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Normandy, Part 2 by Gordon Home

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Part 2.


Concerning the Cathedral City of Evreux and the Road to Bernay

The tolling of the deep-toned bourdon in the cathedral tower reverberates
over the old town of Evreux as we pass along the cobbled streets. There is
a yellow evening light overhead, and the painted stucco walls of the houses
reflect the soft, glowing colour of the west. In the courtyard of the Hotel
du Grand Cerf, too, every thing is bathed in this beautiful light and the
double line of closely trimmed laurels has not yet been deserted by the
golden flood. But Evreux does not really require a fine evening to make it
attractive, although there is no town in existence that is not improved
under such conditions. With the magnificent cathedral, the belfry, the
Norman church of St Taurin and the museum, besides many quaint peeps by the
much sub-divided river Iton that flows through the town, there is
sufficient to interest one even on the dullest of dull days.

Of all the cathedral interiors in Normandy there are none that possess a
finer or more perfectly proportioned nave than Evreux, and if I were asked
to point out the two most impressive interiors of the churches in this
division of France I should couple the cathedral at Evreux with St Ouen at

It was our own Henry I. who having destroyed the previous building set to
work to build a new one and it is his nave that we see to-day. The whole
cathedral has since that time been made to reflect the changing ideals of
the seven centuries that have passed. The west front belongs entirely to
the Renaissance period and the north transept is in the flamboyant style of
the fifteenth century so much in evidence in Normandy and so infrequent in

The central tower with its tall steeple now encased in scaffolding was
built in 1470 by Cardinal Balue, Bishop of Evreux and inventor of the
fearful wooden cages in one of which the prisoner Dubourg died at Mont St

In most of the windows there is old and richly coloured glass; those in the
chancel have stronger tones, but they all transform the shafts of light
into gorgeous rainbow effects which stand out in wonderful contrast to the
delicate, creamy white of the stone-work. Pale blue banners are suspended
in the chancel, and the groining above is coloured on each side of the
bosses for a short distance, so that as one looks up the great sweep of the
nave, the banners and the brilliant fifteenth century glass appear as vivid
patches of colour beyond the uniform, creamy grey on either side. The
Norman towers at the west end of the cathedral are completely hidden in the
mask of classical work planted on top of the older stone-work in the
sixteenth century, and more recent restoration has altered some of the
other features of the exterior. At the present day the process of
restoration still goes on, but the faults of our grandfathers fortunately
are not repeated.

Leaving the Place Parvis by the Rue de l'Horloge you come to the great open
space in front of the Hotel de Ville and the theatre with the museum on the
right, in which there are several Roman remains discovered at Vieil-Evreux,
among them being a bronze statue of Jupiter Stator. On the opposite side of
the Place stands the beautiful town belfry built at the end of the
fifteenth century. There was an earlier one before that time, but I do not
know whether it had been destroyed during the wars with the English, or
whether the people of Evreux merely raised the present graceful tower in
place of the older one with a view to beautifying the town. The bell, which
was cast in 1406 may have hung in the former structure, and there is some
fascination in hearing its notes when one realises how these same sound
waves have fallen on the ears of the long procession of players who have
performed their parts within its hearing. A branch of the Iton runs past
the foot of the tower in canal fashion; it is backed by old houses and
crossed by many a bridge, and helps to build up a suitable foreground to
the beautiful old belfry, which seems to look across to the brand new Hotel
de Ville with an injured expression. From the Boulevard Chambaudouin there
is a good view of one side of the Bishop's palace which lies on the south
side of the cathedral, and is joined to it by a gallery and the remains of
the cloister. The walls are strongly fortified, and in front of them runs a
branch of one of the canals of the Iton, that must have originally served
as a moat.

Out towards the long straight avenue that runs out of the town in the
direction of Caen, there may be seen the Norman church of St Taurin. It is
all that is left of the Benedictine abbey that once stood here. Many people
who explore this interesting church fail to see the silver-gilt reliquary
of the twelfth century that is shown to visitors who make the necessary
inquiries. The richness of its enamels and the elaborate ornamentation
studded with imitation gems that have replaced the real ones, makes this
casket almost unique.

Many scenes from the life of the saint are shown in the windows of the
choir of the church. They are really most interesting, and the glass is
very beautiful. The south door must have been crowded with the most
elaborate ornament, but the delicately carved stone-work has been hacked
away and the thin pillars replaced by crude, uncarved chunks of stone.
There is Norman arcading outside the north transept as well as just above
the floor in the north aisle. St Taurin is a somewhat dilapidated and
cob-webby church, but it is certainly one of the interesting features of

Instead of keeping on the road to Caen after reaching the end of the great
avenue just mentioned, we turn towards the south and soon enter pretty
pastoral scenery. The cottages are almost in every instance thatched, with
ridges plastered over with a kind of cobb mud. In the cracks in this
curious ridging, grass seeds and all sorts of wild flowers are soon
deposited, so that upon the roof of nearly every cottage there is a
luxuriant growth of grass and flowers. In some cases yellow irises alone
ornament the roofs, and they frequently grow on the tops of the walls that
are treated in a similar fashion. A few miles out of Evreux you pass a
hamlet with a quaint little church built right upon the roadway with no
churchyard or wall of any description. A few broken gravestones of quite
recent date litter the narrow, dusty space between the north side of the
church and the roadway. Inside there is an untidy aspect to everything, but
there are some windows containing very fine thirteenth century glass which
the genial old cure shows with great delight, for it is said that they were
intended for the cathedral at Evreux, but by some chance remained in this
obscure hamlet. The cure also points out the damage done to the windows by
_socialistes_ at a recent date.

By the roadside towards Conches, there are magpies everywhere, punctuated
by yellow hammers and nightingales. The cottages have thatch of a very deep
brown colour over the hipped roofs, closely resembling those in the
out-of-the-way parts of Sussex. It a beautiful country, and the
delightfully situated town of Conches at the edge of its forest is well
matched with its surroundings.

In the middle of the day the inhabitants seem to entirely disappear from
the sunny street, and everything has a placid and reposeful appearance as
though the place revelled in its quaintness. Backed by the dense masses of
forest there is a sloping green where an avenue of great chestnuts tower
above the long, low roof of the timber-framed cattle shelter. On the
highest part of the hill stands the castle, whose round, central tower
shows above the trees that grow thickly on the slopes of the hill. Close to
the castle is the graceful church, and beyond are the clustered roofs of
the houses. A viaduct runs full tilt against the hill nearly beneath the
church, and then the railway pierces the hill on its way towards Bernay.
The tall spire of the church of St Foy is comparatively new, for the whole
structure was rebuilt in the fifteenth century, but its stained glass is of
exceptional interest. Its richness of colour and the interest of the
subjects indicate some unusually gifted artist, and one is not surprised to
discover that they were designed by Aldegrevers, who was trained by that
great master Albrecht Dyrer. Altogether there are twenty-one of these
beautiful windows. Seven occupy the eastern end of the apse and give scenes
taken from the life of St Foy.

