THE SCENERY & ROMANCE OF ITS ANCIENT TOWNS:
DEPICTED BY GORDON HOME
This book is not a guide. It is an attempt to convey by pictures and description a clear impression of the Normandy which awaits the visitor.
The route described could, however, be followed without covering the same ground for more than five or six miles, and anyone choosing to do this would find in his path some of the richest architecture and scenery that the province possesses.
As a means of reviving memories of past visits to Normandy, I may perhaps venture to hope that the illustrations of this book–as far as the reproductions are successful–may not be ineffectual.
EPSOM, _October_ 1905
LIST OF COLOURED ILLUSTRATIONS
LIST OF LINE ILLUSTRATIONS
Some Features of Normandy
By the Banks of the Seine
Concerning Rouen, the Ancient Capital of Normandy
Concerning the Cathedral City of Evreux and the Road to Bernay
Concerning Lisieux and the Romantic Town of Falaise
From Argentan to Avranches
Concerning Mont St Michel
Concerning Coutances and Some Parts of the Cotentin
Concerning St Lo and Bayeux
Concerning Caen and the Coast Towards Trouville
Some Notes on the History of Normandy
LIST OF COLOURED ILLUSTRATIONS
MONT ST MICHEL FROM THE CAUSEWAY
ON THE ROAD BETWEEN CONCHES AND BEAUMONT-LE-ROGER This is typical of the poplar-bordered roads of Normandy.
THE CHATEAU GAILLARD FROM THE ROAD BY THE SEINE The village of Le Petit Andely appears below the castle rock, and is partly hidden by the island. The chalk cliffs on the left often look like ruined walls.
A TYPICAL REACH OF THE SEINE BETWEEN ROUEN AND LE PETIT ANDELY On one side great chalk cliffs rise precipitously, and on the other are broad flat pastures.
THE CHURCH AT GISORS, SEEN FROM THE WALLS OF THE NORMAN CASTLE
THE TOUR DE LA GROSSE HORLOGE, ROUEN
It is the Belfry of the City, and was commenced in 1389.
THE CATHEDRAL AT ROUEN
Showing a peep of the Portail de la Calende, and some of the quaint houses of the oldest part of the City.
THE CATHEDRAL OF EVREUX SEEN FROM ABOVE On the right, just where the light touches some of the roofs of the houses, the fine old belfry can be seen.
A TYPICAL FARMYARD SCENE IN NORMANDY
The curious little thatched mushroom above the cart is to be found in most of the Norman farms.
THE BRIDGE AT BEAUMONT-LE-ROGER
On the steep hill beyond stands the ruined abbey church.
IN THE RUE AUX FEVRES, LISIEUX
The second tiled gable from the left belongs to the fine sixteenth century house called the Manoir de Francois I.
THE CHURCH OF ST JACQUES AT LISIEUX
One of the quaint umber fronted houses for which the town is famous appears on the left.
The favourite stronghold of William the Conqueror.
THE PORTE DES CORDELIERS AT FALAISE
A thirteenth century gateway that overlooks the steep valley of the Ante.
THE CHATEAU D’O
A seventeenth century manor house surrounded by a wide moat.
THE GREAT VIEW OVER THE FORESTS TO THE SOUTH FROM THE RAMPARTS OF DOMFRONT CASTLE
Down below can be seen the river Varennes, and to the left of the railway the little Norman Church of Notre-Dame-sur-l’Eau.
THE CLOCK GATE, VIRE
A VIEW OF MONT ST MICHEL AND THE BAY OF CANCALE FROM THE JARDIN DES PLANTES AT AVRANCHES
On the left is the low coast-line of Normandy, and on the right appears the islet of Tombelaine.
DISTANT VIEW OF MONT ST MICHEL
THE LONG MAIN STREET OF COUTANCES
In the foreground is the Church of St Pierre, and in the distance is the Cathedral.
THE GREAT WESTERN TOWERS OF THE CHURCH OF NOTRE DAME AT ST LO They are of different dates, and differ in the arcading and other ornament.
THE NORMAN TOWERS OF BAYEUX CATHEDRAL
ST PIERRE, CAEN
LIST OF LINE ILLUSTRATIONS
THE FORTIFIED FARM NEAR GISORS
A SEVENTEENTH CENTURY HOUSE AT ARGENTAN
THE OLD MARKET HOUSE AT ECOUCHE
ONE OF THE TOWERS IN THE WALLS OF DOMFRONT
THE CHËTELET AND LA MERVFILLE AT MONT ST MICHEL The dark opening through the archway on the left is the main entrance to the Abbey. On the right can be seen the tall narrow windows that light the three floors of Abbot Jourdain’s great work.
AN ANCIENT HOUSE IN THE RUE ST MALO, BAYEUX
THE GATEWAY OF THE CHATEAU
THE DISUSED CHURCH OF ST NICHOLAS AT CAEN
A COURTYARD IN THE RUE DE BAYEUX AT CAEN
Some Features of Normandy
Very large ants, magpies in every meadow, and coffee-cups without handles, but of great girth, are some of the objects that soon become familiar to strangers who wander in that part of France which was at one time as much part of England as any of the counties of this island. The ants and the coffee-cups certainly give one a sense of being in a foreign land, but when one wanders through the fertile country among the thatched villages and farms that so forcibly remind one of Devonshire, one feels a friendliness in the landscapes that scarcely requires the stimulus of the kindly attitude of the peasants towards _les anglais_.
If one were to change the dark blue smock and the peculiar peaked hat of the country folk of Normandy for the less distinctive clothes of the English peasant, in a very large number of cases the Frenchmen would pass as English. The Norman farmer so often has features strongly typical of the southern counties of England, that it is surprising that with his wife and his daughters there should be so little resemblance. Perhaps this is because the French women dress their hair in such a different manner to those on the northern side of the Channel, and they certainly, taken as a whole, dress with better effect than their English neighbours; or it may be that the similar ideas prevailing among the men as to how much of the face should be shaved have given the stronger sex an artificial resemblance.
