It is said that when Mary Magdalene and the other saints landed in Provence at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, they were accompanied By St Trophime. He bought with him the severed head of his cousin, St Étienne [Stephen[, which became a treasured relic. Trophime wanted to evangelize Arles and he became the town’s first bishop. His first act was to reserve part of the Roman cemetery of Alyscamps fro Christian tombs. He summoned to this ceremony seven other bishops from among the first disciples of Christ. They included St Maximin of Aix, St Saturnin of Toulouse, and St Serge of Narbonne. According to legend, it was then Jesus himself who appeared to bestow his blessing on the cemetery by bowing a knee on to a stone, and the print remained as a mark on the stone. This stone later became the altar in the Chapelle de la Genouillade (Kneeling Chapel) created in this place to commemorate the event. After falling into ruin, it was rebuilt in the 16th century.
In the past, people concluded their walk or visit to Alyscamps with a stop at this chapel, but when it became a question of whether Arles or its rival AIX would be served by the Paris-Marseille railway line, the inhabitants or Arles sent a petition with 4,700 signatures to Lamartine, chairman of the Parliamentary commission studying the railway bill. The poet deputy took the side of Arles in the debate and declared from the tribunal: “If the amendment triumphs, if you assault the Rhône, the sea, and nature, make no mistake as to fate of unhappy Arles. Inscribe on the map of France: ruins and debris.”
In 1848, Arles won its train, its station, and the dismemberment of Alyscamps. The Chapelle de la Genouillade then found itself cut off on the other side of the railway and was forgotten. Indeed, when you ask where La Genouillade is, most people point you in the general direction of the neighbourhood that bears its name….
So, the next time you are in Arles, take the time to find this neglected and forgotten little chapel. It has a history which should be celebrated.