As our French tutor recently gave us the homework of telling her more about the region where we want to move as a conversation topic I thought I’d share with you some things here from a trip we had a while back.
In Saint Lô Americans are held in much affection despite ‘liberating the hell out of this place’. It is estimated that 95% of the town was destroyed following a massive campaign as both the enemy and allies fought desperately to control it due to it’s military significance.
Above you can see a picture of the ruins of the walls of the church Notre-Dame, which suffered remarkably little damage in comparison to the town as a whole, and the symbolically laid ‘Major of Saint Lô’ Thomas Howie. He was an inspiration for the Tom Hanks character in Saving Private Ryan and his heroism inspired his troops to bring his remains with them into the town, wrapped in the flag, and lay it there. The image is particularly poignant when you consider that the residents did not know who had survived until they held mass in the ruins for the first time following the end of the battle – when they were to discover that over half of them had perished.
I’d never heard of the major until I researched the church and I plan to visit his memorial when I return next.
The church’s ruined wall lay in that state for many years with the major damage only being repaired recently. Here are some external images of the cathedral with it’s stark facade to the front filling the gap left by the destruction without attempting to replace what stood. When you understand the history the starkness seems fitting if ugly.
When Le Marie and I visited recently he took some pictures and I thought I’d share with you some of the features of this beautiful cathedral.
The High Alter
The cathedral is asymmetrical due to the building being repeatedly added to over the four centuries it took to build. This is mainly because land within the ramparts of the old town walls had to become available in order for more building to take place.
On the alter’s side is this superb statue of Moses with the broken tablets.
And nearby is this beautiful statue of Our Lady.
Notre-Dame du Pilier
The older alter, originally built in the Restoration, is in this chapel and has in it a statue of Notre-Dame du Pilier (Our Lady of the Pillar). The statue was made in 1467 and destroyed several times during the Wars of Religion which embroiled Saint Lô over the years. It too was destroyed during World War II and rebuilt but now stands in a place of honour.
Below the Great Organ is the Chapel of Calvary with magnificently carved statues of Christ, Mary and St John. One of the things that I love when I travel around France are the beautiful roadside cavalries depicting either Christ on his own, or in more affluent or devout villages, with Mary and St John. They’re so beautiful and remind one to pray when God may be far from your mind.
The Stained Glass Windows
The windows, both ancient and modern are truly beautiful. The former were taken to safety prior to the Libération and as a result can be viewed today. Among the ancient is The Royal Window, given by Louis XI and The Window of the Assumption.
The more modern windows include the windows of the professions – how like France to not include the artisans of the butcher and the mason in this not just the lawyers and scientists. An appreciation reflected in their modern school system.
Below is a window dedicated to Saint Thomas of Canterbury.