You can reach the castle by passing through the quaint archway of the Hotel
de Ville, and then passing through the shady public garden you plunge into
the dry moat that surrounds the fortified mound. There is not very much to
see but what appears in a distant view of the town, and in many ways the
outside groupings of the worn ruin and the church roofs and spire above the
houses are better than the scenes in the town itself. The Hotel Croix
Blanche is a pleasant little house for dejeuner. Everything is extremely
simple and typical of the family methods of the small French inn, where
excellent cooking goes along with many primitive usages. The cool
salle-a-manger is reached through the general living-room and kitchen,
which is largely filled with the table where you may see the proprietor
and his family partaking of their own meals. There seems no room to cook
anything at all, and yet when you are seated in the next room the
daughter of the family, an attractive and neatly dressed girl,
gracefully serves the most admirable courses, worthy and perhaps better
than what one may expect to obtain in the best hotel in Rouen.

There is a road that passes right through the forest of Conches towards
Rugles, but that must be left for another occasion if we are to see
anything of the charms of Beaumont-le-Roger, the perfectly situated little
town that lies half-way between Conches and Bernay.

The long street of the town containing some very charming peeps as you go
towards the church is really a terrace on the limestone hills that rises
behind the houses on the right, and falls steeply on the left. Spaces
between the houses and narrow turnings give glimpses of the rich green
country down below. From the lower level you see the rocky ridge above
clothed in a profusion of trees. The most perfect picture in the town is
from the river bank just by the bridge. In the foreground is the
mirror-like stream that gives its own rendering of the scene that is built
up above it. Leaning upon a parapet of the bridge is a man with a rod who
is causing tragedies in the life that teems beneath the glassy surface.
Beyond the bridge appear some quaint red roofs with one tower-like house
with an overhanging upper storey. Higher up comes the precipitous hill
divided into terraces by the huge walls that surround the abbey buildings,
and still higher, but much below the highest part of the hill, are the
picturesque ruins of the abbey. On the summit of the ridge dominating all
are the insignificant remains of the castle built by Roger a la Barbe,
whose name survives in that of the town. His family were the founders of
the abbey that flourished for several centuries, but finally, about a
hundred years ago, the buildings were converted to the uses of a factory!
Spinning and weaving might have still been going on but for a big fire that
destroyed the whole place. There was, however, a considerably more complete
series of buildings left than we can see to-day, but scarcely more than
fifty years ago the place was largely demolished for building materials.
The view from the river Rille is therefore the best the ruin can boast, for
seen from that point the arches rise up against the green background as a
stately ruin, and the tangled mass of weeds and debris are invisible. The
entrance is most inviting. It is down at the foot of the cliff, and the
archway with the steep ascent inside suggests all sorts of delights beyond,
as it stands there just by the main street of the town. I was sorry
afterwards, that I had accepted that hospitality, for with the exception of
a group of merry children playing in an orchard and some big caves hollowed
out of the foot of the cliff that rises still higher, I saw nothing but a
jungle of nettles. This warning should not, however, suggest that
Beaumont-le-Roger is a poor place to visit. Not only is it a charming, I
may say a fascinating spot to visit, but it is also a place in which to
stay, for the longer you remain there the less do you like the idea of
leaving. The church of St Nicholas standing in the main street where it
becomes much wider and forms a small Place, is a beautiful old building
whose mellow colours on stone-work and tiles glow vividly on a sunny
afternoon. There is a great stone wall forming the side of the rocky
platform that supports the building and the entrance is by steps that lead
up to the west end. The tower belongs to the flamboyant period and high up
on its parapet you may see a small statue of Regulus who does duty as a
"Jack-smite-the-clock." Just by the porch there leans against a wall a most
ponderous grave slab which was made for the tomb of Jehan du Moustier a
soldier of the fourteenth century who fought for that Charles of Navarre
who was surnamed "The Bad." The classic additions to the western part of
the church seem strangely out of sympathy with the gargoyles overhead and
the thirteenth century arcades of the nave, but this mixing up of styles is
really more incongruous in description than in reality.

When you have decided to leave Beaumont-le-Roger and have passed across the
old bridge and out into the well-watered plain, the position of the little
town suggests that of the village of Pulborough in Sussex, where a road
goes downhill to a bridge and then crosses the rich meadowland where the
river Arun winds among the pastures in just the same fashion as the Rille.

At a bend in the road to Bernay stands the village of Serquigny. It is just
at the edge of the forest of Beaumont which we have been skirting, and
besides having a church partially belonging to the twelfth century it has
traces of a Roman Camp. All the rest of the way to Bernay the road follows
the railway and the river Charentonne until the long--and when you are
looking out for the hotel--seemingly endless street of Bernay is reached.
After the wonderful combination of charms that are flaunted by
Beaumont-le-Roger it is possible to grumble at the plainer features of
Bernay, but there is really no reason to hurry out of the town for there is
much quaint architecture to be seen, and near the Hotel du Lion d'Or there
is a house built right over the street resting on solid wooden posts. But
more interesting than the domestic architecture are the remains of the
abbey founded by Judith of Brittany very early in the eleventh century for
it is probably one of the oldest Romanesque remains in Normandy. The church
is cut up into various rooms and shops at the choir end, and there has been
much indiscriminate ill-treatment of the ancient stone-work. Much of the
structure, including the plain round arches and square columns, is of the
very earliest Norman period, having been built in the first half of the
eleventh century, but in later times classic ornament was added to the work
of those shadowy times when the kingdom of Normandy had not long been
established. So much alteration in the styles of decoration has taken place
in the building that it is possible to be certain of the date of only some
portions of the structure. The Hotel de Ville now occupies part of the
abbey buildings.

At the eastern side of the town stands St Croix, a fifteenth century church
with a most spacious interior. There is much beautiful glass dating from
three hundred years ago in the windows of the nave and transepts, but
perhaps the feature which will be remembered most when other impressions
have vanished, will be the finely carved statues belonging to the
fourteenth century which were brought here from the Abbey of Bec. The south
transept contains a monument to Guillaume Arvilarensis, an abbot of Bec who
died in 1418. Upon the great altar which is believed to have been brought
from the Abbey of Bec, there are eight marble columns surrounding a small
white marble figure of the Child Jesus.

Another church at Bernay is that of Notre Dame de la Couture. It has much
fourteenth century work and behind the high altar there are five chapels,
the centre one containing a copy of the "sacred image" of Notre Dame which
stands by the column immediately to the right of the entrance. Much more
could be said of these three churches with their various styles of
architecture extending from the very earliest period down to the classic
work of the seventeenth century. But this is not the place for intricate
descriptions of architectural detail which are chiefly useful in books
which are intended for carrying from place to place.


