An Abbey Church in Caen

abbey church in Caen

The abbey church of Saint-Étienne is part of the Abbaye aux Hommes (the Men’s Abbey). The abbey is a former Benedictine monastery in Caen in Normandy and dedicated to Saint Stephen. It was founded in 1063 by William the Conqueror and has one of the largest Romanesque churches in France.

abbey church in Caen

Building the Abbey Church

Having founded the abbey in 1063, building began in 1065/1066. It was almost complete in 1077 and therefore was consecrated that year on 13th September in William’s presence. Only the last two bays of the nave and the West façade with its two towers were still to be built. These additional features were completed in 1090.

William chose Caen as he wanted to make the town the capital of the Duchy of Normandy. The building work was rapid due to funding received following the Battle of Hastings as well as readily available materials such as Caen stone and wood.

The size of the church is incredible and it has the grandeur of a cathedral. It measures 110 meters long and over 42 meters wide at the transept. The North tower is the tallest at 82 meters.

abbey church in Caen

Architectural Style and History

The Romanesque nave dates from the 11th and 13th centuries. An important ribbed vault featured was added in about 1120, and was the first time it had been used in France. This abbey, together with the nearby Abbaye Aux Dames, is considered to be a forerunner of the Gothic style. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The choir was rebuilt in the thirteenth century in a Gothic style.

Architectural details of note include the galleries on the first and second levels: the Halbout Chapel; the clock in the North transept gallery installed in 1744; the grand organ made in 1744; the lantern tower; and the rail surrounding the choir.

Caen abbey church

The high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed during the Wars of Religion and was never rebuilt. During the French Revolution the abbey church became a parish church.

From 1804 to 1961 the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church. The Allies were made aware of this and a red cross made from a sheet was place of the rooftop. This showed that it was a hospital and a safe haven. As a result the abbey church was not not destroyed during the bombings which took place in July 1944. The nearby church of Saint-Étienne-le-Vieux was damaged and remains in its ruined state today.

Caen abbey West facade
Caen abbey West facade

The Tomb of William the Conqueror

William’s wife Matilda died in 1083 and was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames in Caen. In 1087 William died in Rouen and his body was sent to Caen to be buried in the abbey church as he had requested. When William commissioned the abbey church to be built, he had already decided that it was to be his mausoleum.

The tomb has been disturbed several times since 1087. The first time in 1522 when the grave was opened by envoys from Rome. In 1562, during the French Wars of Religion, the grave was again opened. William’s bones were scattered and lost, with the exception of one thigh bone. This single relic was reburied in 1642. A further destruction of the tomb happened during the French Revolution. The current white marble marker replaced it in the early 19th century. You can see the marble stone in the choir today. It is inscribed in Latin with the words ‘Here is buried the invincible William the Conqueror, King of England and Duke of Normandy; founder of this house, who died in the year 1087.’

Tomb of William the Conqueror

The Abbey

After a series of disasters, the monks of Saint Maur took over the abbey in the late 17th century and decided to rebuild all of the abbey buildings. The Abbaye-aux-Hommes became the City Hall (Le Mairie) in 1963. You can take a paid tour of this 18th-century building. For more information about tours of the abbey visit this site.

Saint Etienne church

Practical Information

The abbey church in Caen is on Esplanade Jean-Marie Louvel. You can also access it via rue Guillaume le Conquérant – a small side street leads to the small entrance door. Entry to the abbey church in Caen is free. You can visit Monday to Friday from 9am – 6.30pm, Saturdays from 9am – 6pm and on sundays from 2 – 6.30pm.

Information about more Normandy abbeys is here.

See the video below for a view of the interior of the abbey church.

 

We spent 3 weeks creating the best online guide to Normandy on the web. It includes everything from a bucket list, must see attractions to the best places to eat and drink.

It covers Mont St Michel, Monet’s garden, the D Day beaches, wine tours and much more. .

It’s packed with our personal recommendations, maps and videos.

CLICK HERE FOR OUR THINGS TO DO IN NORMANDY GUIDE

Normandy Photos

Normandy photography

Today is World Photography Day (19th August 2019) so it’s the perfect opportunity to share some of my Normandy photos with you. These are all photos I’ve taken recently in Normandy.

