected as a place of worship.
Mary Magdalene, after having evangelized Provence, withdrew into this “wooded solitude” to finish the rest of her life. She stays there about thirty years, in contemplation. The cave, she uses as shelter (Baoumo in Provençal) was then called Sainte-Baume and was venerated by the christianized populations. In the context of the vast medieval movement of spiritual retreat in very isolated spaces, the monks of the abbey of Saint-Victor de Marseille, then the Dominicans, founded a priory, then a convent, in this “forest desert”. The cave becomes a place of worship extremely honored. In the Middle Ages, it attracts popes, kings, crusaders and pilgrims. It receives the visit of Francis I, Charles IX, Henry IV, Louis XIII, Anne of Austria and Louis XIV.
This success earned the priory many donations, but especially a protection of his “wooded solitudes”. From the Middle Ages, the wood surrounding the cave became a “foresta”, that is to say a reserved area and protected from any exploitation of peasants. Later, these operating bans were constantly renewed.
Thanks to Mary Magdalene, this protection of the massif near the cave has avoided significant changes while preserving an original ecosystem in Provence.