In the towns there is little to suggest in any degree that the mediaeval kings of England ruled this large portion of France, and at Mont St Michel the only English objects besides the ebb and flow of tourists are the two great iron _michelettes_ captured by the French in 1433. Everyone who comes to the wonderful rock is informed that these two guns are English; but as they have been there for nearly five hundred years, no one feels much shame at seeing them in captivity, and only a very highly specialised antiquary would be able to recognise any British features in them. Everyone, however, who visits Normandy from England with any enthusiasm, is familiar with the essential features of Norman and early pointed architecture, and it is thus with distinct pleasure that the churches are often found to be strikingly similar to some of the finest examples of the earlier periods in England.
When we remember that the Norman masons and master-builders had been improving the crude Saxon architecture in England even before the Conquest, and that, during the reigns of the Norman kings, “Frenchmen,” as the Saxons called them, were working on churches and castles in every part of our island, it is no matter for surprise to find that buildings belonging to the eleventh, twelfth, and even the thirteenth century, besides being of similar general design, are often covered with precisely the same patterns of ornament. When the period of Decorated Gothic began to prevail towards the end of the thirteenth century, the styles on each side of the Channel gradually diverged, so that after that time the English periods do not agree with those of Normandy. There is also, even in the churches that most resemble English structures, a strangeness that assails one unless familiarity has taken the edge off one’s perceptions. Though not the case with all the fine churches and cathedrals of Normandy, yet with an unpleasantly large proportion–unfortunately including the magnificent Church of St Ouen at Rouen–there is beyond the gaudy tinsel that crowds the altars, an untidiness that detracts from the sense of reverence that stately Norman or Gothic does not fail to inspire. In the north transept of St Ouen, some of the walls and pillars have at various times been made to bear large printed notices which have been pasted down, and when out of date they have been only roughly torn off, leaving fragments that soon become discoloured and seriously mar the dignified antiquity of the stone-work. But beyond this, one finds that the great black stands for candles that burn beside the altars are generally streaked with the wax that has guttered from a dozen flames, and that even the floor is covered with lumps of wax–the countless stains of only partially scraped-up gutterings of past offerings. There is also that peculiarly unpleasant smell so often given out by the burning wax that greets one on entering the cool twilight of the building. The worn and tattered appearance of the rush-seated chairs in the churches is easily explained when one sees the almost constant use to which they are put. In the morning, or even as late as six in the evening, one finds classes of boys or girls being catechised and instructed by priests and nuns. The visitor on pushing open the swing door of an entrance will frequently be met by a monotonous voice that echoes through the apparently empty church. As he slowly takes his way along an aisle, the voice will cease, and suddenly break out in a simple but loudly sung Gregorian air, soon joined by a score or more of childish voices; then, as the stranger comes abreast of a side chapel, he causes a grave distraction among the rows of round, closely cropped heads. The rather nasal voice from the sallow figure in the cassock rises higher, and as the echoing footsteps of the person who does nothing but stare about him become more and more distant, the sing-song tune grows in volume once more, and the rows of little French boys are again in the way of becoming good Catholics. In another side chapel the confessional box bears a large white card on which is printed in bold letters, “M. le Cure.” He is on duty at the present time, for, from behind the curtained lattices, the stranger hears a soft mumble of words, and he is constrained to move silently towards the patch of blazing whiteness that betokens the free air and sunshine without. The cheerful clatter of the traffic on the cobbles is typical of all the towns of Normandy, as it is of the whole republic, but Caen has reduced this form of noise by exchanging its omnibuses, that always suggested trams that had left the rails, for swift electric trams that only disturb the streets by their gongs. In Rouen, the electric cars, which the Britisher rejoices to discover were made in England–the driver being obliged to read the positions of his levers in English–are a huge boon to everyone who goes sight-seeing in that city. Being swept along in a smoothly running car is certainly preferable to jolting one’s way over the uneven paving on a bicycle, but it is only in the largest towns that one has such a choice.
Although the only road that is depicted in this book is as straight as any built by the Romans and is bordered by poplars, it is only one type of the great _routes nationales_ that connect the larger towns. In the hilly parts of Normandy the poplar bordered roads entirely disappear, and however straight the engineers may have tried to make their ways, they have been forced to give them a zig-zag on the steep slopes that breaks up the monotony of the great perspectives so often to be seen stretching away for great distances in front and behind. It must not be imagined that Normandy is without the usual winding country road where every bend has beyond it some possibilities in the way of fresh views. An examination of a good road map of the country will show that although the straight roads are numerous, there are others that wind and twist almost as much as the average English turnpike. As a rule, the _route nationale_ is about the same width as most main roads, but it has on either side an equal space of grass. This is frequently scraped off by the cantoniers, and the grass is placed in great piles ready for removal. When these have been cleared away the thoroughfare is of enormous width, and in case of need, regiments could march in the centre with artillery on one side, and a supply train on the other, without impeding one another.
Level crossings for railways are more frequent than bridges. The gates are generally controlled by women in the family sort of fashion that one sees at the lodge of an English park where a right-of-way exists, and yet accidents do not seem to happen.
The railways of Normandy are those of the Chemin de Fer de l’Ouest, and one soon becomes familiar with the very low platforms of the stations that are raised scarcely above the rails. The porters wear blue smocks and trousers of the same material, secured at the waist by a belt of perpendicular red and black stripes. The railway carriages have always two foot-boards, and the doors besides the usual handles have a second one half-way down the panels presumably for additional security. It is really in the nature of a bolt that turns on a pivot and falls into a bracket. On the doors, the class of the carriages is always marked in heavy Roman numerals. The third-class compartments have windows only in the doors, are innocent of any form of cushions and are generally only divided half-way up. The second and first-class compartments are always much better and will bear comparison with those of the best English railways, whereas the usual third-class compartment is of that primitive type abandoned twenty or more years ago, north of the Channel. The locomotives are usually dirty and black with outside cylinders, and great drum-shaped steam-domes. They seem to do the work that is required of them efficiently, although if one is travelling in a third-class compartment the top speed seems extraordinarily slow. The railway officials handle bicycles with wonderful care, and this is perhaps remarkable when we realize that French railways carry them any distance simply charging a penny for registration.
