Unknown in Aix before 1348, the horrendous curse which is The Plague, regularly decimated the local population like it had done everywhere else. One of the very worst was in the year 1629, despite the drastic precautions taken by the town authorities, including banning people from leaving their houses. At that time, at every street corner, one could find little alcoves with statues of the Virgin which the people could pray to whenever they felt the need. Many of these alcoves can still be found in Aix and often provoke curious tourists to ask about their origins and purpose. Even with the measures taken by the authorities, the death toll continued to increase; the County Council and the terrified town leaders left the city. All that were left were the Provost of the Mimata Chapter, Counsellor Borilli and Martelly the Assessor.
On 20th January 1630, Martelly, leading the nobles and the people, attended a special Mass and vowed to annually observe a religious service specially dedicated to the Virgin of the Seds, patron saint of the city. This act was commemorated, and signalled by the ringing of the town bells, every year on 1st September until the Revolution. It is during one of these occasions that the celebrated Aix Calissons were first given out, like so many Communion wafers.
A Delicious Legend
According to Marcel Provence, in his remarkable work “The Cours Mirabeau” (1953), this legend is recorded in a manuscript by a Capuchin Brother Bonnaventure de Six-Fours, called “Church Feasts and Ecclesiastic Traditions of Provence” currently in Munich’s main art gallery. The Calissons, blessed by the Archbishop, were distributed to the worshippers whilst intoning the chant: “Venite Ad Calicem”, which the mischievous citizens soon turned into, “Let everyone come to the Calissons!” According to Brother Bonnaventure, these sort of biscuits made of soft almond paste, are called Calissons because they are drawn from a large dish in the shape of a Calisse (a cup used to drink Communion wine).
Since then this tradition has continued to be observed in Aix every September. Thus you too can now participate in this delicious legend and help maintain and safeguard this fine tradition.