Concerning Lisieux and the Romantic Town of Falaise

Lisieux is so rich in the curious timber-framed houses of the middle and
later ages that there are some examples actually visible immediately
outside the railway station whereas in most cases one usually finds an
aggregation of uninteresting modern buildings. As you go towards the centre
of the town the old houses, which have only been dotted about here and
there, join hands and form whole streets of the most romantic and almost
stage-like picturesqueness. The narrow street illustrated here is the Rue
aux Fevres. Its houses are astonishingly fine, and it forms--especially in
the evening--a background suitable for any of the stirring scenes that took
place in such grand old towns as Lisieux in medieval days. This street is
however, only one of several that reek of history. In the Rue des
Boucheries and in the Grande Rue there are lovely overhanging gables and
curious timber-framing that is now at any angle but what was originally
intended. There is really so much individual quaintness in these houses
that they deserve infinitely more than the scurry past them which so
frequently is all their attractions obtain. The narrowness and fustiness of
the Rue aux Fevres certainly hinder you from spending much time in
examining the houses but there are two which deserve a few minutes'
individual attention. One which has a very wide gable and the upper floors
boarded is believed to be of very great antiquity, dating from as early a
period as the thirteenth century. It is numbered thirty-three, and must not
be confused with the richly ornamented Manoir de Francois I. The timber
work of this house, especially of the two lower floors is covered with
elaborate carving including curious animals and quaint little figures, and
also the salamander of the royal house. For this reason the photographs
sold in the shops label the house "Manoir de la Salamandre." The place is
now fast going to ruin--a most pitiable sight and I for one, would prefer
to see the place restored rather than it should be allowed to become so
hopelessly dilapidated and rotten that the question of its preservation
should come to be considered lightly.

If the town authorities of Lisieux chose to do so, they could encourage the
townsfolk to enrich many of their streets by a judicious flaking off of the
plaster which in so many cases tries to hide all the pleasant features of
houses that have seen at least three centuries, but this sort of work when
in the hands of only partially educated folk is liable to produce a worse
state of affairs than if things had been left untouched. An example of what
over-restoration can do, may be seen when we reach the beautiful old inn at

The two churches of Lisieux are well fitted to their surroundings, and
although St Jacques has no graceful tower or fleche, the quaintness of its
shingled belfry makes up for the lack of the more stately towers of St
Pierre. Where the stone-work has stopped short the buttresses are roofed
with the quaintest semi-circular caps, and over the clock there are two
more odd-looking pepper boxes perched upon the steep slope that projects
from the square belfry. Over all there is a low pyramidal roof, stained
with orange lichen and making a great contrast in colour to the
weather-beaten stone-work down below. There are small patches of tiled
roofing to the buttresses at the western ends of the aisles and these also
add colour to this picturesque building. The great double flight of stone
steps which lead to the imposing western door have balustrades filled with
flamboyant tracery, but although the church is built up in this way, the
floor in the interior is not level, for it slopes gently up towards the
east. The building was commenced during the reign of Louis XII. and not
finished until nearly the end of the reign of Francois I. It is therefore
coeval with that richly carved house in the Rue aux Fevres. Along the sides
of the church there project a double row of thirsty-looking gargoyles--the
upper ones having their shoulders supported by the mass of masonry
supporting the flying buttresses. The interior is richer than the exterior,
and you may see on some of the pillars remains of sixteenth century
paintings. A picture dating from 1681 occupies a position in the chapel of
St Ursin in the south aisle; it shows the relic of the saint being brought
to Lisieux in 1055.

The wide and sunny Place Thiers is dominated by the great church of St
Pierre, which was left practically in its present form in the year 1233.
The first church was begun some years before the conquest of England but
about a century later it suffered the fate of Bayeux being burnt down in
1136. It was reconstructed soon afterwards and shows to-day the first
period of Gothic architecture that became prevalent in Normandy. Only the
north tower dates from this period, the other one had to be rebuilt during
the reign of Henri III. and the spire only made its appearance in the
seventeenth century. The Lady Chapel is of particular interest owing to the
statement that it was built by that Bishop of Beauvais who took such a
prominent part in the trial of Joan of Arc. The main arches over the big
west door are now bare of carving or ornament and the Hotel de Ville is
built right up against the north-west corner, but despite this St Pierre
has the most imposing and stately appearance, and there are many features
such as the curious turrets of the south transept that impress themselves
on the memory more than some of the other churches we have seen.

Lisieux is one of those cheerful towns that appear always clean and bright
under the dullest skies, so that when the sun shines every view seems
freshly painted and blazing with colour. The freshness of the atmosphere,
too, is seldom tainted with those peculiar odours that some French towns
produce with such enormous prodigality, and Lisieux may therefore claim a
further point in its favour.

It is generally a wide, hedgeless stretch of country that lies between
Lisieux and Falaise, but for the first ten miles there are big farm-houses
with timber-framed barns and many orchards bearing a profusion of blossom
near the roadside. A small farm perched above the road and quite out of
sight, invites the thirsty passer-by to turn aside up a steep path to
partake of cider or coffee. It is a simple, almost bare room where the
refreshment is served, but its quaintness and shadowy coolness are most
refreshing. The fireplace has an open hearth with a wood fire which can
soon be blown into a blaze by the big bellows that hang against the chimney
corner. A table by one of the windows is generally occupied in her spare
moments by the farmer's pretty daughter who puts aside her knitting to
fetch the cider or to blow up the fire for coffee. They are a most genial
family and seem to find infinite delight in plying English folk with
questions for I imagine that not many find their way to this sequestered
corner among waving trees and lovely orchards.

A sudden descent before reaching St Pierre-sur-Dives gives a great view
over the level country below where everything is brilliantly green and
garden-like. The village first shows its imposing church through the trees
of a straight avenue leading towards the village which also possesses a
fine Market Hall that must be at least six hundred years old. The church is
now undergoing restoration externally, but by dodging the falling cement
dust you may go inside, perhaps to be disappointed that there is not more
of the Norman work that has been noticed in the southern tower that rises
above the entrance. The village, or it should really be called a small
town, for its population is over a thousand, has much in it that is
attractive and quaint, and it might gain more attention if everyone who
passes through its streets were not hurrying forward to Falaise.

The country now becomes a great plain, hedgeless, and at times almost
featureless. The sun in the afternoon throws the shadows of the roadside
trees at right angles, so that the road becomes divided into accurate
squares by the thin lines of shadow. The straight run from St Pierre is
broken where the road crosses the Dives. It is a pretty spot with a farm, a
manor-house and a washing place for women just below the bridge, and then
follows more open road and more interminable perspectives cutting through
the open plain until, with considerable satisfaction, the great
thoroughfare from Caen is joined and soon afterwards a glimpse of the
castle greets us as we enter Falaise.

There is something peculiarly fascinating about Falaise, for it combines
many of the features that are sparingly distributed in other towns. Its
position on a hill with deep valleys on all sides, its romantic castle, the
two beautiful churches and the splendid thirteenth century gateway, form
the best remembered attractions, but beyond these there are the hundred and
one pretty groupings of the cottages that crowd both banks of the little
river Ante down in the valley under the awe-inspiring castle.

