An hour’s drive from our lovely campsite in the Loire Valley (if you like camping give it a go) was Puy Du Fou, a French theme park which boasts no rides only ‘live performances’ played out in various zones. The pamphlet we had picked up made it hard to imagine what it actually entailed, and in fairness it is a place like no other, furthermore we were worried about the language barrier with small children, but rave reviews from other campers convinced us go. We are so glad that we did. Do click on the images to enlarge- they are worth it!
On arrival we picked up headphones -which translated everything into English- and headed to the first show plucked at random; a 45 minute epic set in the 1700’s. We queued amongst the hoards (it is popular) with no idea of what to expect. All I had gleaned from the internet was that most delighted in it and one grumpy atheist moaned about ‘distinct Christian undertones’. I soon discovered he was quite wrong- there were no undertones only overt Catholic over tones and what unfolded thrilled me to bits.
The tale we engaged with followed a small band of intrepid souls fighting the Catholic cause against the dastardly French revolution. With rousing music and scenes of brave men kneeling before the sacrament to find strength to die for their faith, I soon had tears in my eyes. The message our hero, Francois Charette, kept delivering was ‘that as long as the faith flickers in just one heart then there is hope for us all!’ How the drama came alive with real animals, swashbuckling sword fights and the best live stunts I have witnessed. It was breath taking, uplifting and simply wonderful.
After a wander through the 18th Century themed village- each zone has such an area- where snacks are sold by people in period dress and the children can pet animals or watch a blacksmith make swords etc- we made our way to the second show. This one not randomly chosen but enthusiastically demanded by over excited children. We headed to a mock up of the Roman Colosseum where another epic was about to begin. And what a spectacle it proved! As we took our seats two Gaulish slaves ran into the arena and painted the sign of the fish on the sand. Roman soldiers came looking for them and chased them off before the Emperor- that villain Diocletian- took to his throne. One smelled another victory for the church was about to unfold…
It transpired that one of the centurions had fallen in love with a Christian girl and converted. The Emperor was livid and made him take part in a fantastic array of challenges. We witnessed a full speed chariot race in which several chariots fell apart dragging the riders out across the sand. We witnessed gladiatorial fights and even real lions and tigers led into the arena. It all raised the hairs on the back of the neck. So ambitious and so well performed. Eventually our hero triumphed, of course, and Diocletian was chased away by a live hyena. How the children cheered (and daddy too) as Christian symbols were raised and the faith triumphed!
Next we headed to the Viking show where again the message was hardly subtle. The natives were Christians living a good life as a wedding was celebrated. But then came the wicked Vikings who sacked the village amidst much pyrotechnic delight and threw the coffin of the local saint into the lake. Soon skirmishes were breaking out everywhere, one man felled by a live Eagle and another dragged by his ankle from a horse which was ablaze! It was all very exciting. The vikings were then thwarted as the dead saint came back from the dead, walking over the water and bringing them to their knees. They soon renounced their pagan way and, having been forgiven by the Christians, joined the wedding feast.
Our final show saw us head back inside for the tale of the three musketeers. An amazing flamenco dance was performed at the climax of this show as horses and women cavorted across a floor drenched in water. It was breathtakingly beautiful. The amazing thing about Puy du Fou is that, despite its obvious Catholic agenda, it is very much a mainstream and popular attraction. The crowds loved every minute and were thunderous in applause. A lesson to the wider church is to be found here. When we aim for the highest standards, taking pride in our history and message and making use of art and beauty to maximum effect- then the results are amazing! What contrast to the average parish, I thought, where so much is banal and uninspired and amateur and aimed at the lowest common denominator.
So who is behind Puy du Fou? A devout Catholic aristocrat for whom this park is his way of giving back to God and his legacy to his mother. Recently the park made a huge donation to the pro-life cause and it exists to proclaim the faith with passion. Ultimately the message at it’s very centre is the one spoken by our hero Francois, that as long as the faith burns in just one place there remains hope for us all. Hurrah for Puy du Fu; how wonderful there is still space in the secularised West for such faith to flourish. I am, unsurprisingly, a massive fan. Go and see it!
We Tomlinson’s will return! Not least because we only had time to absorb four of the sixteen shows and that is before we consider the night-time spectacular, performed by over 3000 people, which needs to be booked a year in advance! People flock to see what we have to say when we do our best to say it well.