The Town of Apt (Vaucluse, France). Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

In January of 1382, Bertrandus Barbani, prior of the church of Saint-Lazare of Apt, transferred the priory to his brother Guillelmus. The church, located outside the walls of Apt, possibly along the modern Rue Saint-Lazare in the hills across the Calavon River, was modest. The notary found several ragged altar coverings, broken crucifixes, and a worthless painting of the Virgin Mary. The inventory included garments for a parish priest, studied elsewhere in DALME, notably a red silk indumentum, with an accompanying alb, cinch, amice, stole, and maniple of other colors, all of middling value. Toward the altar, one finds unspecified relics in plain tin boxes, an indulgence adorned with wax seals, and a more dignified depiction of the Virgin Mary, this time on a plank of wood, perhaps similar to those commonly found in the inventories of Florentine orphans. Additionally, there was a small collection of books, mostly consisting of the liturgical texts found in other churches in the DALME collection, such as that of the church of Les-Pennes-Mirabeau.

Saint Philibert Dijon - BM - ms. 0641.jpeg

Image from a Life of Saint Philibert. Dijon – Bibliothèque Municipale - ms. 0641 © Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes – CNRS

In one book, the notary discovered an old letter containing the life of Saint Philibert. It's noteworthy to find a reference to Saint Philibert in a rural Provençal church, considering his cult was primarily venerated in Normandy and Poitiers. However, the choice of this saint might be explained by one of his reported miracles, which likely resonated with the peasants outside the walls of Apt, many of whom, during the second half of the fourteenth century, fell victim to raids by brigands who pillaged their lands, looted their grain, and stole their horses and cows.

The twelfth-century miracle attributed to Saint Philibert took place in a hilltop village in central France southeast of Le Puy, a town known for its green lentils. The lord of Borée (Ardèche) was infamous as a plundering brigand who made his living by despoiling defenseless villagers. One day, the lord commanded one of his servants to prepare a feast, but the servant replied that they had no more provisions. The lord responded, "There is a very fat cow belonging to an old woman living under the jurisdiction of the prior of the church of Saint Philibert (which still stands today) in the village called Floriacus (modern-day Les Estables). Go steal the cow quickly and bring it back here for the feast." The servant complied. The old woman, distraught upon discovering that her cow had been taken, went to the church of Saint Philibert and cried out to the saint, "Give me back my cow! Otherwise, I will not recognize you as my lord! I'll take my colander (cum colo mea) and hit you incessantly on both sides! I will annihilate you! I'll condemn you!" She slammed the floor and cried out these lamentations fervently before eventually leaving.

When the lord began his meal, he choked on a morsel of the stolen beef, was strangled by divine intervention, and died. Everyone around him was shocked and immediately went into mourning. Strangely, a growl, resembling the lowing of a cow, emanated from the deceased lord's stomach. During the funeral procession of over five miles to the church of Saint Philibert, the mooing persisted. According to the chronicler, it only ceased when the wrongdoers provided the victim, the old woman armed with a strainer, with a new cow. Afterward, the deceased was honorably buried in a great tomb.

The notarial registers from late fourteenth-century Apt frequently mention the plight of peasants who suffered at the hands of brigands, similar to those cursed by Saint Philibert in Borée. Despite the concerted efforts of the municipal council, seigneurial lords, and the peasants themselves, the situation did not improve until 1400, when a massive flood left properties in such a dire state that even the brigands left in search of greener pastures. It's plausible that a prior of Saint-Lazare, upon hearing the story of Saint Philibert, believed his parishioners could relate to the old woman's plight and find some solace in her story.

The inventory is one of several pertaining to parish churches found in the Luberon Valley, including the churches of Saint-Pierre in Apt, Saint-Romain in Lioux, Saint-Romain in Buoux, and more, which will be published soon!