The hotels of Normandy are not what they were twenty years ago. Improvements in sanitation have brought about most welcome changes, so that one can enter the courtyard of most hotels without being met by the aggressive odours that formerly jostled one another for space. When you realize the very large number of English folk who annually pass from town to town in Normandy it may perhaps be wondered why the proprietors of hotels do not take the trouble to prepare a room that will answer to the drawing-room of an English hotel. After dinner in France, a lady has absolutely no choice between a possible seat in the courtyard and her bedroom, for the estaminet generally contains a group of noisy Frenchmen, and even if it is vacant the room partakes too much of the character of a bar-parlour to be suitable for ladies. Except in the large hotels in Rouen I have only found one which boasts of any sort of room besides the estaminet; it was the Hotel des Trois Marie at Argentan. When this defect has been remedied, I can imagine that English people will tour in Normandy more than they do even at the present time. The small washing basin and jug that apologetically appears upon the bedroom washstand has still an almost universal sway, and it is not sufficiently odd to excuse itself on the score of picturesqueness. Under that heading come the tiled floors in the bedrooms, the square and mountainous eiderdowns that recline upon the beds, and the matches that take several seconds to ignite and leave a sulphurous odour that does not dissipate itself for several minutes.
By the Banks of the Seine
If you come to Normandy from Southampton, France is entered at the mouth of the Seine and you are at once introduced to some of the loveliest scenery that Normandy possesses. The headland outside Havre is composed of ochreish rock which appears in patches where the grass will not grow. The heights are occupied by no less than three lighthouses only one of which is now in use. As the ship gets closer, a great spire appears round the cliff in the silvery shimmer of the morning haze and then a thousand roofs reflect the sunlight.
There are boats from Havre that take passengers up the winding river to Rouen and in this way much of the beautiful scenery may be enjoyed. By this means, however, the country appears as only a series of changing pictures and to see anything of the detail of such charming places as Caudebec, and Lillebonne, or the architectural features of Tancarville Castle and the Abbey of Jumieges, the road must be followed instead of the more leisurely river.
Havre with its great docks, its busy streets, and fast electric tramcars that frighten away foot passengers with noisy motor horns does not compel a very long stay, although one may chance to find much interest among the shipping, when such vessels as Mr Vanderbilt’s magnificent steam yacht, without a mark on its spotless paint, is lying in one of the inner basins. If you wander up and down some of the old streets by the harbour you will find more than one many-storied house with shutters brightly painted, and dormers on its ancient roof. The church of Notre Dame in the Rue de Paris has a tower that was in earlier times a beacon, and it was here that three brothers named Raoulin who had been murdered by the governor Villars in 1599, are buried.
On the opposite side of the estuary of the Seine, lies Honfleur with its extraordinary church tower that stands in the market-place quite detached from the church of St Catherine to which it belongs. It is entirely constructed of timber and has great struts supporting the angles of its walls. The houses along the quay have a most paintable appearance, their overhanging floors and innumerable windows forming a picturesque background to the fishing-boats.
Harfleur, on the same side of the river as Havre, is on the road to Tancarville. We pass through it on our way to Caudebec. The great spire of the church, dating from the fifteenth century, rears itself above this ancient port where the black-sailed ships of the Northmen often appeared in the early days before Rollo had forced Charles the Simple (he should have been called “The Straightforward”) to grant him the great tract of French territory that we are now about to explore.
The Seine, winding beneath bold cliffs on one side and along the edge of flat, rich meadowlands on the other, comes near the magnificent ruin of Tancarville Castle whose walls enclose an eighteenth century chateau. The situation on an isolated chalk cliff one hundred feet high was more formidable a century ago than it is to-day, for then the Seine ran close beneath the forbidding walls, while now it has changed its course somewhat. The entrance to the castle is approached under the shadow of the great circular corner tower that stands out so boldly at one extremity of the buildings, and the gate house has on either side semi-circular towers fifty-two feet in height. Above the archway there are three floors sparingly lighted by very small windows, one to each storey. They point out the first floor as containing the torture chamber, and in the towers adjoining are the hopelessly strong prisons. The iron bars are still in the windows and in one instance the positions of the rings to which the prisoners were chained are still visible.
There are still floors in the Eagle’s tower that forms the boldest portion of the castle, and it is a curious feature that the building is angular inside although perfectly cylindrical on the exterior. Near the chateau you may see the ruined chapel and the remains of the Salle des Chevaliers with its big fireplace. Then higher than the entrance towers is the Tour Coquesart built in the fifteenth century and having four storeys with a fireplace in each. The keep is near this, but outside the present castle and separated from it by a moat. The earliest parts of the castle all belong to the eleventh century, but so much destruction was wrought by Henry V. in 1417 that the greater part of the ruins belong to a few years after that date. The name of Tancarville had found a place among the great families of England before the last of the members of this distinguished French name lost his life at the battle of Agincourt. The heiress of the family married one of the Harcourts and eventually the possessions came into the hands of Dunois the Bastard of Orleans.
From Tancarville there is a road that brings you down to that which runs from Quilleboeuf, and by it one is soon brought to the picturesquely situated little town of Lillebonne, famous for its Roman theatre. It was the capital of the Caletes and was known as Juliabona, being mentioned in the iters of Antoninus. The theatre is so well known that no one has difficulty in finding it, and compared to most of the Roman remains in England, it is well worth seeing. The place held no fewer than three thousand people upon the semi-circular tiers of seats that are now covered with turf. Years ago, there was much stone-work to be seen, but this has largely disappeared, and it is only in the upper portions that many traces of mason’s work are visible. A passage runs round the upper part of the theatre and the walls are composed of narrow stones that are not much larger than bricks.
The great castle was built by William the Norman, and it was here that he gathered together his barons to mature and work out his project which made him afterwards William the Conqueror. It will be natural to associate the fine round tower of the castle with this historic conference, but unfortunately, it was only built in the fourteenth century. From more than one point of view Lillebonne makes beautiful pictures, its roofs dominated by the great tower of the parish church as well as by the ruins of the castle.
