A wonderful and unique celebration takes place this month in the Luberon – the annual commemoration of the deliverance of Cucuron from the plague on May 21st.
In 1720, the epidemic which had devastated Marseille, spread to Aix, and was soon affecting the inhabitants of Cucuron. In no time, there were over 800 deaths from a total population of 4000, and the remaining townsfolk decided to appeal for divine protection. Led by the clergy, they made a solemn torchlit procession with the relics of Saint Tulle, to the Ermitage where they prayed for deliverance. According to tradition, the plague stopped spreading, and in gratitude, the authorities vowed to repeat the procession each year and to plant a popular tree in front of the church on the eve of the saint’s day.
The procession has in fact been discontinued but the festival of the May tree is still held. A team of locals – les coupeurs – select the largest and finest poplar in the area and bear it through the streets to the church, pausing at the Mairie for it to be decorated with the tricolore. Escorted by the children of the town in Provençal costume, the tree is finally planted with great ceremony and peals of bells from the church. Festivities follow and the tree stays in place until August 14th when it is removed so not to annoy la vierge Marie!