Even then, no mention has been made of the ancient fronts that greet one in
many of the streets, and the charms of some of the sudden openings between
the houses that give views of the steep, wooded hollows that almost touch
the main street, have been slighted. A huge cube of solid masonry with a
great cylindrical tower alongside perched upon a mass of rock precipitous
on two sides is the distant view of the castle, and coming closer, although
you can see the buttresses that spring from the rocky foundations, the
description still holds good. You should see the fortress in the twilight
with a golden suffusion in the sky and strange, purplish shadows on the
castle walls. It then has much the appearance of one of those unassailable
strongholds where a beautiful princess is lying in captivity waiting for a
chivalrous knight who with a band of faithful men will attempt to scale the
inaccessible walls. Under some skies, the castle assumes the character of
one of Turner's impressions, half real and half imaginary, and under no
skies does this most formidable relic of feudal days ever lose its grand
and awesome aspect. The entrance is through a gateway, the Porte St.
Nicolas, which was built in the thirteenth century. There you are taken in
hand by a pleasant concierge who will lead you first of all to the Tour La
Reine, where he will point out a great breach in the wall made by Henri IV.
when he successfully assaulted the castle after a bombardment with his
artillery which he had kept up for a week. This was in 1589, and since then
no other fighting has taken place round these grand old walls. The ivy that
clings to the ruins and the avenue of limes that leads up to the great keep
are full of jackdaws which wheel round the rock in great flights. You have
a close view of the great Tour Talbot, and then pass through a small
doorway in the northern face of the citadel. Inside, the appearance of the
walls reveals the restoration which has taken place within recent years.
But this, fortunately, does not detract to any serious extent from the
interest of the whole place. Up on the ramparts there are fine views over
the surrounding country, and immediately beneath the precipice below nestle
the picturesque, browny-red roofs of the lower part of the town. Just at
the foot of the castle rock there is still to be seen a tannery which is of
rather unusual interest in connection with the story of how Robert le
Diable was first struck by the charms of Arlette, the beautiful daughter of
a tanner. The Norman duke was supposed to have been looking over the
battlements when he saw this girl washing clothes in the river, and we are
told that owing to the warmth of the day she had drawn up her dress, so
that her feet, which are spoken of as being particularly beautiful were
revealed to his admiring gaze. Arlette afterwards became the mother of
William the Conqueror, and the room is pointed out in the south-west corner
of the keep in which we are asked to believe that the Conqueror of England
was born. It is, however, unfortunate for the legend that archaeologists do
not allow such an early date for the present castle, and thus we are not
even allowed to associate these ramparts with the legend just mentioned. It
must have been a strong building that preceded this present structure, for
during the eleventh century William the Norman was often obliged to retreat
for safety to his impregnable birthplace. The Tour Talbot has below its
lowest floor what seems to be a dungeon, but it is said that prisoners were
not kept here, the place being used merely for storing food. The gloomy
chamber, however, is generally called an oubliette. Above, there are other
floors, the top one having been used by the governor of the castle. In the
thickness of the wall there is a deep well which now contains no water. One
of the rooms in the keep is pointed out as that in which Prince Arthur was
kept in confinement, but although it is known that the unfortunate youth
was imprisoned in this castle, the selection of the room seems to be
somewhat arbitrary.

In 1428 the news of Joan of Arc's continued successes was brought to the
Earl of Salisbury who was then governor of Falaise Castle, and it was from
here that he started with an army to endeavour to stop that triumphal
progress. In 1450 when the French completely overcame the numerous English
garrisons in the towns of Normandy, Falaise with its magnificent position
held out for some time. The defenders sallied out from the walls of the
town but were forced back again, and notwithstanding their courage, the
town capitulated to the Duke of Alencon's army at almost the same time as
Avranches and a dozen other strongly defended towns. We can picture to
ourselves the men in glinting head-pieces sallying from the splendid old
gateway known as the Port des Cordeliers. It has not lost its formidable
appearance even to-day, though as you look through the archway the scene is
quiet enough, and the steep flight of outside steps leads up to scenes of
quiet domestic life. The windows overlook the narrow valley beneath where
the humble roofs of the cottages jostle one another for space. There are
many people who visit Falaise who never have the curiosity to explore this
unusually pleasing part of the town. In the spring when the lilac bushes
add their brilliant colour to the russet brown tiles and soft creams of the
stone-work, there are pictures on every side. Looking in the cottages you
may see, generally within a few feet of the door, one of those ingenious
weaving machines that are worked with a treadle, and take up scarcely any
space at all. If you ask permission, the cottagers have not the slightest
objection to allowing you to watch them at their work, and when one sees
how rapidly great lengths of striped material grow under the revolving
metal framework, you wonder that Falaise is not able to supply the demands
of the whole republic for this class of material.

Just by the Hotel de Ville and the church of La Trinite stands the imposing
statue of William the Conqueror. He is mounted on the enormous war-horse of
the period and the whole effect is strong and spirited. The most notable
feature of the exterior of the church of La Trinite is the curious
passage-way that goes underneath the Lady Chapel behind the High Altar. The
whole of the exterior is covered with rich carving, crocketed finials,
innumerable gargoyles and the usual enriched mouldings of Gothic
architecture. The charm of the interior is heightened if one enters in the
twilight when vespers are proceeding. There is just sufficient light to
show up the tracery of the windows and the massive pointed arches in the
choir. A few candles burn by the altar beyond the dark mass of figures
forming the congregation. A Gregorian chant fills the building with its
solemn tones and the smoke of a swinging censer ascends in the shadowy
chancel. Then, as the service proceeds, one candle above the altar seems to
suddenly ignite the next, and a line of fire travels all over the great
erection surrounding the figure of the Virgin, leaving in its trail a blaze
of countless candles that throw out the details of the architecture in
strong relief. Soon the collection is made, and as the priest passes round
the metal dish, he is followed by the cocked-hatted official whose
appearance is so surprising to those who are not familiar with French
churches. As the priest passes the dish to each row the official brings his
metal-headed staff down upon the pavement with a noisy bang that is
calculated to startle the unwary into dropping their money anywhere else
than in the plate. In time the bell rings beside the altar, and the priest
robed in white and gold elevates the host before the kneeling congregation.
Once more the man in the cocked hat becomes prominent as he steps into the
open space between the transepts and tolls the big bell in the tower above.
Then a smaller and much more cheerful bell is rung, and fearing the arrival
of another collecting priest we slip out of the swinging doors into the
twilight that has now almost been swallowed up in the gathering darkness.

The consecration of the splendid Norman church of St Gervais took place in
the presence of Henry I. but there is nothing particularly English in any
part of the exterior. The central tower has four tall and deeply recessed
arches (the middle ones contain windows) on each side, giving a rich
arcaded appearance. Above, rises a tall pointed roof ornamented with four
odd-looking dormers near the apex. Every one remarks on their similarity to
dovecots and one almost imagines that they must have been built as a place
of shelter on stormy days for the great gilded cock that forms the weather
vane. The nave is still Norman on the south side, plain round-headed
windows lighting the clerestory, but the aisles were rebuilt in the
flamboyant period and present a rich mass of ornament in contrast to the
unadorned masonry of the nave. The western end until lately had to endure
the indignity of having its wall surfaces largely hidden by shops and
houses. These have now disappeared, but the stone-work has not been
restored, and you may still see a section of the interior of the house that
formerly used the west end of the south aisle as one of its walls. You can
see where the staircases went, and you may notice also how wantonly these
domestic builders cut away the buttresses and architectural enrichments to
suit the convenience of their own needs.

