A Short Story – The Three White Cottages

At Saintes Maries de la Mer in Provence

Painting by Vicent van Gogh

Beyond the jetsetter glitter of the French Riviera lies a coastal resort of Saintes Marie de la Mer with its legend of the “three Maries.”  As I remember summer vacations there, the locale is flanked between a dry plain and wet marches shoring the Mediterranean Sea. Here you can still enjoy Provencal festivals, running bull events and equestrian games.

I’m convinced that Vincent van Gogh was fascinated by this town and its legend as shown in his “three white cottages” painting.  According to local history, this is a pilgrimage site still honoring the 3 Maries:  sister of Jesus’ Mother, Mary mother of Apostle James and John, and Mary of Magdala, all of whom were present at the foot of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem.  So, the story tells that in around 40 AD these women were expelled, put in a boat without sails or provisions and landed miraculously at Saintes Maries de la Mer. 

While standing at a replica of the boat at the pier, I wondered if Vincent had painted these 3 white cottages to remember these courageous women.  Delving into his art, I can feel the blistering windy Mistral that dries up the long grassy blades.  The whitewash walls of the cottages keeping the inside cool while the dark blue sky warrants a coming of torrent rain. 

This mystical shrine still captivates my imagination whether the legend is true or not.  The locals adhere to its historical mysticism and Vincent’s impressionistic art remains.  Just maybe, the three Maries do rest at Saintes Maries de la Mer!

Painting by Vincent van Gogh