We have lost sight of the Seine since we left Tancarville, but a ten-mile run brings us to the summit of a hill overlooking Caudebec and a great sweep of the beautiful river. The church raises its picturesque outline against the rolling white clouds, and forms a picture that compels admiration. On descending into the town, the antiquity and the quaintness of sixteenth century houses greet you frequently, and you do not wonder that Caudebec has attracted so many painters. There is a wide quay, shaded by an avenue of beautiful trees, and there are views across the broad, shining waters of the Seine, which here as in most of its length attracts us by its breadth. The beautiful chalk hills drop steeply down to the water’s edge on the northern shores in striking contrast to the flatness of the opposite banks. On the side of the river facing Caudebec, the peninsula enclosed by the windings of the Seine includes the great forest of Brotonne, and all around the town, the steep hills that tumble picturesquely on every side, are richly clothed with woods, so that with its architectural delights within, and its setting of forest, river and hill, Caudebec well deserves the name it has won for itself in England as well as in France.
Just off the road to Rouen from Caudebec and scarcely two miles away, is St Wandrille, situated in a charming hollow watered by the Fontanelle, a humble tributary of the great river. In those beautiful surroundings stand the ruins of the abbey church, almost entirely dating from the thirteenth century. Much destruction was done during the Revolution, but there is enough of the south transept and nave still in existence to show what the complete building must have been. In the wonderfully preserved cloister which is the gem of St Wandrille, there are some beautiful details in the doorway leading from the church, and there is much interest in the refectory and chapter house.
Down in the piece of country included in a long and narrow loop of the river stand the splendid ruins of the abbey of Jumieges with its three towers that stand out so conspicuously over the richly wooded country. When you get to the village and are close to the ruins of the great Benedictine abbey, you are not surprised that it was at one time numbered amongst the richest and most notable of the monastic foundations. The founder was St Philibert, but whatever the buildings which made their appearance in the seventh century may have been, is completely beyond our knowledge, for Jumieges was situated too close to the Seine to be overlooked by the harrying ship-loads of pirates from the north, who in the year 851 demolished everything. William Longue-Epee, son of Rollo the great leader of these Northmen, curiously enough commenced the rebuilding of the abbey, and it was completed in the year of the English conquest. Nearly the whole of the nave and towers present a splendid example of early Norman architecture, and it is much more inspiring to look upon the fine west front of this ruin than that of St Etienne at Caen which has an aspect so dull and uninspiring. The great round arches of the nave are supported by pillars which have the early type of capital distinguishing eleventh century work. The little chapel of St Pierre adjoining the abbey church is particularly interesting on account of the western portion which includes some of that early work built in the first half of the tenth century by William Longue-Epee. The tombstone of Nicholas Lerour, the abbot who was among the judges by whom the saintly Joan of Arc was condemned to death, is to be seen with others in the house which now serves as a museum. Associated with the same tragedy is another tombstone, that of Agnes Sorel, the mistress of Charles VII., that heartless king who made no effort to save the girl who had given him his throne.
Jumieges continued to be a perfectly preserved abbey occupied by its monks and hundreds of persons associated with them until scarcely more than a century ago. It was then allowed to go to complete ruin, and no restrictions seem to have been placed upon the people of the neighbourhood who as is usual under such circumstances, used the splendid buildings as a storehouse of ready dressed stone.
Making our way back to the highway, we pass through beautiful scenery, and once more reach the banks of the Seine at the town of Duclair which stands below the escarpment of chalk hills. There are wharves by the river-side which give the place a thriving aspect, for a considerable export trade is carried on in dairy produce.
After following the river-side for a time, the road begins to cut across the neck of land between two bends of the Seine. It climbs up towards the forest of Roumare and passes fairly close to the village of St Martin de Boscherville where the church of St George stands out conspicuously on its hillside. This splendid Norman building is the church of the Abbey built in the middle of the eleventh century by Raoul de Tancarville who was William’s Chamberlain at the time of the conquest of England. The abbey buildings are now in ruins but the church has remained almost untouched during the eight centuries and more which have passed during which Normandy was often bathed in blood, and when towns and castles were sacked two or three times over. When the forest of Roumare, has been left behind, you come to Canteleu, a little village that stands at the top of a steep hill, commanding a huge view over Rouen, the historic capital of Normandy. You can see the shipping lying in the river, the factories, the spire of the cathedral, and the many church towers as well as the light framework of the modern moving bridge. This is the present day representative of the fantastic mediaeval city that witnessed the tragedy of Joan of Arc’s trial and martyrdom. We will pass Rouen now, returning to it again in the next chapter.
The river for some distance becomes frequently punctuated with islands. Large extents of forest including those of Rouvray, Bonde and Elbeuf, spread themselves over the high ground to the west. The view from above Elbeuf in spite of its many tall chimney shafts includes such a fine stretch of fertile country that the scene is not easily forgotten.
Following the windings of the river through Pont-de-L’Arche and the forest of Louviers we come to that pleasant old town; but although close to the Seine, it stands on the little river Eure. Louviers remains in the memory as a town whose church is more crowded with elaborately carved stone-work than any outside Rouen. There is something rather odd, in the close juxtaposition of the Hotel Mouton d’Argent with its smooth plastered front and the almost overpowering mass of detail that faces it on the other side of the road. There is something curious, too, in the severe plainness of the tower that almost suggests the unnecessarily shabby clothing worn by some men whose wives are always to be seen in the most elaborate and costly gowns. Internally the church shows its twelfth century origin, but all the intricate stone-work outside belongs to the fifteenth century. The porch which is, if possible, richer than the buttresses of the aisles, belongs to the flamboyant period, and actually dates from the year 1496. In the clerestory there is much sixteenth century glass and the aisles which are low and double give a rather unusual appearance.
The town contains several quaint and ancient houses, one of them supported by wooden posts projects over the pavement, another at the corner of the Marche des Oeufs has a very rich though battered piece of carved oak at the angle of the walls. It seems as if it had caught the infection of the extraordinary detail of the church porch. Down by the river there are many timber-framed houses with their foundations touching the water, with narrow wooden bridges crossing to the warehouses that line the other side. The Place de Rouen has a shady avenue of limes leading straight down to a great house in a garden beyond which rise wooded hills. Towards the river runs another avenue of limes trimmed squarely on top. These are pleasant features of so many French towns that make up for some of the deficiencies in other matters.