Normandy photography

This shot was taken on an August evening in Arromanches. It is part of a sculpture created to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. The soldiers landing on the beaches had to wade through the water with their rifles held aloft. I first visited the garden in July and you can read about my visit here.

Normandy photography

This powerful piece of art sits outside the Mémorial de Caen museum.

Saint-Étienne-le-Vieux church

A different view of Caen is the ruined church of Saint-Étienne-Le-Vieux. The original church was built in the 10th century and was damaged by the English during a siege in the city in 1346 and 1417. It was rebuilt and a lantern tower was added. However, artillery fire from retreating German troops destroyed much of the nave in July 1944. It has remained in its ruined stage to represent the damage to Caen’s heritage during the conflict.

Gavray market

A photo of produce at my local market. It’s held on a Saturday and so I don’t often get to go as I have gite guests departing and arriving on Saturdays. This photo was taken on the middle Saturday of a two week reservation.

Normandy bookshop

A cute little bookshop I passed in Caen.
Granville blockhouse

My favourite building in Granville. It’s a private house built into the ramparts of the old town and dates from the early 20th century. The turrets are a Normandy architectural feature. I almost always take a photo of this house when I go to Granville.Saint James cemetery

This chapel is in Saint-James on the border of Normandy and Brittany. It’s called the Brittany American Cemetery as there’s already a Normandy American Cemetery near Omaha beach. I attended a ceremony here on 6th June to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day. It was amazing to be a part of such an important day for Normandy.

Caen

This photo is of the Abbaye Aux Hommes in Caen. The section to the left is now the very grand town hall. The abbey church in the centre of the photo is where William the Conqueror was laid to rest in 1087. The abbey was founded by William and is one of the largest Romaneque churches in France. It’s free to visit.

abbot's house at Longues sur Mer

My final Normandy photo is of the abbey at Longues-sur-Mer in Calvados. I spent a very pleasant time wandering round learning about the history of the various abbey buildings and the restoration that has taken place.

For more information about World Photography Day visit this website. #WorldPhotographyDay #WorldPhotoDay

The Norman Rockwell Exhibition in Normandy

Rockwell's The Problem We All Live With

 

The Norman Rockwell exhibition is currently on in Caen. It’s one of the temporary exhibitions at the Mémorial de Caen museum and runs until 27 October.

Rockwell exhibition

The Exhibition

It’s called ‘Rockwell, Roosevelt and the Four Freedoms’ and is part of the commemorations for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The Rockwell exhibition has toured the USA but the Caen exhibition is the only opportunity to see it in Europe. Interestingly, this is the first time the Four Freedoms paintings have left the States.

Four Freedoms by Norman Rockwell

As well as the Four Freedoms paintings, others paintings are on display including his most famous piece of artwork ‘The Problem We All Live With’. His attention to detail is remarkable and at times you think you’re looking at a photo rather than a painting.

Norman Rockwell exhibition

 

Rockwell's The Problem We All Live With

Practical information

The address of the Mémorial de Caen is:
Esplanade Général Eisenhower
CS 55026
14050 Caen Cedex 4

It’s located just 5 minutes by car from juntion 7 of the A84.

During August and September the exhition is open from 9am – 7pm. In October it’s open from 9.30am to 6pm.

Entry to the exhibition is 10€ and you can purchase your ticket in advance. For information about ticketing and the exhibition, visit the website.

There’s free parking right outside the museum. There are rest rooms once you go into the museum. There’s a separate entrance for the Norman Rockwell exhibition which is to the right of the main entrance. You can download an app that explains about the exhibition. There are signs in French and English describing each painting. The exhibition is spread over two floors.

Freedom of Worship by Norman Rockwell
Freedom of Worship by Norman Rockwell

You can watch Franklin D Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech below.

If you want to visit the main museum, you can buy a combined ticket. However, do allow plenty of time as there’s a lot to see. You can read more information about visiting the Mémorial de Caen here.

 

 

Bayeux Liberty Tree in Normandy

Bayeux liberty tree

The Bayeux Liberty Tree is a sound and light show that takes place every July and August. Visitors flock to Place de la Liberté as dusk falls to enjoy the evening spectacle.

