Just like every other town of note that I have visited during my time in France, Alençon also claims to be one of the principle lace-making cities in Europe. Well, this may be true but once you’ve seen lace-making in one town, like me, you’ve seen enough lace to last a lifetime! On that note, my visit to Alençon was mainly due to its close affiliation with Ste- Thérèse of Lisieux and her parents Louis and Marie- Azélie Guérin Martin. It was on the 2 of January 1873 that Thérèse was born here in the small house at 50 rue St-Blaise. She spent her early childhood years in this home until the death of her mother in 1877. Zélie and Louis were married at the Basilique Notre-Dame on 12 July 1858. They were also the first spouses in the history of the Catholic Church to be proposed for sainthood as a couple, in 2008. For those Catholic pilgrims following in the footsteps of the Martin family, the home on rue St-Blaise is definitely worth the visit. The Chapelle Ste-Thérèse, just beside their home, was built between 1925 and 1928 and decorated with sculptures and frescoes referring to Ste-Thérèse. The new altar and the reliquary of her Blessed parents are contemporary creations. Coincidentally, two days after we visited Alençon, Monday, September 6th was the centenary of the first exhumation of the relics of Ste-Thérèse. They were exhumed from her grave in the Carmelite plot at the municipal cemetery at Lisieux. (For anyone interested in the story of this event, you can read the story and view old records and photos at Maureen O'Riordan’s blog.) Directly across the street is the Préfecture building built in 1630 in pure Louis XIII style with a pink brick façade with surrounding bays and cornerstones in Hertré granite. It also goes by the names Hôtel Fromont de la Besnardière (the family who built it) and Hôtel de Guise (from Elisabeth d’Orléans, duchesse de Guise, who lived there in the 17th century). Just beside the Basilique Notre-Dame is La Maison d’Ozé built in 1449. A stately home at the outset, the house was refurbished in 1530. The gothic style building then received a new wing on the left and a pointed turret decorated with ears of wheat. It is alleged that the future Henry IV stayed here in 1576. At the bottom of the adjoining garden there are vestiges of the outer walls of the town which provide an excellent spot to photograph the church. The tourist office can also be found here on the lower level. The beautiful 14th to 16th century Flamboyant Gothic church of Our Lady was begun during the Hundred Years War under the period of English domination on the site of a Romanesque church which belonged to Lonlay Abbey. Later, the church suffered from some alterations. According to different sources it is said that the portal was greatly damaged during the Wars of Religion. The chancel and transepts, dominated by the robust tower, were rebuilt between 1745 and 1762 by an engineer named Jean-Rodolphe Perronet, after damages caused by lightning in 1744. During the French Revolution the church was sacked and devastated. The church did not suffer from the 1944 bombings but the storms of 1999 weakened some parts of the porch which was restored in 2002. This elegant three-sided porch, built by Jean Lemoine from 1490 to 1506, is an example of the purest Flamboyant style. The refinement and splendor of the sculptures were such that they gave rise to a popular saying: “The church is built in such a way that, in order to give God the best spot, you’d have to place him out of doors….” All the decoration is concentrated on the upper parts of the church. The Transfiguration in the central gable shows Christ with the prophets Moses and Elijah. Below are the apostles, Peter, James and John who uncharacteristically may be seen with his back to the street. The first chapel off of the north aisle, with its attractive wrought-iron screen adorned with symbolic roses, is where Marie-Françoise- Thérèse Martin was baptised. The stained-glass window created in 1925 by Louis Barillet portrays her baptism. Above the font is her white embroidered christening robe. The magnificent organ case inaugurated at Easter 1540 was created by Simon Le Vasseur and Gratien de Cailly. It was restored and improved in the 17th century and again in the 19th century. A restoration of the vault in 1966 caused a great deal of damage to the organ causing it to go silent in 1976. Currently, there are plans to bring it back to life at the hefty cost of 715,000 €! There are several other places of interest in the city including the 15th – 16th century Gothic Église Saint-Léonard. There is also the Hôtel de Ville at Place Foch, built in the shape of an arc from 1783 to 1788 by the architect Jean Delarue in the Louis XVI style. Its façade is similar to the Petit Trianon at Versailles. The Ancien Château des Ducs was once a powerful fortress built during the 12th century. One can see the 14th and 15th century towers of this old castle built by Jean le Beau, first Duke of Alençon and one of Joan of Arc’s companions in arms. The central tower, known as the “crowned” tower, has an unexpected outline: the main tower with machicolations is itself crowned by a slimmer round tower. The other two towers, which defend the main gate, can be seen from the rue du Château. Can you believe that it is still used as a prison? La Halle aux Toiles or Cloth Hall is a market built in 1827. The first stone was laid September 7, 1827 by Marie- Thérèse Charlotte of France, Duchess of Angouleme, daughter of Louis XVI. It came into service in early 1832 and featured the burgeoning hemp cloth industry which was being growing up around the city. In 1865 with the decline of the canvas, the building changed its function and in 1899 became a ballroom. It was renovated and renamed "Cloth Hall" in 1991 and serves as a convention center for the city. The enormous Halle aux Blés was built at the beginning of the 19th century. It was a circular grain market and was covered towards the end of the century with a glass dome which appealed so much to the ladies of the town that they nicknamed it the hoopskirt of Alençon. Time issues prevented me from seeing other sites in the city such as the Musée des Beaux-Arts et de la Dentelle located in the former 17th century former Jesuit college. It houses a large museum featuring paintings from the 15th to 19th century as well as an enormous presentation to the art of lace making. Like I already said though, once you’ve seen one lace museum, you’ve seen them all. After finding where I parked the car, it was on to one of France’s most beautiful villages, Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei.