Places In Normandy · Uncategorized

Bayeux and La Marraine

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It’s been a long time since my last post, but we now have far better access to the Internet so hopefully I can start posting more regularly. Le Marie arranged for us to get a SIM card that picked up a signal here in the country, at least if you put the phone up on the latch of the window. By activating the personal hotspot setting we can now get signal to iPads and laptops. As we can’t get broadband here it’s sufficient for personal internet access, although Le Marie must still go to work in my parents house as its not powerful enough for work.

We’ve also had a wonderful visit from La Marraine and her family. La Belle Fille couldn’t believe that she was here when we went to meet her at the village church to guide her to the house. She kept asking “at the church in England?” and didn’t understand my explanation that no, she was here in France; just like when we used to come to visit Nanny and Grandad France.

All the way to the meeting point she repeated this question in various ways, trying to understand. Then, when she saw La Marraine’s car she was stunned! On the journey back to the house she kept saying “and they’re here, in France, and Père Noël (my name for La Marraine’s other half, he’s got a white beard) waved at me!”

La Marraine and her family were making a tour of the WW2 battlefields in the area and, because La Belle was on half term and La Petite needs a nap at midday, she took La Belle with her on them. La Belle adores her, an adoring adult that she can boss around in a sweet little girl way. Apparently she was pointing at all the placards with a stick getting her to read the contents. She misses her so much now she’s gone home, but at least now she knows that her old world isn’t beyond reach.

Whilst they were here we all went to Bayeux together and, of course, were struck by the extraordinary beauty of the town, particularly as Autumn has turned the leaves to a riot of russets, oranges and yellows.

Bien sûr, we went to visit the tapestry; made by Anglo Saxon’s to commemorate the victory of the Normans (nothing like rubbing salt in wounds). It’s amazing and, although La Petite wasn’t very impressed, La Belle was entertained throughout the visit with her personal audio guide with child specific content. She was heard exclaiming about what she was hearing throughout our tour. That and the fact that she’s now able to list the beaches of the DDay landings thanks to La Marraine means this was a very productive half term!

I thought I’d share some shots of Bayeux with you here….

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Places In Normandy

Coutances

As Coutances is near to my parents home we have visited it many times, so I thought it would be good to tell you about it in my series on Normandy.

The Cathedral itself dominates the skyline as you approach Coutances and is, of course, called Notre Dame.

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It’s found in the square at the centre of Coutances, and you approach it through the winding streets of the town which has little boutique shops.

I love the square itself and can never resist going back there, despite having grumpy service at times! There’s just something about the quintessential Frenchness of the bistro that draws me in, along with the typical Hotel de Ville. You can’t help but imagine what it would have been like under the occupation 70+ years ago (although I never mention these thoughts to my French cousins of course).

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The cathedral isn’t the only place of worship though within the town as it had an active seminary. The coldness in the Cathedral has led to church services held in the smaller Centre D’Accuiel Diocéssain (C.A.D building) after Christmas as it’s easier to heat.

Those of you dedicated to The Sacred Heart of Jesus may be interested to know that the cathedral was the first to have an alter dedicated to the Sacred Heart as a result of the efforts of the venerable Père Eudes.

Eudes founded The SISTERS OF OUR LADY OF CHARITY at Caen, Normandy, under the title of Our Lady of Refuge. Moved by pity for abandoned women who had turned to prostitution and other means to survive he soon became convinced that the only way of helping them was to found a congregation of holy women, who would bind themselves by vow to work to aid them in the means of leaving their lives of pain behind.

The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity do not limit their work to helping current prostitutes, but young women who are in a position that could lead them into this life, therefore preserving them from future pain. These sisters now have house in England (Bartestree, Waterlooville, Monmouth, Southampton, Northfield (near Birmingham), and Mold), Ireland, The United States, Canada, Mexico, Italy, Spain and Austria.

As you stare up at the gothic cathedral, built between 1210 – 1274, you can’t help but be awed. It reminds me of Peter Hitchens comment that many people believe that people in these periods of history were ignorant, hence their belief in God. He points out that these people built these soaring cathedrals without the use of heavy machinery as we do now – what a testamony!
One of the stained glass windows depicts The Last Judgment….

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In a period where the majority of the congregation would have been illiterate these windows weren’t just there to inspire them, but to teach as well. Many Catholic churches have themes in their windows, such as Mary being told by the prophetess Anna that a sword would pierce her heart coupled with a window depicting the death of Jesus with Mary at the bottom of the cross. However I couldn’t see this amongst the windows of the cathedral.

The lantern tower in the centre is designed to provide an intense source of light in the centre of the cathedral, representing Heaven.

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Near to the alter is a depiction of St Michael, defending us in the day of battle…

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Behind the principal altar stand six pairs of pillars supporting the roof, which are said to stand for the Twelve Apostles. The windows date from the 15th century.

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The south ambulatory contains the Chapel of Saint Joseph, with a wall painting of 1381 that depicts the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Christ on the Cross, and the Holy Spirit as a dove.

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The north transept displays a 13th-century stained-glass window showing scenes from the lives of the saints Thomas Becket, George and Blaise.

Mary’s chapel is a the rear of the church and is decorated beautifully…

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Mary is also outside the chapel for Eucharistic adoration….

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Unfortunately we didn’t get to take pictures within the chapel itself due to respect for worshippers.

 

 

 

Places In Normandy

Saint Lô and Notre Dame Cathedral

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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.

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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

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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.

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And nearby is this beautiful statue of Our Lady.

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 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.

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Calvary

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.

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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.

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