At this time of year, the countryside between Thagaste, where Augustine was born, and Madaura, where he studied rhetoric, is a luminous carpet of green, both grass and the wheat that has been the region’s agricultural wealth since antiquity.
In Thagaste, an olive tree grows that is said to have been planted during the Roman Emipre; whether or not it was there in Augustine’s day it is certainly a symbolic presence, an avatar of the deep past of this fertile region.
Somehow, by the time we reached the terrace where Augustine’s olive tree grows, our police escort had grown from two to a half-dozen, which, in addition to our guide, our driver, and the keeper of the shrine, brought our entourage up to nine – quite a party for just the two of us. Everyone was delighted to have the opportunity to show off their local hero, and seemingly delighted with us for making the long trek.
Thagaste itself – modern Souk Arras – is a thriving hill town which has preserved very little evidence of its antiquity; it does not boast wonderful archaeological remains of its own. And yet it has its own monument from antiquity, in the legacy of its native son Augustine.