Bayeux liberty tree

This year the son et lumière display is being shown on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings. Place de la Liberté is right next to the cathedral making it very easy to find as the cathedral dominates the skyline. The cathedral is also lit up while the show is on meaning that there’s plenty to occupy spectators.

Bayeux son et lumière Bayeux sound and light show

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 360 degree film is projected onto the trunk of a large tree planted in 1797. It replaced a number of smaller trees and was planted during the time of the French Revolution. It is known as l’arbre de la liberté.

 

Bayeux liberty tree Bayeux's liberty tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are 10 stories about different aspects of freedom and liberty. It includes reference to Martin Luther King, Ghandi and World War II. Although the film is in French the music, images and colours appeal to young and old of all nationalities.

 

Bayeux's liberty tree liberty tree in Bayeux

 

 

The event is held in the open air in a cobbled courtyard There’s no seating although you may be able to perch on a low stone wall or some steps. Typically the first people to arrive tend to gravitate towards the spots closest to the buildings. However, gradually the space fills up as more and more people arrive. Young children tend to sit at the front near the base of the tree as they’re mesmerised by the colours.

Bayeux cathedral

You can read more information here. The show is free and plays continually until 12.30am in July and midnight in August. The film lasts for around 40 minutes and changes each year.

The Cathedral and The Tapestry

This year the cathedral is open until 10.30pm and entry is also free. The cathedral was consecrated in 1077 and is magnificent. It was completed in the 19th century. You can read more about the cathedral here.  The cathedral was originally home to the Bayeux Tapestry. It is now located a short distance away in the tapestry museum.

The cathedral at Bayeux
The illuminated cathedral at dusk

For more information about the tapestry, read about my visit. You can also take a look at the video below of the 2018 Bayeux sound and light show. You have until 31st August to see it this year.

 

We spent 3 weeks creating the best online guide to Normandy on the web. It includes everything from a bucket list, must see attractions to the best places to eat and drink.

It covers Mont St Michel, Monet’s garden, the D Day beaches, wine tours and much more. .

It’s packed with our personal recommendations, maps and videos.

CLICK HERE FOR OUR THINGS TO DO IN NORMANDY GUIDE

An Art Gallery in Gavray, Normandy

art gallery in Gavray

Galerie Sur Le Pont is a recently established art gallery in Gavray in Normandy. There are two rooms dedicated to the gallery where you can browse and purchase artwork from local artists. There’s a wide range of styles and techniques on display and entry to the gallery is free.

art gallery in Gavray

You can also take art classes here too. English and French is spoken and all levels are catered for. On a Wednesday morning, there’s a life drawing class from 10am – 12.30pm. The Wednesday afternoon class is painting including watercolours, oils and acrylics. It runs from 2 – 5pm. Each session costs 8€ and you can pay as you go. Alternatively, there’s the option to pay for 4 classes which costs 30€.

art classes in Gavray

The gallery is open from Tuesday to Saturday inclusive. Galerie Sur Le Pont is at 9 rue de la Liberation in Gavray and is above the Cadeau Craft shop. The shop also sells art supplies as well as other crafting materials.

Gavray art gallery art in Gavray

 

If you fancy exploring your creative side, then this is the ideal opportunity. Pop along to the art gallery in Gavray and try out one of the art classes or admire other artists’ work.

Normandy Liberation Celebrations

Normandy liberation celebrations

A range of events will be taking place from 31 July to 4 August as part of Normandy liberation celebrations.

Operation Cobra

The events will focus on the areas around Granville and Julloville which were both liberated on 31st July 1944.

Normandy liberation celebrations

Operation Cobra

Operation Cobra was the codename for an offensive launched by the First United States Army. The main activity took place from 25th – 28th July which was seven weeks after the D-Day landings. The aim was to attack while German troops were occupied in defending Caen. A huge, yet concentrated, aerial bombardment took place by Allied aircraft. As a result, German resistance collapsed and the offensive secured a victory in the Battle of Normandy.

