We traveled from Bayeux to Paris for our last adventures in Europe. We took a bus tour of some of the major monuments on Saturday morning, with a stop to see the extensive stained-glass window collection at Sainte-Chapelle. Please excuse the reflections in some of the photos of the city, as they had to be taken through the bus window. Some SNC alums happened to be in Paris at the same time, so it was fun to have them join us on this portion of our tour. We then had some free time to explore Paris prior to our farewell dinner cruise on the Seine River. It was an evening filled with conversation and laughter, and the perfect way to end our trip. Thank you for following along on our journey!
Happy 4th of July! What a fitting day to visit Pointe du Hoc, Utah Beach, Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.
Pointe du Hoc
Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
And a little fun along the way …
Many hours were spent on the bus today as we headed to Normandy, with a glamorous service station lunch break (it actually was pretty delicious). After a quick check-in at the hotel, we drove to Mondaye Abbey. Founded in 1210, it’s the only Norbertine Abbey still active in Normandy. In the 1500s, the abbey burned, its treasures were dispersed, and the abbot was killed. Total reconstruction of the abbey was undertaken in the 1700s, but was never finished, as shown below. During the French Revolution, 17 Norbertines from Mondaye were expelled or imprisoned and all 92 Norbertine abbeys in France were closed. In 1859, the bishop of Bayeux gave Mondaye Abbey to Norbertines from Grimbergen Abbey in Belgium, and once again community life flourished at Mondaye, but only for a short time. The Norbertines were forced from the abbey a few times between 1880 and 1921. The Allied landings during WWII subjected the abbey to many days of bombing, and although the buildings have been repaired, you can still see evidence of the bombings on the abbey walls. Today, all of the abbey is their property except the church, which is the property of the village. They run a busy guest center on-site – we weren’t able to stay here because all the rooms were booked. Of the approximately 47 members of this Norbertine community, 27 live here at the abbey.
The medieval area of Laon was built on the top of a flat plateau. It has the largest number of historical buildings per square meter in France. Notre Dame is the third cathedral to be built on this site. Because it was safe high up on the plateau, many people wanted to live here, and the city had a lot of money. When the architecture of the previous cathedral went out of style, they simply tore it down and built this one in the early Gothic style around 1150. In 1854, the nave started to detach from the facade, so they had to detach all the stones, fill in support, and then reattach each stone. This is the only church in the region that wasn’t damaged by bombs in the World Wars. They’re hard to see in the photos, but there are 16 life-size oxen sculptures at the top of the towers, most likely because oxen were used to carry stone up the hill.
The rose windows are possible because the ends of the church are flat. While the church wasn’t damaged in the wars, there was at one point an explosion that blew out the windows, and the stained glass windows in the photos above were repaired. The rest of the windows along the walls were replaced with lighter stained glass, which is why the church is so bright inside. A unique feature of this cathedral is its four levels of elevation. Flying buttresses were mastered later, which allowed cathedrals built in that style to achieve great height with only three levels of elevation.
Today we left Belgium, and spent the morning driving to our hotel in Chamouille, France, just outside Laon. We enjoyed lunch at the hotel’s restaurant overlooking a lake, and then boarded the bus bound for Prémontré. Norbertine scholar Martine Plouvier was our guide, with Rose Condette translating. Norbert was an itinerant preacher, but the bishop said he needed to settle in a location. Prémontré had been owned by the Benedictines, but they deserted the place, and Norbert chose that site. The altar of the first chapel Norbert had constructed using masons from France and Cologne cracked in half, so everything was torn down and a new chapel was built and dedicated around Christmas. Prémontré was a large abbey with many buildings, but much of it was destroyed during the French Revolution. The wall around the property had four entrances, to welcome people from all directions of the world. The buildings that remain intact are from the 17th and 18th centuries, although many were again damaged in WWI and had to be restored. Most of the property is now a psychiatric hospital.