We could stay at Louviers for some time without exhausting all its attractions, but ten miles away at the extremity of another deep loop of the Seine there stands the great and historic Chateau-Gaillard that towers above Le Petit-Andely, the pretty village standing invitingly by a cleft in the hills. The road we traverse is that which appears so conspicuously in Turner’s great painting of the Chateau-Gaillard. It crosses the bridge close under the towering chalk cliffs where the ruin stands so boldly. There is a road that follows the right bank of the river close to the railway, and it is from there that one of the strangest views of the castle is to be obtained. You may see it thrown up by a blaze of sunlight against the grassy heights behind that are all dark beneath the shadow of a cloud. The stone of the towers and heavily buttressed walls appears almost as white as the chalk which crops out in the form of cliffs along the river-side. An island crowded with willows that overhang the water partially hides the village of Le Petit-Andely, and close at hand above the steep slopes of grass that rise from the roadway tower great masses of gleaming white chalk projecting from the vivid turf as though they were the worn ruins of other castles. The whiteness is only broken by the horizontal lines of flints and the blue-grey shadows that fill the crevices.
From the hill above the Chateau there is another and even more striking view. It is the one that appears in Turner’s picture just mentioned, and gives one some idea of the magnificent position that Richard Coeur de Lion chose, when in 1197 he decided to build an impregnable fortress on this bend of the Seine. It was soon after his return from captivity which followed the disastrous crusade that Richard commenced to show Philippe Auguste that he was determined to hold his French possessions with his whole strength. Philippe had warned John when the news of the release of the lion-hearted king from captivity had become known, that “the devil was unchained,” and the building of this castle showed that Richard was making the most of his opportunities. The French king was, with some justification, furious with his neighbour, for Richard had recently given his word not to fortify this place, and some fierce fighting would have ensued on top of the threats which the monarchs exchanged, but for the death of the English king in 1199. When John assumed the crown of England, however, Philippe soon found cause to quarrel with him, and thus the great siege of the castle was only postponed for three or four years. The French king brought his army across the peninsula formed by the Seine, and having succeeded in destroying the bridge beneath the castle, he constructed one for himself with boats and soon afterwards managed to capture the island, despite its strong fortifications. The leader of the English garrison was the courageous Roger de Lacy, Constable of Chester. From his knowledge of the character of his new king, de Lacy would have expected little assistance from the outside and would have relied upon his own resources to defend Richard’s masterpiece. John made one attempt to succour the garrison. He brought his army across the level country and essayed to destroy the bridge of boats constructed by the French. This one effort proving unsuccessful he took no other measures to distract the besieging army, and left Roger de Lacy to the undivided attention of the Frenchmen. Then followed a terrible struggle. The French king succeeded in drawing his lines closer to the castle itself and eventually obtained possession of the outer fortifications and the village of Le Petit-Andely, from which the inhabitants fled to the protection of the castle. The governor had no wish to have all his supplies consumed by non-combatants, and soon compelled these defenceless folk to go out of the protection of his huge walls. At first the besiegers seemed to have allowed the people to pass unmolested, but probably realizing the embarrassment they would have been to the garrison, they altered their minds, and drove most of them back to the castle. Here they gained a reception almost as hostile as that of the enemy, and after being shot down by the arrows of the French they remained for days in a starving condition in a hollow between the hostile lines. Here they would all have died of hunger, but Philippe at last took pity on the terrible plight of these defenceless women and children and old folks, and having allowed them a small supply of provisions they were at last released from their ghastly position. Such a tragedy as this lends terrible pathos to the grassy steeps and hollows surrounding the chateau and one may almost be astonished that such callousness could have existed in these days of chivalry.
The siege was continued with rigour and a most strenuous attack was made upon the end of the castle that adjoined the high ground that overlooks the ruins. With magnificent courage the Frenchmen succeeded in mining the walls, and having rushed into the breach they soon made themselves masters of the outer courtyard. Continuing the assault, a small party of intrepid soldiers gained a foothold within the next series of fortifications, causing the English to retreat to the inner courtyard dominated by the enormous keep. Despite the magnificent resistance offered by de Lacy’s men the besiegers raised their engines in front of the gate, and when at last they had forced an entry they contrived a feat that almost seems incredible–they cut off the garrison from their retreat to the keep. Thus this most famous of castles fell within half a dozen years of its completion.
In the hundred years’ war the Chateau-Gaillard was naturally one of the centres of the fiercest fighting, and the pages of history are full of references to the sieges and captures of the fortress, proving how even with the most primitive weapons these ponderous and unscalable walls were not as impregnable as they may have seemed to the builders. Like the abbey of Jumieges, this proud structure became nothing more than a quarry, for in the seventeenth century permission was given to two religious houses, one at Le Petit-Andely and the other at Le Grand-Andely to take whatever stone-work they required for their monastic establishments. Records show how more damage would have been done to the castle but for the frequent quarrels between these two religious houses as to their rights over the various parts of the ruins. When you climb up to the ruined citadel and look out of the windows that are now battered and shapeless, you can easily feel how the heart of the bold Richard must have swelled within him when he saw how his castle dominated an enormous belt of country. But you cannot help wondering whether he ever had misgivings over the unwelcome proximity of the chalky heights that rise so closely above the site of the ruin. We ourselves, are inclined to forget these questions of military strength in the serene beauty of the silvery river flowing on its serpentine course past groups of poplars, rich pastures dotted with cattle, forest lands and villages set amidst blossoming orchards. Down below are the warm chocolate-red roofs of the little town that has shared with the chateau its good and evil fortunes. The church with its slender spire occupies the central position, and it dates from precisely the same years as those which witnessed the advent of the fortress above. The little streets of the town are full of quaint timber-framed houses, and it is not surprising that this is one of the spots by the beautiful banks of the Seine that has attained a name for its picturesqueness.
With scarcely any perceptible division Le Grand-Andely joins the smaller village. It stands higher in the valley and is chiefly memorable for its beautiful inn, the Hotel du Grand Cerf. It is opposite the richly ornamented stone-work of the church of Notre Dame and dates chiefly from the sixteenth century. The hall contains a great fireplace, richly ornamented with a renaissance frieze and a fine iron stove-back. The courtyard shows carved timbers and in front the elaborate moulding beneath the eaves is supported by carved brackets. Unlike that old hostelry at Dives which is mentioned in another chapter, this hotel is not over restored, although in the days of a past proprietor the house contained a great number of antiques and its fame attracted many distinguished visitors, including Sir Walter Scott and Victor Hugo.
