Monday 21 april 2014
The Benedictine abbey was founded in 1144 by Guillaume de Tancarville on the site of a collegiate church built around 1050
by his father Raoul, Grand Chamberlain to William the Conqueror. Raoul de Tancarville installed a community of Augustinian Canons who were later replaced by Benedictines from St-Évroult.
No more than 40 monks were ever present and they were driven out during the French Revolution. The abbey church, which
became St-Martin’s Parish Church at the time of the Revolution and so was saved from destruction, is now one of the Seine Valley’s finest small monuments. The building, which was constructed from
1080 to 1125, apart from the vaulting in the nave and transept which is 13th century, possesses a striking unity of proportion and harmony. Unlike the interior of the church, the façade is quite plain and devoid of any decoration. The nave has aisles on either side and many of them are adorned with decorative capitals. I was amazed at
how white everything looked. It seems that the interior of the church was actually quite dark due to the walls being covered in paintings and fescoes. Over the years, these became dull and black and were finally removed during restorations. The low-relief sculptures inlaid in the wall beneath the balustrades in the transept illustrate, on the left, a bishop giving his
blessing and on the right a group of warriors fighting a battle. Perhaps the most impressive part of the
church is the lantern tower directly above the main altar. There is a self-guided tour that you can follow if you have the patience to listen to someone who gives WAY too much information about
every single detail. On the south side of the church is the medieval medicinal garden, known as the scented garden which is full
of flowering plants of all shapes and sizes. The 12th century chapter house is known for its ornamental columns with decorated capitals which tell a
story. Right beside the chapter house is the former cloister. Nothing remains of this older portion of the abbey and a shrub garden has been planted to take its place.
This building is one of the outbuildings built by the Maurist Benedictines in 1690. It was restored in 1994 and serves as the souvenir shop, visitors center and exhibition hall. From here, one
can see the formal French garden designed in 1680 in the tradition of Le Nôtre. The Pavillion des Vents is a black flint and white stone lodge that crowns the monumental staircase at the
back of the garden. It offers some pretty views over the abbey estate. No one knows what this small building was meant for but it quite possibly could have been used to observe the night sky.
This other building is a small chapel which was converted to a storage barn after the Revolution but has now been restored to
its original purpose. It is said that one monk lived here when the Benedictines moved to the abbey because he didn't like the Maurist reforms.
By The Baguette
Monday 21 april 2014
Sunday was my last day in Haute Normandie and I still had a few places I needed to visit. Fortunately, there wasn't
any fog and I was able to get some nice photos of our chamber d’hôte Au temps des cerises which was surrouned by orchards of fruit trees in blossom. Like many buildings in the region, it was an old timber framed barn at one time. Our first stop this moring was the Abbaye de Jumièges,
one of the most impressive ruins in France. In the 10th century, Duke William Longsword rebuilt Jumièges on the ruins of the former abbey founded in the 7th century by Saint Philibert and destroyed by the Vikings. It was renowned
especially for its charity to the poor, being popularly called "Jumièges l'Aumônier". Enjoying the patronage of the dukes of Normandy, the abbey became a great center of religion and learning,
its schools producing, amongst many other scholars, the national historian, William of Jumièges. The large abbey was consecrated in 1067 in the presence of William the Conqueror. The last monks
dispersed at the Revolution and in 1793 it was bought at a public auction by a timber merchant who intended to turn Jumièges into a stone quarry and used explosives to bring down the lantern in
the church. A new proprietor in 1852 set about saving the ruins and in 1946 the complex was purchased by the State. Like many religious monuments,
the abbey has been subjected to a great many modifications and reconstructions. Having become “the most beautiful ruin in France” according to many 19th century authors, it today offers us an
interesting lesson in architecture. One enters the property through the 14th century gatehouse. The interior presents beautiful Gothic architecture with sculpted
keystones. Looking up, one can see on one of them--the medieval green man mask. Today, the building houses a reception room, exhibition hall as well as the souvenir shop. The Notre-Dame Abbey Church is the main church of the abbey. It
