When wandering around the sweet ville of Aix en Provence (and other villes in this fine region), you might often see a little niche perched high up on a corner or face of a building housing a saint or protector, like the one in this image.
Les Oratoires, or the oratories (from the Latin, to pray), began to pop up at the end of the Middle Ages to serve as places where people could ask God for protection of their families, their homes, their harvests, their country, their town population, their travelers or fellow citizens against illness, plague, accidents, drought, death of animals or natural disasters. They also served as places where people could offer thanks for healing that had been bestowed.
Back in the day, each disaster was considered to be punishment from God. When the churches were closed, the people stayed home, but at their window - or nearby - were les oratoires (illuminated at dusk to offer 7/24 comfort) where the faithful could collect their thoughts and their wishes and send up prayers that they might be protected through whatever challenge they faced.
Aix en Provence heads the list as the town with the most oratoires, coming in at around ninety. Their numbers flourished during the Baroque period (17th and 18th centuries). During the French Revolution, many were destroyed and it wasn't until the 19th century that they began being restored and their residents returned to their rightful niches.
Some are technically designated to protect the buildings while others are assigned to protect the population...and so far, I can't tell one from another. But I like that they are there.
Happy Friday! 13 is a lucky number in France!
*a curtsy to the Aix Office de Tourisme for the information on Les Oratoires.