As you go from the market-place along the street that runs from St Gervais
to the suburb of Guibray, the shops on the left are exchanged for a low
wall over which you see deep, grassy hollows that come right up to the edge
of the street. Two fine houses, white-shuttered and having the usual vacant
appearance, stand on steep slopes surrounded by great cedars of Lebanon and
a copper beech.

The church of Guibray is chiefly Norman--it is very white inside and there
is some round-headed arcading in the aisles. The clustered columns of the
nave have simple, pointed arches, and there is a carved marble altarpiece
showing angels supporting the Virgin who is gazing upwards. The aisles of
the chancel are restored Norman, and the stone-work is bright green just
above the floor through the dampness that seems to have defied the efforts
of the restorers.


From Argentan to Avranches

Between tall poplars whose stems are splotched with grey lichen and whose
feet are grown over with browny-green moss, runs the road from Falaise to
Argentan, straight and white, with scarcely more than the slightest bend,
for the whole eight miles. It is typical of the roads in this part of the
country and beyond the large stone four or five kilometres outside Falaise,
marking the boundary between Calvados and Orne, and the railway which one
passes soon afterwards, there is nothing to break the undulating monotony
of the boundless plain.

We cannot all hope to have this somewhat dull stretch of country relieved
by any exciting event, but I can remember one spring afternoon being
overtaken by two mounted gendarmes in blue uniforms, galloping for their
very lives. I looked down the road into the cloud of dust raised by the
horses' hoofs, but the country on all sides lay calm and deserted, and I
was left in doubt as to the reason for this astonishing haste. Half an hour
afterwards a group of people appeared in the distance, and on approaching
closer, they proved to be the two gendarmes leading their blown horses as
they walked beside a picturesque group of apparently simple peasants, the
three men wearing the typical soft, baggy cap and blue smock of the country
folk. The little group had a gloomy aspect, which was explained when I
noticed that the peasants were joined together by a bright steel chain.
Evidently something was very much amiss with one of the peaceful villages
lying near the road.

After a time, at the end of the long white perspective, appear the towers
of the great church of St Germain that dominate the town where Henry II.
was staying when he made that rash exclamation concerning his "turbulent
priest." It was from Argentan that those four knights set out for England
and Canterbury to carry out the deed, for which Henry lay in ashes for five
weeks in this very place. But there is little at the present time at
Argentan to remind one that it is in any way associated with the murder of
Becket. The castle that now exists is occupied by the Courts of Justice and
was partially built in the Renaissance period. Standing close to it, is an
exceedingly tall building with a great gable that suggests an
ecclesiastical origin, and on looking a little closer one soon discovers
blocked up Gothic windows and others from which the tracery has been
hacked. This was the chapel of the castle which has been so completely
robbed of its sanctity that it is now cut up into small lodgings, and in
one of its diminutive shops, picture post-cards of the town are sold.

The ruins of the old castle are not very conspicuous, for in the
seventeenth century the great keep was demolished. There is still a fairly
noticeable round tower--the Tour Marguerite--which has a pointed roof above
its corbels, or perhaps they should be called machicolations. In the Place
Henri IV. stands a prominent building that projects over the pavement
supported by massive pointed arches, and with this building in the
foreground there is one of the best views of St Germain that one can find
in the town. Just before coming to the clock that is suspended over the
road by the porch of the church, there is a butcher's shop at the street
corner that has a piece of oak carving preserved on account of its interest
while the rest of the building has been made featureless with even plaster.
The carving shows Adam and Eve standing on either side of a formal Tree of
Life, and the butcher, who is pleased to find a stranger who notices this
little curiosity, tells him with great pride that his house dates from the
fifteenth century. The porch of St Germain is richly ornamented, but it
takes a second place to the south porch of the church of Notre Dame at
Louviers and may perhaps seem scarcely worthy of comment after St Maclou at
Rouen. The structure as a whole was commenced in 1424, and the last portion
of the work only dates from the middle of the seventeenth century. The
vaulting of the nave has a very new and well-kept appearance and the side
altars, in contrast to so many of even the large churches, are almost
dignified in their somewhat restrained and classic style. The high altar is
a stupendous erection of two storeys with Corinthian pillars. Nine long,
white, pendant banners are conspicuous on the walls of the chancel. The
great altars and the lesser ones that crowd the side chapels are subject to
the accumulation of dirt as everything else in buildings sacred or lay, and
at certain times of the day, a woman may be seen vigorously flapping the
brass candlesticks and countless altar ornaments with a big feather broom.
On the north side of the chancel some of the windows have sections of old
painted glass, and in one of them there is part of a ship with men in
crow's nests backed by clouds, a really vigorous colour scheme.

Keeping to the high ground, there is to the south of this church an open
Place, and beyond it there are some large barracks, where, on the other
side of a low wall may be seen the elaborately prepared steeple-chase for
training soldiers to be able to surmount every conceivable form of
obstacle. Awkward iron railings, wide ditches, walls of different
composition and varying height are frequently scaled, and it is practice of
this sort that has made the French soldier famous for the facility with
which he can storm fortifications. The river Orne finds its way through the
lower part of the town and here there are to be found some of the most
pleasing bits of antique domestic architecture. One of the quaintest of
these built in 1616 is the galleried building illustrated here, and from a
parallel street not many yards off there is a peep of a house that has been
built right over the stream which is scarcely less picturesque.


The church of St Martin is passed on entering Argentan from Falaise. Its
east end crowds right up against the pavement and it is somewhat unusual to
find the entrances at this portion of the building. The stained glass in
the choir of St Martin is its most noticeable feature--the pictures showing
various scenes in the life of Christ.

As in all French towns Argentan knows how to decorate on fete days. Coming
out of the darkness of the church in the late twilight on one of these
occasions, I discovered that the town had suddenly become festooned with a
long perspective of arches stretching right away down the leafy avenue that
goes out of the town--to the north in one direction, and to St Germain in
the other. The arches were entirely composed without a single exception of
large crimson-red Chinese lanterns. The effect was astonishingly good, but
despite all the decoration, the townsfolk seemed determined to preserve the
quiet of the Sabbath, and although there were crowds everywhere, the only
noise that broke the stillness was that of the steam round-about that had
been erected on a triangular patch of grass. The dark crowds of people
illuminated by flaring lights stood in perfect quiet as they watched the
great noisy mass of moving animals and boats, occupied almost entirely by
children, keep up its perpetual dazzle and roar. The fair--for there were
many side-shows--was certainly quieter than any I have witnessed in