In writing of the hotel I am likely to forget the splendid painted glass in the church, but details of the stories told in these beautiful works of the sixteenth century are given in all good guides.
There is a pleasant valley behind Les Andelys running up towards the great plateau that occupies such an enormous area of this portion of Normandy. The scenery as you go along the first part of the valley, through the little village of Harquency with its tiny Norman church, and cottages with thatched roofs all velvety with moss, is very charming. The country is entirely hedge-less, but as you look down upon the rather thirsty-looking valley below the road, the scenery savours much of Kent; the chalky fields, wooded uplands and big, picturesque farms suggesting some of the agricultural districts of the English county. When we join the broad and straight national road running towards Gisors we have reached the tableland just mentioned. There are perhaps, here and there, a group of stately elms, breaking the broad sweep of arable land that extends with no more undulations for many leagues than those of a sheet of old-fashioned glass. The horizon is formed by simply the same broad fields, vanishing in a thin, blue line over the rim of the earth.
[Illustration: THE FORTIFIED FARM NEAR GISORS]
At Les Thilliers, a small hamlet that, owing to situation at cross-roads figures conspicuously upon the milestones of the neighbourhood, the road to Gisors goes towards the east, and after crossing the valley of the Epte, you run down an easy gradient, passing a fine fortified farm-house with circular towers at each corner of its four sides and in a few minutes have turned into the historic old town of Gisors. It is as picturesque as any place in Normandy with the exception of Mont St Michel. The river Epte gliding slowly through its little canals at the sides of some of the streets, forms innumerable pictures when reflecting the quaint houses and gardens whose walls are generally grown over with creepers. Near the ascent to the castle is one of the washing places where the women let their soap suds float away on the translucent water as they scrub vigorously. They kneel upon a long wooden platform sheltered by a charming old roof supported upon a heavy timber framework that is a picture in itself.
If you stay at the Hotel de l’Ecu de France you are quite close to the castle that towers upon its hill right in the middle of the town. Most people who come to Gisors are surprised to find how historic is its castle, and how many have been the conflicts that have taken place around it. The position between Rouen and Paris and on the frontier of the Duchy gave it an importance in the days of the Norman kings that led to the erection of a most formidable stronghold. In the eleventh century, when William Rufus was on the throne of England, he made the place much stronger. Both Henry I. and Henry II. added to its fortifications so that Gisors became in time as formidable a castle as the Chateau Gaillard. During the Hundred Years’ War, Gisors, which is often spoken of as the key to Normandy, after fierce struggles had become French. Then again, a determined assault would leave the flag of England fluttering upon its ramparts until again the Frenchmen would contrive to make themselves masters of the place. And so these constant changes of ownership went on until at last about the year 1450, a date which we shall find associated with the fall of every English stronghold in Normandy, Gisors surrendered to Charles VII. and has remained French ever since.
The outer baileys are defended by some great towers of massive Norman masonry from which you look all over the town and surrounding country. But within the inner courtyard rises a great mound dominated by the keep which you may still climb by a solid stone staircase. From here the view is very much finer than from the other towers and its commanding position would seem to give the defenders splendid opportunities for tiring out any besieging force. The concierge of the castle, a genial old woman of gipsy-like appearance takes you down to the fearful dungeon beneath one of the great towers on the eastern side, known as the Tour des Prisonniers. Here you may see the carvings in the stone-work executed by some of the prisoners who had been cast into this black abyss. These carvings include representations of crucifixes, St Christopher, and many excellently conceived and patiently wrought figures of other saints.
We have already had a fine view of the splendid Renaissance exterior of the church which is dedicated to the Saints Gervais and Protais. The choir is the earliest part of the building. It belongs to the thirteenth century, while the nave and most of the remaining portions date from the fifteenth or sixteenth century. It is a building of intense architectural interest and to some extent rivals the castle in the attention it deserves.
Concerning Rouen, the Ancient Capital of Normandy
When whole volumes have been written on Rouen it would be idle to attempt even a fragment of its history in a book of this nature. But all who go to Rouen should know something of its story in order to be able to make the most of the antiquities that the great city still retains. How much we would give to have an opportunity for seeing the Rouen which has vanished, for to-day as we walk along the modern streets there is often nothing to remind us of the centuries crowded with momentous events that have taken place where now the electric cars sweep to and fro and do their best to make one forget the Rouen of mediaeval times.
Of course, no one goes to the city expecting to find ancient walls and towers, or a really strong flavour of the middle ages, any more than one expects to obtain such impressions in the city of London. Rouen, however, contains sufficient relics of its past to convey a powerful impression upon the minds of all who have strong imaginations. There is the cathedral which contains the work of many centuries; there is the beautiful and inspiring church of St Ouen; there is the archway of the Grosse Horloge; there is the crypt of the church of St Gervais, that dates from the dim fifth century; and there are still in the narrow streets between the cathedral and the quays along the river-side, many tall, overhanging houses, whose age appears in the sloping wall surfaces and in the ancient timbers that show themselves under the eaves and between the plaster-work.
Two of the most attractive views in Rouen are illustrated here. One of them shows the Portail de la Calende of the cathedral appearing at the end of a narrow street of antique, gabled houses, while overhead towers the stupendous fleche that forms the most prominent feature of Rouen. The other is the Grosse Horloge and if there had been space for a third it would have shown something of the interior of the church of St Ouen. The view of the city from the hill of Bon Secours forms another imposing feature, but I think that it hardly equals what we have already seen on the road from Caudebec.
When you come out of the railway station known as the _Rive Droite_ a short street leads up to one of the most important thoroughfares, the Rue Jeanne d’Arc. It is perfectly straight and contains nothing in it that is not perfectly modern, but at the highest point you may see a marble tablet affixed to a wall. It bears a representation in the form of a gilded outline of the castle towers as they stood in the time of the Maid of Orleans, and a short distance behind this wall, but approached from another street, there still remains the keep of Rouen’s historic castle. The circular tower contains the room which you may see to-day where Joan was brought before her judges and the instruments of torture by which the saintly maiden was to be frightened into giving careless answers to the questions with which she was plied by her clever judges. This stone vaulted room, although restored, is of thrilling interest to those who have studied the history of Joan of Arc, for, as we are told by Mr Theodore Cook in his “Story of Rouen,” these are the only walls which are known to have echoed with her voice.
