Thursday, May 24, 2007

A week in France: looking for the history of the church - day 1

Our trip starts in beautiful Paris, in one of its train stations to be precise. Having just spent 1 ½ days with my parents and grandparents in the French alps, I took the night train and arrived in Paris at 7:00 ready to meet my friends and board the 9:00 train to Lyon.

I had often passed through Lyon while on my way to my mom’s parents in Paris, but I do not remember ever having really stopped to visit. I discovered that the city with all those buildings that I used to see from the car window has much more history in it than I ever imagined.

At the Lyon train station, we were met by Eric, our driver, who took care of us all day. This man took pride in his work, a rare kind nowadays, and helped us very much on our journey.

First stop on our tour: the baptistery behind the Saint Jean Basilica in the remains of the church of Saint-Etienne which was destroyed during the revolution. For a Baptist, this octagonal 4th century baptistery is great. When it was first built, it had a depth of 80 cm (31 in) so that, as the sign states, “l’évêque baptisait des adultes, qui étaient entièrement plongés dans l’eau” (the bishop baptized adults, who were completely submerged in the water). Over the next four centuries it was resized twice “pour s’adapter à l’évolution du rite du baptême” (to adapt itself to the evolution of the rite of baptism), so that “après le 7e siècle, c’est le baptême des enfants, par simple aspersion d’eau qui est devenu le plus fréquent” (after the 7th century, it’s infant baptism by sprinkling which became more frequent). So, as we can see, the biblical practice of believer’s baptism was followed by the early church up to, and even after, the 4th century!

We then saw a Roman amphitheater where, in the second century, many Christians were eaten by lions. We talked to the Musée de la civilisation Gallo-Romaine about possible future visits, but were not able to visit it since it is closed on Mondays. After lunch we stopped by the church of St. Irenaeus. Under the 19th century church (for the original 9th / 10th century church was destroyed in 1562 during the war of religions by the “Calvinists’ fury”) lays an early crypt which is said to have been built in the midst of an early Christian cemetery and house the remains of three second century church fathers: Irenaeus, Alexander, and Epipodius. We are very thankful to a sweet old lady who took the time to open both the church and the crypt for us, for when we got there, they were closed.

We then headed to Avignon on the 17:45 train, and after a good supper and great conversation, we checked out for the evening.

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