A long, straight road, poplar-bordered and level, runs southwards from
Argentan to Mortree, a village of no importance except for the fact that
one must pass through it if one wishes to visit the beautiful Chateau d'O.
This sixteenth century mansion like so many to be seen in this part of
France, is in a somewhat pathetic state of disrepair, but as far as one may
see from the exterior, it would not require any very great sum to
completely restore the broken stone-work and other signs of decay. These,
while perhaps adding to the picturesqueness of the buildings, do not bring
out that aspect of carefully preserved antiquity which is the charm of most
of the houses of this period in England. The great expanse of water in the
moat is very green and covered by large tracts of weed, but the water is
supplied by a spring, and fish thrive in it. The approach to the chateau
across the moat leads to an arched entrance through which you enter the
large courtyard overlooked on three sides by the richly ornamented
buildings, the fourth side being only protected from the moat by a low
wall. It would be hard to find a more charming spot than this with its
views across the moat to the gardens beyond, backed by great masses of

Going on past Mortree the main road will bring one after about eight miles
to the old town of Alencon, which has been famed ever since the time of
Louis XIV. for the lace which is even at the present day worked in the
villages of this neighbourhood, more especially at the hamlet of Damigny.
The cottagers use pure linen thread which is worth the almost incredible
sum of L100 per lb. They work on parchment from patterns which are supplied
by the merchants in Alencon. The women go on from early morning until the
light fails, and earn something about a shilling per day!

The castle of Alencon, built by Henry I. in the twelfth century, was
pulled down with the exception of the keep, by the order of Henry of
Navarre, the famous contemporary of Queen Elizabeth. This keep is still in
existence, and is now used as a prison. Near it is the Palais de Justice,
standing where the other buildings were situated.

The west porch of the church of Notre Dame is richly ornamented with
elaborate canopies, here and there with statues. One of these represents St
John, and it will be seen that he is standing with his face towards the
church. A legend states that this position was taken by the statue when the
church was being ransacked by Protestants in the sixteenth century.

Another road from Argentan is the great _route nationale_ that runs in a
fairly direct line to Granville. As one rides out of the town there is a
pretty view on looking back, of St Germain standing on the slight eminence
above the Orne. Keeping along by that river the road touches it again at
the little town of Ecouche. The old market hall standing on massive
pillars, is the most attractive feature of the place. Its old tiled roof
and half-timbered upper storey remind one forcibly of some of those
fortunate old towns in England that have preserved this feature. The church
has lost its original nave, and instead, there is a curious barn-like
structure, built evidently with a view to economy, being scarcely more than
half the height of the original: the vacant space has been very roughly
filled up, and the numerous holes and crevices support a fine growth of
weeds, and a strong young tree has also taken root in the ramshackle stone
work. From the central tower, gargoyles grin above the elaborately carved
buttresses and finials in remarkable contrast to the jerry-built addition.


Passing through rich country, you leave the valley of the Orne, and on
both sides of the road are spread wide and fascinating views over the
orchard-clad country that disappears in the distant blue of the horizon.
Wonderful patches of shadow, when large clouds are flying over the heavens,
fall on this great tract of country and while in dull weather it may seem a
little monotonous, in days of sunshine and shade it is full of a haunting
beauty that is most remarkable.

About seven miles from Argentan one passes Fromentelle, a quiet hamlet full
of thatched cottages and curious weathercocks, and then five miles further
on, having descended into the valley of the little river Rouvre, Briouze
is entered. Here there is a wide and very extensive market-place with
another quaint little structure, smaller than the one at Ecouche, but
having a curious bell-turret in the centre of the roof. On Monday, which
is market day, Briouze presents a most busy scene, and there are plenty of
opportunities of studying the genial looking country farmers, their wives,
and the large carts in which they drive from the farms. In the midst of the
booths, you may see a bronze statue commemorating the "Sapeurs, pompiers"
and others of this little place who fell in 1854.

Leaving the main road which goes on to Flers, we may take the road to
Domfront, which passes through three pretty villages and much pleasant
country. Bellau, the first village, is full of quaint houses and charming
old-world scenes. The church is right in the middle on an open space
without an enclosure of any description. Standing with one's back to this
building, there is a pretty view down the road leading to the south, a
patch of blue distance appearing in the opening between the old gables. To
all those who may wish to either paint or photograph this charming scene, I
would recommend avoiding the hour in the afternoon when the children come
out of school. I was commencing a drawing one sunny afternoon--it must have
been about three o'clock--and the place seemed almost deserted. Indeed, I
had been looking for a country group of peasants to fill the great white
space of sunny road, when in twos and threes, the juvenile population
flooded out towards me. For some reason which I could not altogether
fathom, the boys arranged themselves in a long, regular line, occupying
exactly one half of the view, the remaining space being filled by an
equally long line of little girls. All my efforts failed to induce the
children to break up the arrangement they had made. They merely altered
their formation by advancing three or four paces nearer with almost
military precision. They were still standing in their unbroken rows when I
left the village.

Passing a curious roadside cross which bears the date 1741 and a long Latin
inscription splashed over with lichen, one arrives at La Ferriere aux
Etangs, a quaint village with a narrow and steep street containing one
conspicuously old, timber-framed house. But it is scarcely necessary to
point out individual cottages in this part of Normandy, for wherever one
looks, the cottages are covered with thick, purply-grey thatch, and the
walls below are of grey wooden framework, filled in with plaster, generally
coloured a creamy-white. When there are deep shadows under the eaves and
the fruit trees in blossom stand out against the dark thatch, one can
easily understand how captivating is the rural charm of this part of
Normandy. Gradually the road ascends, but no great views are apparent,
although one is right above the beautiful valley of the Varennes, until
quite near to Domfront. Then, suddenly there appears an enormous stretch of
slightly undulating country to the south and west. As far as one can see,
the whole land seems to be covered by one vast forest.

But though part of this is real forest-land, much of it is composed of
orchards and hedgerow trees, which are planted so closely together that, at
a short distance, they assume the aspect of close-growing woods. The first
impression of the great stretch of forest-land does not lose its striking
aspect, even when one has explored the whole of the town. The road that
brings one into the old town runs along a ridge and after passing one of
the remains of the old gateways, it rises slightly to the highest part of
the mass of rock upon which Domfront is perched. The streets are narrow and
parallel to accommodate themselves to the confined space within the walls.
At the western end of the granite ridge, and separated from the town by a
narrow defile, stands all that is left of the castle--a massive but
somewhat shapeless ruin. At the western end of the ramparts, one looks down
a precipitous descent to the river Varennes which has by some unusual
agency, cut itself a channel through the rocky ridge if it did not merely
occupy an existing gap. At the present time, besides the river, the road
and railway pass through the narrow gorge.