hosted members of the religious order and the laity during the major religious festivals. An exceptional example of 11th century Normandy Romanesque art, it is built on a particularly grand
scale; the two towers are 46 meters high, the nave 25 meters high. The façade is
remarkable for its austerity. It is a rare example of a projecting structure between two towers. The nave is visible as soon as you enter and is quite
spectacular to look at with its white walls divided into three different levels: arcades, triple openings and tall windows. The Romanesque
capital with the bird in the transept is from the 11th century and has two sides. It is fitted tightly into pillar which was added later and is recognizable by its original ochre color. Not much remains of the choir which was rebuilt in the 13th century. It is the part of the church where the clergy stood and where
services were held. Of the seven radiating chapels arranged around the choir, only one is conserved. This portion of the site is known as the Saint Pierre Church. It is here that one can see the oldest vestiges of the abbey such as the
series of six medallions surmounted by small gemel windows and a half-length portrait of a man. These decorations
are the only traces of the monastery that was destroyed by the Vikings in the 9th century. The cloister was
used for walking and meditation. It has lost its gallery passageway and its Renaissance decoration from 1530. The refectory which closed off one of the sides of the cloister has been entirely
destroyed. The former hospice, converted into a storeroom, was given an upper floor in the 17th century to house the library. Within the park surrounding the abbey are other structures and
buildings. The abbot’s
residence was built around 1675. Near its main gate are two large outbuildings which haven’t changed since they were built. The interior of the
abbot’s lodging serves as a museum for the collection of sculptures which came from the abbey including busts from statues, reclining figures, old capitals and keystones. The gardens surrounding
the abbey offer some wonderful strolls among remarkable tree and plant specimens as well as amazing views of the abbey itself from the main terrace where several works by contemporary artists are
on display in an open air exhibition. My favorite was this piece by Shigeko Hirakawa entitled
Mandala oublié - Labyrinthe de meditation. Nearby is the former bakery which still stands at the far end of the park and is today used for exhibitions.
By The Baguette
Saturday 19 april 2014
It is a pleasure to walk in the village of Le Bec-Hellouin admiring quiet and flowery streets with half-timbered houses.
The peaceful atmosphere, terraces and small squares are deserving of a short stroll…certainly, the walking tour is pretty fast and one’s footsteps are quickly directed toward the entrance of the
abbey and its gardens. The abbey was founded in 1034 by Herluin, a knight from the court of count Gilbert de Brionne. Its pious reputation attracted an Italian scholar, Lanfranc of
Pavia who was already famous for his lectures at Avranches, and came to teach as prior and master of the monastic school. He left in 1062 to become abbot of St. Stephen's Abbey in Caen, and
later became the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was followed as abbot by Anselm, also later an Archbishop of Canterbury, as was the
fifth abbot, Theobald of Bec. Many distinguished ecclesiastics, including the future Pope Alexander II and Saint Ivo of Chartres, were
educated in the school at Bec. In the 17th century, Bec rose to new eminence under Guillaume de la Tremblaye (1644 – 1715), one of the greatest sculptors and architects of his period. The monks
were driven out during the Revolution and the church, one of the biggest in Christendom, was demolished under the empire. In 1948 the site was restored to the Benedictine Order. The new abbey church stands in the former Maurist refectory. At the entrance is the 14th century statue of the Virgin as well as four Fathers of the Church from the 15th century. I didn’t make it to
the abbey in time to take one of their guided tours so I missed seeing the cloisters built in 1640 and modelled on those of Monte Cassino in Italy. Oh well—just walking around the lush gardens
surrounding the abbey was enough to make me want to stay and become a novitiate. The most prominent piece of architecture within the
abbey walls is the Tour Saint-Nicholas which was originally built between 1644 and 1666 and overlooks all of the other monastic buildings. It was originally used as a bell tower so that the four
large bells of the abbey would not shake the portal of the church when they sounded. Sadly, these bells were destroyed during the Revolution. Up until 1810 the tower had a spire fifteen meters
high which was destroyed by fire. The interior is now closed to the public. The abbey is not only surrounded by lovely half-timbered houses but a
pleasant number of farmers fields and countless fruit orchards covered in pink and white blossoms.
