A Homage to Cathedrals
I love old cathedrals. They are miracles, truly. Take a king or prince with his coffers bursting. Plant an idea in his head. Add to it a few power hungry men wearing ecclesiastical robes, then find other men of deep faith of or outside of the church. Men who can make things happen. Find an architect of extraordinary vision, who can envelop space and light to form poetry in stone. Then find artisans whose fingers make love to the stone, marble, wood or other material they work with and give birth to what was once but an idea. Add to it sculptors, painters, stained glass makers and other artists who gild and burnish this jewel. Bring in the faithful who leave the whispers of their souls clinging to the walls around them. Then leave this jewel in the open. Let centuries pass. Let nature and disasters – natural and man made – temper this jewel. Let its ownership pass from hand to hand, some loving, some not so loving. And somehow let it survive so that one day I…you..can stand craning your neck to see the light playing hide and seek through the lace of the spires and gasp. A miracle. I do so love cathedrals.
I have already seen some wonderful Gothic cathedrals in France..Chartres, Strasbourg, Paris, Bourges come to mind. When my dear man says ‘wherever you want as long as there is a road trip’ when I ask the question, I know exactly where all I want to go.
They advertise themselves as the town of 10 churches, so of course I choose this as the first stop in our itinerary. We reach by noon, thanks to a reasonably early start. After stopping at the tourist office to furnish ourselves with maps and audio-guides, we stop for lunch and set upon our walking tour. Its a charming town, a bit quiet on this Easter Friday. The audio-guide drones on a bit and soon I am not paying much attention to it. So like myself, just look at a few of the treasures of Troyes.
The incredibly beautiful rood screen at St. Madeleine’s, a 12th century church. Beautiful half-timbered houses.
A spacious town square. Hotel de Ville on far end left of the square.
A covered market with lots of fresh food. The cheese counters were incredible.
Canal ordered to be made by Napoléon. Museum on left. The Préfecuture at far end right of canal.
Beautiful stained glass windows in the cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul de Troyes). A crêperie which serves a delicious chocolate, nut and cream concoction:)
The 13th century cathedral is famous as the site of coronation of the kings of France. Being in Champagne country, its commercial importance is closely linked to the bubbly. We reach there in the evening and after having settled down in our hotel, we stroll down to check out the city.
The Cathedral (Notre-Dame de Reims) is easy to find, just a 5 min walk away. It looms magnificently under the night sky. After asking a couple of passer-byes as to the best place to find some food, we head to the Place Drouet d’Erlon which is large square lined with many restaurants on either side. We have some delicious wine with our dinner and are sorry later to not have noted down the name.
The next morning, we head to the tourist office and buy a city card which includes an audio tour to the cathedral, the museums and a champagne cellars tour.
The cathedral is indeed magnificent !! I am enchanted by the choir which is practising, young voices merging with the deep baritones of men to weave magic in the air. I sit quietly and listen for a while, enjoying the music and imagining all the voices which have sung Hallelujah! over the centuries in this very place.
Stained glass windows by Marc Chagall, a symphony in blue. And many other more traditional but equally beautiful windows. We notice with interest that almost all the cathedrals we visit are undergoing renovation.
We spend a long time in the cathedral and then visit the art museum which has a good collection. There is a special exhibition of Fujita, a Japanese artist who painted extensively in France. We later go and visit the chapel he built and decorated, its very beautiful.
After a short lunch break we head out to the Champagne cellars of Mumm, one of the oldest and biggest houses here. Mumm sponsors Formula 1 racing too and you see their champagne splashed around the podium after every race. The tour is interesting and they take us down to the cellars where the champagne is being stored and aged. I think they said that they had 25 kms of cellars!! At the end we get to taste some of their champagne as well 🙂
We don’t do justice to this city. Though the tourist office had told us that Mumm’s cellars weren’t far from the centre, its a fair walk and we have been on our feet since morning. We decide to call it a day and have a little rest time at the hotel before having a leisurely dinner.