The castle has one of those sites that appealed irresistibly to the warlike
barons of the eleventh century. In this case it was William I., Duc de
Belleme, who decided to raise a great fortress on this rock that he had
every reason to believe would prove an impregnable stronghold, but although
only built in 1011, it was taken by Duke William thirty-seven years later,
being one of the first brilliant feats by which William the Norman showed
his strength outside his own Duchy. A century or more later, Henry II.,
when at Domfront, received the pope's nuncio by whom a reconciliation was
in some degree patched up between the king and Becket. Richard I. is known
to have been at the castle at various times. In the sixteenth century,
a most thrilling siege was conducted during the period when Catherine
de Medicis was controlling the throne. A Royalist force, numbering some
seven or eight thousand horse and foot, surrounded this formidable rock
which was defended by the Calvinist Comte de Montgommery. With him was
another Protestant, Ambroise le Balafre, who had made himself a despot
at Domfront, but whose career was cut short by one of Montgommery's men
with whom he had quarrelled. They buried him in the little church of
Notre-Dame-sur-l'Eau--the wonderfully preserved Norman building that one
sees beneath one's feet when standing on the ramparts of the castle. The
body, however, was not long allowed to remain there, for when the royal
army surrounded the castle they brought out the corpse and hung it in a
conspicuous place to annoy the besieged. Like Corfe Castle in England, and
many other magnificently fortified strongholds, Domfront was capable of
defence by a mere handful. In this case the original garrison consisted of
one hundred and fifty, and after many desertions the force was reduced to
less than fifty. A great breach had been made by the six pieces of
artillery placed on the hill on the opposite side of the gorge, and through
this the besiegers endeavoured to enter. The attenuated garrison, with
magnificent courage, held the breach after a most desperate and bloody
fight. But after all this display of courage, it was found impossible to
continue the defence, for by the next morning there were barely more than a
dozen men left to fight. Finally Montgommery was obliged to surrender
unconditionally, and not long afterwards he was executed in Paris. You may
see the breach where this terrible fight took place at the present day, and
as you watch the curious effects of the blue shadows falling among the
forest trees that stretch away towards the south, you may feel that you are
looking over almost the same scene that was gazed upon by the notable
figures in history who have made their exits and entrances at Domfront.

So little has the church of Notre-Dame-sur-l'Eau altered in its appearance
since it was built by the Duc de Belleme that, were he to visit the ruins
of his castle, he would marvel no doubt that the men of the nine centuries
which have passed, should have consistently respected this sturdy little
building. There are traces of aisles having existed, but otherwise the
exterior of the church can have seen no change at all in this long period.
Inside, however, the crude whitewash, the curious assemblage of enormous
seventeenth century gravestones that are leant against the walls, and the
terribly jarring almost life-sized crucifix, all give one that feeling of
revulsion that is inseparable from an ill-kept place of worship. On the
banks of the river outside, women may be seen washing clothes; the sounds
of the railway come from the station near by, and overhead, rising above
the foliage at its feet, are the broken walls and shattered keep from which
we have been gazing.


The walls of the town, punctuated by many a quaint tower, have lost their
fearsome aspect owing to the domestic uses to which the towers are palpably
devoted. One of them appears in the adjoining illustration, and it is
typical of the half-dozen or so that still rise above the pretty gardens
that are perched along the steep ascent. But though Domfront is full of
almost thrilling suggestions of medievalism and the glamour of an ancient
town, yet there is a curious lack of picturesque arrangement, so that if
one were to be led away by the totally uninteresting photographs that may
be seen in the shops, one would miss one of the most unique spots in

Stretching away towards Flers, there is a tract of green country all ups
and downs, but with no distant views except the peep of Domfront that
appears a few miles north of the town. Crowning the ridge of the hill is
the keep of the castle, resembling a closed fist with the second finger
raised, and near it, the bell-cote of the Palais de Justice and the spire
of the church break the line of the old houses. Ferns grow by the roadside
on every bank, but the cottages and farms are below the average of rustic
beauty that one soon demands in this part of France.

Flers is a somewhat busy manufacturing town where cotton and thread
mills have robbed the place of its charm. At first sight one might
imagine the church which bears the date 1870 was of considerably
greater age, but inside one is almost astounded at the ramshackle
galleries, the white-washed roof of rough boards discoloured by damp,
and the general squalor of the place relieved only by a ponderous
altar-piece of classic design. The castle is still in good preservation
but although it dates from early Norman times, it is chiefly of the
sixteenth century.

Out in the country again, going westwards, the cottage industry of
weaving is apparent in nearly every cottage one sees. The loud
click-a-ti-clack--click-a-ti-clack of the looms can be heard on every
side as one passes such villages as Landisacq. Everywhere the scenery
is exceedingly English, the steep hillsides are often covered with
orchards, and the delicate green of the apple-trees in spring-time,
half-smothered in pinky-white blossom, gives the country a garden-like
aspect. You may see a man harrowing a field on a sudden slope with a
cloud of dust blowing up from the dry light soil, and you may hear him
make that curious hullaballooing by which the peasants direct their
horses, so different from the grunting "way-yup there" of the English
ploughman. Coming down a long descent, a great stretch of country to
the north that includes the battlefield of Tinchebrai comes into view.
It is hard to associate the rich green pastures, smiling orchards, and
peaceful cattle, with anything so gruesome as a battle between armies
led by brothers. But it was near the little town of Tinchebrai that the
two brothers, Henry I., King of England, and Robert Duke of Normandy
fought for the possession of Normandy. Henry's army was greatly
superior to that of his brother, for he had the valuable help of the
Counts of Conches, Breteuil, Thorigny, Mortagne, Montfort, and two or
three others as powerful. But despite all this array, the battle for
some time was very considerably in Robert's favour, and it was only
when Henry, heavily pressed by his brother's brilliant charge, ordered
his reserves to envelop the rear, that the great battle went in favour
of the English king. Among the prisoners were Robert and his youthful
son William, the Counts of Mortain, Estouteville, Ferrieres, and a
large number of notable men. Until his death, twenty-seven years later,
Henry kept his brother captive in Cardiff Castle, and it has been said
that, owing to an effort to escape, Henry was sufficiently lacking in
all humane feelings towards his unfortunate brother, to have both his
eyes put out. It seems a strange thing that exactly sixty years after
the battle of Hastings, a Norman king of England, should conquer the
country which had belonged to his father.

The old church of St Remy at Tinchebrai, part of which dates from the
twelfth century, has been abandoned for a new building, but the inn--the
Hotel Lion d'Or--which bears the date 1614, is still in use. Vire, however,
is only ten miles off, and its rich mediaeval architecture urges us

Standing in the midst of the cobbled street, there suddenly appears right
ahead a splendid thirteenth century gateway--the Tour de l'Horloge--that
makes one of the richest pictures in Normandy. It is not always one can see
the curious old tower thrown up by a blaze of gold in the west, but those
who are fortunate enough to see such an effect may get a small suggestion
of the scene from the illustration given here. The little painted figure of
the Virgin and Child stands in a niche just over the arch, and by it
appears the prayer "Marie protege la ville!"