By The Baguette
Friday 18 april 2014
From one castle to the next... Les Andelys lies in one of the loveliest settings along the Seine and is dominated by the
impressive ruins of Château-Gaillard which overlooks the valley. Carefully
following the walking tour map from the tourist office, I began my visit along the Seine. Les Andelys has had several bridges and this one, a suspension bridge, is the most recent. It was built in 1948 and replaces the bridge that was blown up in 1940 by resistance fighters to delay the advance of the German army.
The town is actually made up of two communes, le Petit Andely and le Grand Andely. I didn’t make it to the latter but a stroll along the Seine offers a great selection of charming, old timber frame houses that seem as
if they’ve not changed for centuries. This one in particular is called La Chaîne d’Or which used to shelter the offices where taxes were collected from the riverboats that passed through the
town. This source
of income was enforced through the use of a large chain running across the Seine that stopped any boats. This is the Hôpital St-Jacques and during the 13th century it was a stopping place for
pilgrims on the way to Santiago de Compostela. In 1785 the present building was erected and it now serves as a day hospital and senior
citizens home. In the Middle Ages, the Gambon river ran through le Grand and le Petit Andely and provided the raw power for several mills in the area. During violent storms or when the snow was
melting, the flow of the Gambon increased and often overflowed its banks destroying everything in its path. In the 17th century, King Louis XIV ordered that a dam be built and the residents to
build a canal. This canal called le Grand Rang (more like a fast flowing stream), is now the main waterway running through the town. In the center of the town is the Saint-Sauveur Church.
It was started in 1220 and ended a hundred years later. Unfortunately, it was closed
during lunchtime and of course, that is when I wanted to visit. I’m sure the interior is something to see but all I could admire were the flying buttresses framing the upper windows, the slate
spire and the wooden porch supported by a stone base on the western side dating from the 15th century. The most impressive attraction that Les Andelys offers is the Château-Gaillard, erected in
record time between 1196 and 1198 by Richard the Lionheart, King of England and Duke of Normandy, in order to protect Normandy from the ambitions of the king of France, Philip II Augustus.
It had a reputation of being an impregnable fortress; nevertheless it fell into the French
king’s hands in 1204 after a seven month siege. To throw out brigands and thieves who were living here in later years, Henri IV and later Louis XIII organized the dismantling of the castle.
Richelieu had it torn down stone by stone until it was only a third of its original height.
Much of the outer curtain wall is no longer standing but there are still quite a few towers and casemates to be seen. In any direction from nearly every corner of the château are countless spectacular views over the Seine and the valley below. Since I
didn’t have time to walk around the part of town called le Grand Andely, I drove there in order to quickly visit the Collégiale Notre-Dame des Andelys which was built in 1225 on the ruins of an
abbey founded in 511 by Ste-Clotilde, wife of Clovis I. Construction and improvements continued until the late 17th century, and major
restorations were carried out in 1860. The façade is of the 13th century and the tympanum features stories from the life of the Virgin. The north gate was built during the
time of King Henry II in Renaissance style. It once had a central tower and spire but these were destroyed during World War II and were never rebuilt. The stained glass windows are exceptional and were executed largely by master
glassmakers of the 15th century. The windows of the south aisle are dated 1540 and those at the top of the nave from 1560. The beautifully carved organ case is from 1573 and depicts biblical scenes, as well as
mythological imagery. Inside the transept and one of the side chapels are two paintings from 1612 by Quentin Varin—this one is called the Martyrdom of Saint
Clair. In the south aisle below the tower is a 16th century set of statues depicting the Entombment.
By The Baguette