Those who have made a careful study of the ancient houses in the older streets of Rouen have been successful in tracing other buildings associated with the period of Joan of Arc’s trial. The Rue St Romain, that narrow and not very salubrious thoroughfare that runs between the Rue de la Republique and the west front of the cathedral, has still some of the old canons’ lodgings where some of the men who judged Joan of Arc actually lived. Among them, was Canon Guillaume le Desert who outlived all his fellow judges. There is still to be seen the house where lived the architect who designed the palace for Henry V. near Mal s’y Frotte. Mr Cook mentions that he has discovered a record which states that the iron cage in which Joan of Arc was chained by her hands, feet and neck was seen by a workman in this very house.
In the quaint and narrow streets that are still existing near the Rue St Romain, many strange-looking houses have survived to the present day. They stand on the site of the earliest nucleus of the present city, and it is in this neighbourhood that one gets most in touch with the Rouen that has so nearly vanished.
In this interesting portion of the city you come across the marvellously rich Grosse Horloge already mentioned. A casual glance would give one the impression that the structure was no older than the seventeenth century, but the actual date of its building is 1529, and the clock itself dates from about 1389, and is as old as any in France. The dial you see to-day is brilliantly coloured and has a red centre while the elaborate decoration that covers nearly the whole surface of the walls is freely gilded, giving an exceedingly rich appearance. The two fourteenth century bells, one known as La Rouvel or the Silver Bell on account of the legend that silver coins were thrown into the mould when it was cast, and the other known as Cache-Ribaut, are still in the tower, La Rouvel being still rung for a quarter of an hour at nine o’clock in the evening. It is the ancient Curfew, and the Tower de la Grosse Horloge is nothing more than the historic belfry of Rouen, although one might imagine by the way it stands over the street on an elliptical arch, that it had formed one of the gates of the city.
At the foot of the belfry is one of those richly sculptured fountains that are to be seen in two or three places in the older streets. The carving is very much blackened with age, and the detail is not very easily discernible, but a close examination will show that the story of Arethusa, and Alpheus, the river-god, is portrayed. The fountain was given to Rouen by the Duke of Luxembourg early in the eighteenth century.
Adjoining the imposing Rue Jeanne d’Arc is the fine Gothic Palais de Justice, part of which was built by Louis XII. in the year 1499, the central portion being added by Leroux, sixteen years later. These great buildings were put up chiefly for the uses of the Echiquier–the supreme court of the Duchy at that time–but it was also to be used as an exchange for merchants who before this date had been in the habit of transacting much of their business in the cathedral. The historic hall where the Echiquier met is still to be seen. The carved oak of the roof has great gilded pendants that stand out against the blackness of the wood-work, and the Crucifixion presented by Louis XII. may be noticed among the portraits in the Chambre du Conseille.
The earliest portions of the great cathedral of Notre Dame date from the twelfth century, the north tower showing most palpably the transition from Norman work to the Early French style of Gothic. By the year 1255 when Louis IX. came to Rouen to spend Christmas, the choir, transepts and nave of the cathedral, almost as they may be seen to-day, had been completed. The chapel to St Mary did not make its appearance for some years, and the side _portails_ were only added in the fifteenth century. The elaborate work on the west front belongs to the century following, and although the ideas of modern architects have varied as to this portion of the cathedral, the consensus of opinion seems to agree that it is one of the most perfect examples of the flamboyant style so prevalent in the churches of Normandy. The detail of this masterpiece of the latest phase of Gothic architecture is almost bewildering, but the ornament in every place has a purpose, so that the whole mass of detail has a reposeful dignity which can only have been retained by the most consummate skill. The canopied niches are in many instances vacant, but there are still rows of saints in the long lines of recesses. The rose window is a most perfect piece of work; it is filled with painted glass in which strong blues and crimsons are predominant. Above the central tower known as the Tour de Pierre, that was built partially in the thirteenth century, there rises the astonishing iron spire that is one of the highest in the world. Its weight is enormous despite the fact that it is merely an open framework. The architect of this masterly piece of work whose name was Alavoine seems to have devoted himself with the same intensity as Barry, to whom we owe the Royal Courts of Justice in London, for he worked upon it from 1823, the year following the destruction of the wooden spire by lightning, until 1834, the year of his death. The spire, however, which was commenced almost immediately after the loss of the old one, remained incomplete for over forty years and it was not entirely finished until 1876. The flight of eight hundred and twelve steps that is perfectly safe for any one with steady nerves goes right up inside the spire until, as you look out between the iron framework, Rouen lies beneath your feet, a confused mass of detail cut through by the silver river.
The tower of St Romain is on the north side of the cathedral. It was finished towards the end of the fifteenth century, but the lower portion is of very much earlier date for it is the only portion of the cathedral that was standing when Richard I. on his way to the Holy Land knelt before Archbishop Gautier to receive the sword and banner which he carried with him to the Crusade.
The Tour de Beurre is on the southern side–its name being originated in connection with those of the faithful who during certain Lents paid for indulgences in order to be allowed to eat butter. It was commenced in 1485, and took twenty-two years to complete. In this great tower there used to hang a famous bell. It was called the Georges d’Amboise after the great Cardinal to whom Rouen owes so much, not only as builder of the tower and the facade, but also as the originator of sanitary reforms and a thousand other benefits for which the city had reason to be grateful. The great bell was no less than 30 feet in circumference, its weight being 36,000 lbs. The man who succeeded in casting it, whose name was Jean Le Machon, seems to have been so overwhelmed at his success that scarcely a month later he died. At last when Louis XVI. came to Rouen, they rang Georges d’Amboise so loudly that a crack appeared, and a few years later, during the Revolution, Le Machon’s masterpiece was melted down for cannon.