One of the charms of Vire is its cleanliness, for I can recall no
unpleasant smells having interfered with the pleasure of exploring the old
streets. There is a great market on the northern side of the town, open and
breezy. It slopes clear away without any intervening buildings to a great
expanse of green wooded country, suggestive of some of the views that lie
all around one at Avranches. The dark old church of Notre Dame dates mainly
from the twelfth century. Houses and small shops are built up against it
between the buttresses in a familiar, almost confidential manner, and on
the south side, the row of gargoyles have an almost humorous appearance.
The drips upon the pavement and shops below were evidently a nuisance, and
rain water-spouts, with plain pipes leading diagonally from them, have been
attached to each grotesque head, making it seem that the grinning monsters
have developed a great and unquenchable thirst. Inside, the church is dark
and impressive. There are double rows of pillars in the aisles, and a huge
crucifix hangs beneath the tower, thrown up darkly against the chancel,
which is much painted and gilded. The remains of the great castle consist
of nothing more than part of the tall keep, built eight hundred years ago,
and fortunately not entirely destroyed when the rest of the castle came
down by the order of Cardinal Richelieu. An exploration of the quaint
streets of Vire will reveal two or three ancient gateways, many gabled
houses, some of which are timber-framed visually, and most of them are the
same beneath their skins of plaster. The houses in one of the streets are
connected with the road by a series of wooden bridges across the river,
which there forms one of the many pictures to be found in Vire.

Mortain is separated from Vire by fifteen miles of exceedingly hilly
country, and those who imagine that all the roads in Normandy are the flat
and poplar bordered ones that are so often encountered, should travel along
this wonderful switch-back. As far as Sourdeval there seems scarcely a yard
of level ground--it is either a sudden ascent or a breakneck rush into a
trough-like depression. You pass copices of firs and beautiful woods,
although in saying beautiful it is in a limited sense, for one seldom finds
the really rich woodlands that are so priceless an ornament to many Surrey
and Kentish lanes. The road is shaded by tall trees when it begins to
descend into the steep rocky gorge of the Cance with its tumbling
waterfalls that are a charming feature of this approach to Mortain. High
upon the rocks on the left appears an enormous gilded statue of the Virgin,
in the grounds of the Abbaye Blanche. Going downwards among the broken
sunlight and shadows on the road, Mortain appears, picturesquely perched on
a great rocky steep, and in the opening of the valley a blue haze suggests
the great expanse of level country towards the south. The big parish church
of the town was built originally in 1082 by that Robert of Mortain, who, it
will be remembered, was one of the first of the Normans to receive from the
victorious William a grant of land in England. The great tower which stands
almost detached on the south-west side is remarkable for its enormously
tall slit windows, for they run nearly from the ground to the saddle-back
roof. The interior of this church is somewhat unusual, the nave and chancel
being structurally one, and the aisles are separated by twenty-four
circular grey pillars with Corinthian capitals. The plain surfaces of the
walls and vaulting are absolutely clean white, picked out with fine black
lines to represent stone-work--a scarcely successful treatment of such an
interior! On either side of the High Altar stand two great statues
representing St Guillaume and St Evroult.

To those who wish to "do" all the sights of Mortain there is the Chapel of
St Michael, which stands high up on the margin of a great rocky hill, but
the building having been reconstructed about fifty years ago, the chief
attraction to the place is the view, which in tolerably clear weather,
includes Mont St Michel towards which we are making our way.

A perfectly straight and fairly level stretch of road brings you to St
Hilaire-du-Harcout. On the road one passes two or three large country
houses with their solemn and perfectly straight avenues leading directly up
to them at right angles from the road. The white jalousies seem always
closed, the grass on the lawns seems never cut, and the whole
establishments have a pathetically deserted appearance to the passer-by. A
feature of this part of the country can scarcely be believed without
actually using one's eyes. It is the wooden chimney-stack, covered with oak
shingles, that surmounts the roofs of most of the cottages. Where the
shingles have fallen off, the cement rubble that fills the space between
the oak framing appears, but it is scarcely credible that, even with this
partial protection, these chimneys should have survived so many centuries.
I have asked the inmates of some of the cottages whether they ever feared a
fire in their chimneys, but they seemed to consider the question as totally
unnecessary, for some providence seems to have watched over their frail

St Hilaire has a brand new church and nothing picturesque in its long,
almost monotonous, street. Instead of turning aside at Pontaubault towards
Mont St Michel, we will go due north from that hamlet to the beautifully
situated Avranches. This prosperous looking town used, at one time, to have
a large English colony, but it has recently dwindled to such small
dimensions that the English chaplain has an exceedingly small parish. The
streets seem to possess a wonderful cleanliness; all the old houses appear
to have made way for modern buildings which, in a way, give Avranches the
aspect of a watering-place, but its proximity to the sea is more apparent
in a map than when one is actually in the town. On one side of the great
place in front of the church of Notre Dame des Champs is the Jardin des
Plantes. To pass from the blazing sunshine and loose gravel, to the dense
green shade of the trees in this delightful retreat is a pleasure that can
be best appreciated on a hot afternoon in summer. The shade, however, and
the beds of flowers are not the only attractions of these gardens. Their
greatest charm is the wonderful view over the shining sands and the
glistening waters of the rivers See and Selune that, at low tide, take
their serpentine courses over the delicately tinted waste of sand that
occupies St Michael's Bay. Out beyond the little wooded promontory that
protects the mouth of the See, lies Mont St Michel, a fretted silhouette of
flat pearly grey, and a little to the north is Tombelaine, a less
pretentious islet in this fairyland sea. Framed by the stems and foliage of
the trees, this view is one of the most fascinating in Normandy. One would
be content to stay here all through the sultry hours of a summer day, to
listen to the distant hum of conversation among white-capped nursemaids, as
they sew busily, giving momentary attention to their charges. But Avranches
has an historical spot that no student of history, and indeed no one who
cares anything for the picturesque events that crowd the pages of the
chronicles of England in the days of the Norman kings, may miss. It is the
famous stone upon which Henry II. knelt when he received absolution for the
murder of Becket at the hands of the papal legate. To reach this stone is,
for a stranger, a matter of some difficulty. From the Place by the Jardin
des Plantes, it is necessary to plunge down a steep descent towards the
railway station, and then one climbs a series of zigzag paths on a high
grassy bank that brings one out upon the Place Huet. In one corner,
surrounded by chains and supported by low iron posts, is the historic
stone. It is generally thickly coated with dust, but the brass plate
affixed to a pillar of the doorway is quite legible. These, and a few
fragments of carved stone that lie half-smothered in long grass and weeds
at a short distance from the railed-in stone, are all that remain of the
cathedral that existed in the time of Henry II.

It must have been an impressive scene on that Sunday in May 1172, when the
papal legate, in his wonderful robes, stood by the north transept door, of
which only this fragment remains, and granted absolution to the sovereign,
who, kneeling in all humbleness and submission, was relieved of the curse
of excommunication which had been laid on him after the tragic affair in
the sanctuary at Canterbury. In place of the splendid cathedral, whose nave
collapsed, causing the demolition of the whole building in 1799, there is a
new church with the two great western towers only carried up to half the
height intended for them.

From the roadway that runs along the side of the old castle walls in
terrace fashion there is another wonderful view of rich green country,
through which, at one's feet, winds the river See. Away towards the
north-west the road to Granville can be seen passing over the hills in a
perfectly straight line. But this part of the country may be left for
another chapter.

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