The next morning, we stop at Laon on the way to Amiens. One of the oldest Gothic cathedrals (Notre-Dame de Laon) looms over the countryside, its hilltop position adding to its presence. I am keen to see the famous stained glass windows but the cathedral is closed to tourists when we reach it. I take a few pictures outside, a little saddened to have missed seeing it.
We make good time to Amiens and find the tourist office right next to the cathedral (Notre-Dame d’Amiens), the tallest Gothic church and the largest in France. We collect an audio-guide and get ourselves a meal in a beautiful little brasserie nearby before seeing the cathedral.
Inside, the cathedral is magnificent. The lines are clean and uncluttered, the sheer size is enough to give a sense of awe.
As always, the stained glass windows attract me. Unfortunately, much of the medieval stained glass has not survived. The above are some of the oldest in the cathedral.
We then wander through the charming St Leu area where the woad pigment makers used to live in medieval times. Woad is a plant from which a blue dye is made on which Amiens prospered. The cathedral was no doubt built with woad money.
I had hoped to take a boat trip to see the famous ‘hortillonnages’ or floating gardens but the weather was so miserable that we abandon the idea. Leaving that for another trip, we wander in the extensive gardens adjoining the St Leu area.
We arrive in Rouen in the evening and after a few tense minutes of getting the car into the really narrow underground parking at our hotel, we check in. The location cannot be bettered, it is just a couple of steps from the cathedral!!
We walk out of to the cathedral (Notre-Dame de Rouen) and there it is, as ethereal as in the paintings of Monet. How beautifully he managed to capture its strange mixture of solidity and fragility!! The city is alive and throbbing, full of tourists and locals at every corner. We have a nice relaxed dinner enjoying the ambience of the place.
Next morning, its back to an audio-guided walking tour. As the cathedral is closed in the morning, we leave it for the end. The first stop is St Maclou, a Gothic church built in 1200. It is set in a beautiful square full of half-timbered houses. Nearby, we visit the Aitre-St Maclou, an ossuary for plague victims in 1348.
I have a real liking for half-timbered houses, the patterns, the colours, even their crookedness (many lean at dangerous angles!!) please me. The streets look like a lovely geometric abstract artwork !!
Our tour takes us to the Abbatial St-Ouen. Again I’m a bit disappointed as the cathedral is closed but we still admire the beautiful abbey and its gardens.
We then visit the Museum of Fine Arts established by Napoléon and its indeed a treat. The Caravaggio on display and one of Monet’s Rouen cathedral has made the trip worthwhile for me but there are many more treasures to enjoy. Strongly recommended to fellow art lovers.
The Gothic Parlement de Normandie, which houses the Palais de Justice, is an incredibly beautiful building.
The Place de Vieux-Marché is where Joan of Arc was burnt on the stake on the 30th of May, 1431. There is a modern cathedral at this spot, not very interesting from the outside. However, once inside, we are charmed by the old Renaissance stained glass windows. We then wander to see the Gros Horlogea 16th century edifice with a 14th century clock.
At last to the cathedral ! Another gem..as always my neck is craned, taking in the windows, the arches, the decorations, the light through the windows, the fluidity of the pillars..Oh, how I love cathedrals!! After this, we wander down to the river and very soon we are too tired to think of anything else but dinner and bed.
Last day. After having visited the Rouen cathedral which Monet painted with such expertise, it is a logical link to go visit his home and gardens.
I am excited to see the the little bridge, the trees…they all are familiar from his many paintings. There aren’t any water lilies growing at this time of the year but I still enjoy my visit.
From Giverny, we head to Fontainebleu, passing very close to Paris. We both love Paris and it seems wrong to go past without visiting. We promise to soon give ourselves a weekend in Paris.
I had hoped to visit the chateau but I am terribly disappointed to learn that it is closed on Tuesdays. How maddening!! But its not far from Paris so we can include this in one of our future trips, or so I console myself. After lunch, we head home a bit tired but on the whole, quite content with our trip.