Inside the cathedral there are, besides the glories of the splendid Gothic architecture, the tombs of Henry Plantagenet, the eldest son of Henry II., and Richard I. There are also the beautifully carved miserere seats in the choir which are of particular interest in the way they illustrate many details of daily life in the fifteenth century. The stone figure representing Richard Coeur de Lion lies outside the railings of the sanctuary. The heart of the king which has long since fallen into dust is contained in a casket that is enclosed in the stone beneath the effigy. The figure of Henry Plantagenet is not the original–you may see that in the museum, which contains so many fascinating objects that are associated with the early history of Rouen. The splendid sixteenth century monument of the two Cardinals d’Amboise is to be seen in the Chapelle de la Sainte Vierge. The kneeling figures in the canopied recess represent the two Cardinals–that on the right, which is said to be a very good portrait, represents the famous man who added so much to the cathedral–the one on the left shows his nephew, the second Cardinal Georges d’Amboise. In the middle of the recess there is a fine sculpture showing St George and the Dragon, and most of the other surfaces of the tomb are composed of richly ornamented niches, containing statuettes of saints, bishops, the Virgin and Child, and the twelve Apostles. Another remarkable tomb is that of Louis de Breze, considered to be one of the finest specimens of Renaissance work. It is built in two storeys–the upper one showing a thrilling representation of the knight in complete armour and mounted upon his war-horse, but upon the sarcophagus below he is shown with terrible reality as a naked corpse. The sculptor was possibly Jean Goujon, whose name is sometimes associated with the monument to the two Cardinals, which is of an earlier date.
The tomb of Rollo, the founder of the Duchy of Normandy, and the first of the Normans to embrace the Christian religion, lies in a chapel adjoining the south transept. The effigy belongs to the fourteenth century, but the marble tablet gives an inscription which may be translated as follows: “Here lies Rollo, the first Duke and founder and father of Normandy, of which he was at first the terror and scourge, but afterwards the restorer. Baptised in 912 by Francon, Archbishop of Rouen, and died in 917. His remains were at first deposited in the ancient sanctuary, at present the upper end of the nave. The altar having been removed, the remains of the prince were placed here by the blessed Maurille, Archbishop of Rouen in the year 1063.” The effigy of William Longsword, Rollo’s son, is in another chapel of the nave, that adjoining the north transept. His effigy, like that of his father, dates from the fourteenth century. It is in surroundings of this character that we are brought most in touch with the Rouen of our imaginations.
We have already in a preceding chapter seen something of the interior of the church of St Ouen, which to many is more inspiring than the cathedral. The original church belonged to the Abbey of St Ouen, established in the reign of Clothaire I. When the Northmen came sailing up the river, laying waste to everything within their reach, the place was destroyed, but after Rollo’s conversion to Christianity the abbey was renovated, and in 1046 a new church was commenced, which having taken about eighty years to complete was almost immediately burnt down. Another fire having taken place a century later, Jean Roussel, who was Abbot in 1318, commenced this present building. It was an enormous work to undertake but yet within twenty-one years the choirs and transepts were almost entirely completed. This great Abbot was buried in the Mary chapel behind the High Altar. On the tomb he is called Marc d’Argent and the date of his death is given as December 7, 1339. After this the building of the church went on all through the century. The man who was master mason in this period was Alexandre Barneval, but he seems to have become jealous of an apprentice who built the rose window that is still such a splendid feature of the north transept, for in a moment of passion he killed the apprentice and for this crime was sentenced to death in the year 1440. St Ouen was completed in the sixteenth century, but the west front as it appears to-day has two spires which made their appearance in recent times. The exterior, however, is not the chief charm of St Ouen; it is the magnificent interior, so huge and yet so inspiring, that so completely satisfies one’s ideas of proportion. Wherever you stand, the vistas of arches, all dark and gloomy, relieved here and there by a blaze of coloured glass, are so splendid that you cannot easily imagine anything finer. A notable feature of the aisles is the enormous space of glass covering the outer walls, so that the framework of the windows seems scarcely adequate to support the vaulted roof above. The central tower is supported by magnificent clustered piers of dark and swarthy masonry, and the views of these from the transepts or from the aisles of the nave make some of the finest pictures that are to be obtained in this masterpiece of Gothic architecture. The tower that rises from the north transept belongs, it is believed, to the twelfth century church that was burnt. On the western front it is interesting to find statues of William the Conqueror, Henry II. and Richard Coeur de Lion among other dukes of Normandy, and the most famous Archbishops of Rouen.
Besides the cathedral and St Ouen there is the splendid church of St Maclou. Its western front suddenly appears, filling a gap in the blocks of modern shops on the right hand side as you go up the Rue de la Republic. The richness of the mass of carved stone-work arrests your attention, for after having seen the magnificent facade of the cathedral you would think the city could boast nothing else of such extraordinary splendour. The name Maclou comes from Scotland, for it was a member of this clan, who, having fled to Brittany, became Bishop of Aleth and died in 561. Since the tenth century a shrine to his memory had been placed outside the walls of Rouen. The present building was designed by Pierre Robin and it dates from between 1437 and 1520, but the present spire is modern, having replaced the old one about the time of the Revolution. The richly carved doors of the west front are the work of Jean Goujon. The organ loft rests on two columns of black marble, which are also his work; but although the dim interior is full of interest and its rose windows blaze with fifteenth century glass, it is the west front and carved doors that are the most memorable features of the building.
In the Place du Marche Vieux you may see the actual spot where Joan of Arc was burnt, a stone on the ground bearing the words “Jeanne Darc, 30 Mai, 1431.” To all who have really studied the life, the trial and the death of the Maid of Orleans–and surely no one should visit Rouen without such knowledge–this is the most sacred spot in the city, for as we stand here we can almost hear her words addressed to Cauchon, “It is you who have brought me to this death.” We can see her confessor holding aloft the cross and we seem to hear her breathe the Redeemer’s name before she expires.
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 Rouen.
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 England.
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 Michel.
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 Evreux.
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 Dives.
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.
[Illustration: A SEVENTEENTH CENTURY HOUSE AT ARGENTAN]
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 England.
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 foliage.
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 £100 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.
[Illustration: THE OLD MARKET HOUSE AT ECOUCHE]
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.
[Illustration: ONE OF THE TOWERS IN THE WALLS OF DOMFRONT]
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 Normandy.
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