Allied aircraft Allied aircraft

Event Highlights

Breville-sur-Mer – a reconstruction of an Allied military airbase Champeaux – a US military camp reconstruction
Granville – liberation parade, visits to the blockhouses and military camp at Pointe du Roc
Jullouville – International Airshow
Saint Pair-sur-Mer – Piper aircraft landing on the beach

Operation Cobra Normandy liberation celebrations

The liberation celebrations will end on Sunday 4th August with an airshow along the Granville to Julloville beaches. At least 40 planes and helicopters will take part. La Patrouille de France (the French equivalent of the Red Arrows) will also particpate. The timings are from 2 – 5pm. There will also be a static display of 350 vehicles from 10am to 5pm. At 5pm the vehicles will start the parade circuit. There will be parking restrictions and details of the route is on this website. There’s also additional information in English about the events here.

Normandy reconstruction camp Normandy reconstruction camp Granville blockhouse

This is a wonderful opportunity to be a part of the Normandy liberation celebrations.

The Colourful Gavray Market in Normandy

Gavray market

The Gavray market happens every Saturday morning from around 8.30am – 1pm. It’s not a huge market but is very much a focal point for residents. It’s a great event for visitors to really experience rural village life.

Gavray market Normandy market

The majority of stalls are in the square near to the church. They are predominantly fruit and vegetable stalls offering a wide range of produce. They try and keep the food miles down by growing themselves or supporting local producers when possible. There’s also very little plastic used so it’s very environmentally friendly. You take along your own shopping bag or basket to transport your purchases.

Gavray market French market produce

I took all these photos yesterday (20th July). At this time of year the Gavray market is bursting with colour. Cherries, apricots, melons, nectarines and peaches are all in season. Tomatoes, avocados, celery and lettuce are great salad ingredients. The tomatoes really are flavoursome.

market produce summer market in Normandy

There are also a couple of fish and seafood stalls and a cheese van. Sometimes you can buy plants, honey and cider from time to time. A coupe of food trucks grill sausages which are served in a baguette or with french fries.

French cherries summer fruits at the market in Gavray

The shops, bars and restaurants are also open so it’s very sociable event. A couple of the bars are opposite the market stalls so you can people watch while you enjoy a drink.

There’s a smaller Gavray market held on Wednesday mornings near La Place du Champ de Foire. You can buy fruit and vegetables here. Find out when Normandy market days are here.

 

Normandy’s Arromanches D Day Garden

D-Day sculpture

The recently installed Arromanches D Day garden pays tribute to the veterans of the Battle of Normandy. The garden is known as D-Day 75 Garden and was first exhibited at the RHS Chelsea Garden Show in May 2019.

D Day 75th anniversary

It was officially opened at its new permanent site in Arromanches on the 75th anniversary of D-Day. It now overlooks Mulberry Harbour and Gold Beach, which is one of the five D-Day landing beaches.

Arromanches D Day garden

 

Bill Pendell was chosen to represent the veterans although sadly he passed away aged 97 in December 2018. In 1944 Bill landed on Gold Beach aged 22. With his family’s blessing, two sculptures of him have been included in the garden.

Arromanches D Day garden

At the entrance to the garden, Bill sits on a stone plinth wearing his medals and beret. He looks across at another sculpture of his younger self about to land on D-Day. Four further sculptures of soldiers show them wading through the waves as they navigate the obstacles on Gold Beach.

Arromanches

D-Day sculpture

 

The sculpture of 97 year old Bill is carved from a single block of Millstone Grit. And the young soldiers opposite are constructed from thousands of individually welded metal washers.

Arromanches D Day 75 garden

75 years separates these two scenes. Visitors are invited to consider how it must have felt for veterans to reflect on the intense experiences they endured on D-Day and the days that followed.

D Day 75 garden

The photos probably don’t do it justice. It is hauntingly beautiful. There’s a fluidity to the sculptures of the young soldiers as if they’re there but not there. I found it incredibly emotive.

D Day

The Arromanches D Day garden was designed by John Everiss and in the video below you can learn more about how the sculptures were made. Also there’s more information about the project on the D-Day Revisited website.

Where To Find The Garden

It’s right next to the 360 Circular Museum in Arromanches. You can access it via rue Calvaire. There is paid parking next to the museum or you can park in the town and walk up the hill to the cliff top.

We spent 3 weeks creating the best online guide to Normandy on the web. It includes everything from a bucket list, must see attractions to the best places to eat and drink.

