Famille Chrétienne: "Béatrix d'Ussel: "In bereavement, nature has a power of resilience""

23 June 2024 Press review
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Manager of the Neuvic d'Ussel arboretum, Béatrix recounts her journey from being rooted in the land to being open to the heavens and to all those she has met there.

With visitors to her arboretum, Béatrix d'Ussel bears witness to the Risen Christ. - Thierry Laporte for FC

In her rubber boots and khaki fleece, her head held high under a beautiful white bun, Béatrix d'Ussel welcomes visitors with a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face. At nearly 80, this passionate chatelaine strolls through the 6-hectare park every evening, watching over it for the past 19 years. Nothing, however, had destined her for the life of a gentleman-farmer: born to a sailor father, the woman who spent her entire youth on the shores of the Mediterranean met her husband, Patrick, at the age of 20. He introduced her not only to his family, but also to the estate: "If you marry me, you marry all this," he warned. On the contrary: "My parents no longer owned property. I was putting down roots again", she explains. The couple had two daughters and two sons.

But the estate - not just the park, but also the château - was proving expensive to maintain. So, in order to pass it on, the idea emerged of opening the arboretum to the public. The couple's project nevertheless met with some resistance: "My in-laws lived as if in a citadel," says the mistress of the grounds. It took all her tenacity to get the metal sheets removed from the two large gates, blocking passers-by's view of the château. "When I suggested removing them, my mother-in-law objected: "But Beatrix, everyone's going to see us! - So what," I replied. We're not doing anything illegal!

"This grace is peace of heart!"

In 2001, Guillaume, the eldest son and future heir to the estate, died tragically at the age of 27: the alpine hunter, victim of a mountain accident, left behind a young wife. Béatrix and Patrick had the former pigsty converted into a chapel dedicated to Saint Guillaume, in memory of their son, but also of his grandfather, who was deported, and another Guillaume in the family. Three years later, it was Patrick's turn to go to heaven: both deaths, one after the other, deeply affected the family, especially Béatrix. She confides: "The day before he died, on Holy Saturday, my husband said: 'Pontmain, [Notre-Dame de] la Font Sainte, a vision of the Beyond. You know, once you've seen Heaven, there's no coming back." Shortly afterwards, I went to Pontmain, and the rector laid hands on me to obtain the grace of the place. That grace is peace of heart!"

She also had a dream: "I saw my son, Guillaume, greeting his father with these words: 'There you are, Dad, I've been waiting for you'." She told no one, but on the phone, her daughter-in-law, Guillaume's widow, told her she'd had exactly the same dream. Upset, the chatelaine decided a few years later to commission Françoise Bissara-Fréreau (see FC no. 2402) to create the chapel's intaglio stained-glass windows: In them, she depicts the risen Christ; the encounter with God on the mountain - like that of Moses, but also of his son, in the avalanche; Christ giving peace to mankind in the guise of a woman, just as she herself received it; the communion of saints between the living under the action of the Holy Spirit and with the deceased. "That's where the guided tour ends. When I tell them this story, my visitors, seated on benches after a two-hour walk, are struck with astonishment. One visitor once told me: "It's put me on the right track. And another: "You consoled my friend."" The woman who gives her testimony with simplicity and emotion concludes, "Like little Bernadette, I'm not in charge of making them believe it, I'm in charge of telling them!"

The estate must open up to the world to survive

Béatrix had promised her husband that she would look after the estate: a promise she keeps not only out of loyalty, but also out of taste. She continues the rehabilitation project undertaken by the couple, and draws comfort from it: "Nature has an extraordinary power of resilience. It's alive!" This "go-getter", as she describes herself, takes botanical courses, surrounds herself with specialists, travels, brings back essences and so on. And she's been going strong for nineteen years. Convinced that the estate must open up to the world if it is to survive and find its place, she works with the Neuvic town council, the surrounding area and associations. I'm having a lot of fun," she confesses. I've met a lot of people I wouldn't have met otherwise! This project has reconciled me with life.

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By Justine Guy

Published June 23, 2024