Puzzles and Mysteries

By Jheri St. James

     If one looks at Europe as a puzzle, France is a central piece of the coastal European section. Although ultimately a victor in World Wars One and Two, France suffered extensive losses in empire, wealth, manpower and rank as a dominant nation-state. Nevertheless, France today is one of the most modern countries in the world and is a leader among European nations. Since 1958, it has constructed a strong presidential democracy resistant to earlier parliamentary instabilities. In recent years, its cooperation with Germany has proven central to the economic integration of Europe, including the introduction of the euro, in January 1999. At present, France is at the forefront of efforts to develop the European Union’s military capabilities to supplement progress toward a EU foreign policy.

     The French Republic is located in Western Europe, bordered on the north by the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel; with the Mediterranean Sea south, between Italy and Spain; also between Belgium and Spain. France is mostly flat plains or gently rolling hills in the north and west, and the remainder is mountainous, especially the Pyrenees in the south and Alps in the east. France is the largest West European nation. Her agricultural products include wheat, cereals, sugar beets, potatoes, wine grapes, beef, dairy products and fish. The Eiffel Tower is France’s most famous landmark. Built by Gustav Eiffel for the World Exhibition of 1889, the spire was constructed with such sturdy craftsmanship that it sways no more than 4-1/2 inches, even in the strongest of winds.

     Paris is the capital of France, and home to the world’s largest museum, the Louvre. Built in the 13th century as a fortress by Phillipe August, the building took on a role as museum some 300 years later. The Louvre’s number one attraction is Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” Construction of Notre-Dame, Paris’s most famous cathedral, began in 1163 and was completed in 1345. The south tower of Notre-Dame houses the great bell, which was fictitiously tolled by Quasimodo, the hunchbacked literary figure created by Victor Hugo. Since the 1500’s Paris has been a center of the olfactory art of perfume making.

     The geography and statistical data of the French Republic seems very straightforward, but France harbors many mysteries: The labyrinth at Chartres, the Shroud of Turin, the story of the Cathars, the French Catacombs in Paris, and the many Black Madonnas.

     The labyrinth is an ancient pattern found in many cultures around the world on pottery, tablets and tiles dating back as far as 4,000 years. Many patterns are based on spirals from nature. In Native American culture it is called the Medicine Wheel and Man in the Maze. The Celts described the labyrinth as the Never-Ending Circle. It is also called the Kabala in mystical Judaism. One feature they all share is that they have one path, which winds in a circuitous way to the center. This pattern, once central to cathedral culture, was inlaid into the stone floor of Chartres in 1201. Recently, the labyrinth in this famous church was opened to the public for walking after having been covered with chairs for 250 years, thanks to the efforts of Lauren Artress and her organization Veriditas (

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     Another puzzling French mystery has to do with the Shroud of Turin, a piece of herringbone patterned linen with a surface image resembling Christ on the Cross, which was found in the tiny village of Lirey, France in 1357. Carbon dating in 1988 set the timeline of the shroud to 1260-1390, much too new to be the burial cloth of Jesus. But its haunting image of a man’s wounded body is proof enough for true believers. Scientists have concluded that no paints, pigments, dyes or stains have been found to make up the visible image and no painter has been able to reproduce all the different qualities and characteristics of the shroud: its negativity, 3-D effect, brush strokes or directionality, perfect anatomical details from blood stains and scourging, and the fact that the image only penetrates about 1/500 of an inch into the cloth.

     Volckringer patterns are produced when acids from plants are transferred to paper, as in pressed flowers and leaves in books. This process seems to come closest to explaining the image on the Shroud, but no one theory to date can satisfactorily explain how the image was impressed onto the Shroud.

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     The haunting armatures of ruined castles cling precariously to hilltops in Southern France where struggles between Cathars (also called Albigensians) and Catholics took place at the beginning of the 13th century. Other castles guarded the volatile border with Spain. Whole communities were wiped out during the merciless campaigns to rid the area of the Cathar “heretics”, and later when Protestants fought for religious freedom. Their holy book was the New Testament and their prayer was the Lord’s Prayer. Pope Innocent the Third in 1209 launched a crusade against the Cathars and called in Simon de Montford to slaughter and extinguish their power, their religion. It is always mystifying why one man’s belief requires the extinction of another man to flourish.

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     Another cryptic place in Paris is the catacombs (Denfert-Rochereau Ossuary—the Empire of the Dead), which consist of underground tunnels whose walls are lined with neatly stacked skulls, arm and leg bones of five to six million people, disinterred from churchyard graves in the 1700-1800’s.

     Additionally, France is home to the eerie and beautiful Black Madonna. Many renditions of the Black Madonna exist today, purportedly 272 in France and 450 more over all of Europe. The Black Virgin had her origins in the middle ages or earlier. Most of the Black Madonnas are found in churches, chapels and sanctuaries; some in museums. Most are sculpted of wood, stone and one was rendered in lead. Some are paintings, most of them attributed to St. Luke.

     There is a list of 20 countries displaying Black Madonna icons and frescoes, including South and North American lands. Many Black Madonnas have the black paint literally kissed of their hands and feet. Most of these Madonnas hold Black Christ child images. Additionally, ghostly “White Lady” visions have been reported in the areas of Black Madonna worship. Ron Weighell, a writer at says that, “…with the rise of patriarchal religions and wide-spread use of iron (capable of disrupting electromagnetc fields), these white ladies were degraded in folklore into fairies, nursery bogies, death messengers, and spirits of air, water and trees.” White ladies and black Madonnas . . . mysterious. But historians recognize that the statue of the Egyptian Goddess Isis holding her child Horus in her arms was the first Madonna and Child.

     One thing that can be stated categorically about France is that spiritual and religious awareness is a critical part of life there. People in any country with a history of warfare, death and economic privations learn about the mysteries of the unseen world— black and white, good and evil. This writer does not know Jean Pierre Moritz of rue Bois Perron, de Gascogne, France, but his eagerness to participate in Common Ground 191’s expression of peace by collecting sand from the beach at Pyla sur Mer, location of the Europe’s biggest sand dune below, marked with an X, indicates a spiritual bent and willingness to act upon that. We thank him for his participation in the Common Ground 191 project.

     We have described just some of the puzzles and mysteries about France. There are many more: Rennes-le-Chateau, the Knights Templar treasure, the mystery of the Holy Grail, and Nazi treasure hunter stories. These will remain haunting tales of wonder and magic.

     Sadly, peace is a mystery as well. The people working for Common Ground 191 seek to unravel the hidden dynamics of peace by soil collections, in these writings, and in our final product, the 50’ x 50’ fresco of these accumulated bits of each country’s secrets and historical conundrums. We hope that by this fusion of terra firma’s DNA, some new creation and ideal will be forged, to inspire mankind to create a spirit of peace on the entire planet.





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