A few days ago I received a comment on my vignette about the figurines, we saw in a shop window in Vence. The reader, who is also my auntie, is very knowledgeable about and experienced in all matters provençal. She reminded me that these figurines have great significance in local tradition:
These are the famous “Santons de Provence”.
At Les-Beaux-de-Provence there is a special little museum of “Santons”.
During the French Revolution, the official exposure of cribs in Churches was forbidden.
So people fabricated their own figures, using first old bread, then clay, which they dried and painted and exposed in their homes, later in public places. Santon comes from the Provencal “Sainton” = holy figure. Another opinion is that the name “Sainton” has the same Celtic origin as your town of “Saintes”.
Once I read this comment, I vaguely remember earlier encounters with Santons and some similar figurines in Catalonia. I’m surprised at the possible Celtic connection, having assumed the name is based on ‘saint’.
If anyone is interested, here’s a link for the wiki introduction to Santons that could be a starting point to explore this charming tradition.
And, Nancy, not surprisingly, the Girard Wing of the Museum of International Folk Art has a collection of Santons! Now that I know the name, I could go to their website and check 🙂