Normandy and The Loire Valley: Cathedrals

The original plan had been Jordan. See the Dead Sea. Petra. Amman.

Then we came to the realization that Liam’s spring break fell during Ramadan. Travel within the Middle East became less appealing, given the eating and drinking restrictions during daylight hours. So, we vectored. The direct flight from Kuwait to Paris, the same entry we used to Europe during Christmas break, beckoned.

Wil suggested we rent a car and stay outside of the city. His initial thought was for us to stay in a house in Normandy for a week, and explore daily, but the plan evolved. Soon we were plotting an itinerary of medieval cities – Rouen and Bayeux in Normandy, with side trips to Étretat and Omaha Beach, then on to Blois and Orleans in the Loire Valley with a side trip to the magnificent Chateau de Chamborg. We traded the idea of a country rental for city centre hotels, with sites and restaurants within walking distance.

For Christmas this year, my dad had gifted me with two Alison Weir history books from my requested list: The Queens of the Conquest and The Queens of the Crusades. These biographies of the Norman queens of England during the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries contained numerous references to Rouen, and a few of Blois, Bayeux, and Orleans. I loved the books and the glimpses they offered of medieval court life. Travelling to those locations, 1,000 years later, was icing on the cake.

We will take that trip to Jordan, in the fall, but, dear reader, heading back again to Europe did make this contented traveler’s heart swell. The cathedrals! The cheese! The charcuterie! The narrow, windy cobblestone streets. The crooked wattle and daub town houses. The stone farmhouses. The grand chateaus. The sheep. The green expanses of meadows and the brilliant yellow fields of rapeseed. The seductive sound of French, even when it’s a waitress simply telling you the specials of the day before she realizes you don’t comprehend anything she’s saying.

The cathedrals and churches

My family understands me. They know that if a building has one or more bell towers, half of its exterior is glass and half is stone, it has a bevy of flying buttresses and, for good measure, heavy wooden doors, I am going to want to go inside.

In Rouen alone, there is the enthralling Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen, where the heart (just the heart!) of King Richard the Lionheart resides inside a sarcophagus of him lying in state wearing a massive crown.

And L’abbaye De Saint-Ouen with a near-empty interior which makes the stained glass all the more spectacular, even on a rainy morning.

And Église Sainte-Jeanne d’Arc, built in the 1970s and shockingly beautiful inside with an undulating wood ceiling and a northerm wall comprised of floor to ceiling stained glass.

And St. Maclou Catholic Church, with its Renaissance doors peeking out from under an ornate Gothic portico.

My medieval queens walked the aisles of some of these magnificent structures, some of which have roots as places of worship as far back as the 7th century. Even in today’s world, it’s hard not to be awed when entering these massive spaces, feeling the inevitable chill in the air, gazing up at the intricate stained glass depicting Christ or the saints, hands raised palm outward in blessing. It’s hard not to feel small, insignificant, in such a space, but also, uplifted and lighter. These spaces have known sorrow and joy for centuries. Although we only pass through for a few minutes, exploring the churches is always a highlight for me.

In Bayeux, late in the day, we strolled into Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux. Another history geek moment – the cathedral was built in the 11th century and was consecrated on 14 July with William the Conqueror and his wife Queen Matilda in attendance.

The crypt which dates back to that period was open – some of the painting date back to the 15th century – and Wil, Liam and I ventured down. I was busy taking pictures before I realized they’d gone back upstairs, leaving me alone down there.

In Blois, we climbed up a street of stairs to reach Cathédrale Saint-Louis de Blois, arriving a bit out of breath. Constructed in the 10th century and rebuilt in the 12th, it received cathedral status in 1697. It received heavy bombing by American Forces during World War II, destroying most of its stained glass. The stained glass on view now is modern and was installed in 2000.

One last cathedral for the trip – in Orleans the Basilique Cathédrale Sainte-Croix d’Orléans rises majestically at the end of a main street, with trolleys regularly passing. Grand inside, its nave is festooned with banners featuring noble coats of arms. Orleans was freed from an English siege in 1429 by none other than Joan of Arc, who prayed frequently here, and the stained glass windows now tell her story.

3 thoughts

  1. Susan – What gorgeous photography and wonderful commentary! So glad the trip worked out well. I will look forward to your trip to Jordan in the fall. Diane

    Sent from my iPad



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