It covers Mont St Michel, Monet’s garden, the D Day beaches, wine tours and much more. .

It’s packed with our personal recommendations, maps and videos.

CLICK HERE FOR OUR THINGS TO DO IN NORMANDY GUIDE

A Garden In Coutances With A Difference

Garden in Coutances

The public garden in Coutances is just that little bit different. It’s one of Normandy’s oldest public gardens having been created in 1855. It’s also a mix of French and English styles. What really sets it apart from other gardens is the mosaiculture style used in the planting. This horticultural art creates topiary-like structures using bedding plants on wire frames.

Coutances garden

 

The theme changes a few times each year and new works of art are created. The current theme is French expressions.

Coutances garden

There are two panels showing the French expressions represented in the garden in Coutances.

Garden in Coutances

There are a couple of expressions relating to fruit. The middle one in the photo above shows a pear being cut in half. The French expression is ‘couper la poire en deux’. The English translation is to split the difference.

 

‘Avoir la banane’ means to be smiling.

Coutances garden

 

The centrepiece is a peacock. This represent the phrase as proud as a peacock.

Garden in Coutances

 

My personal favourite is the expression ‘while the cat’s away, the mice will play’. Although in French they dance.

Garden in Coutances

So, for some great fun improving your French do pay a visit to the garden in Coutances. During July and August it’s open until 11pm at night and is lit up so you can enjoy the floral displays.

Jardin des plantes Coutances Jardin des plantes Coutances

The garden is right in the centre of town not far from the cathedral. This is the view from the main gate.

Coutances

Longues sur Mer Abbey in Normandy

Longues sur Mer abbey

Introduction

In the quiet village of Longues sur Mer is a beautiful Benedictine abbey dating from the 12th century. The Abbaye de Longues or Abbaye Saint-Marie is nestled on the road leading to Bayeux. Although it’s not far from the Omaha and Gold D-Day landing beaches it wasn’t bombed during the Battle of Normandy. It had however already fallen into decline some centuries before. Nevertheless, there is a great deal to explore and you can see how the abbey would have looked in its heyday.

abbey church at Longues sur Mer

The Abbey’s History

The abbey was founded in 1168 in the Calvados department of Normandy. The first monks came from Hambye Abbey located some 70 kilometers away in La Manche department. Many of the the buildings date from the 13th and 14th centuries. The western facade of the Abbot’s House was re-done during the 18th century.

abbot's house at Longues sur Mer

The abbey comprised the following building/structures:- a gatehouse, coach house, barn, abbey church, cloister, chapter room, refectory, kitchen, scriptorium or library, infimary, lay quarters, abbot’s house, dovecot, farm buildings and various gardens. The cloister was in the centre with the other buildings accessible from it.

In line with many other Normandy abbeys, Longues sur Mer abbey fell into decline starting in 1526. Successive abbots didn’t invest in the abbey and by 1640 the nave of the church had fallen into ruin. As a result, the abbey eventually closed in 1782. Some of the stones were quarried and further decline continued until 1915 when it was designated as an historical monument.

Restoration

An American, Charles Dewey, bought the abbey in 1932 and started the restoration process. In 1964 the abbey was sold to the French d’Angeljan family. The family have continued to restore the Longues sur Mer abbey and so in January 2006 it was classified as an historical monument.

Visiting Longues sur Mer Abbey

Thanks to the efforts of the current and previous owners, you can visit the abbey today. During visiting times the wooden doors of the ornate stone gatehouse are open. The gatehouse dates from the 14th century. The owners often greet visitors and they speak English. I was fortunate to be met by Hannah, an American who was undertaking a summer internship at the abbey. We chatted as we walked over to the coach house which is immediately to the left of the gate house. I picked up a leaflet and Hannah gave me a laminated sheet about the abbey. English and French versions are available.

You can then walk round the abbey at your own pace following the numbered arrows. However, take some time to look at the information boards and photos in the coach house. They give more information about how the abbey used to look and the history of the buildings you’re about to discover.

The Visit

If you stand in the main courtyard with your back to the gate house this is what you’ll see.

Longues sur Mer abbey

The abbey church is on the left. The abbot’s house is in the centre and to the far right is the refectory. The abbot’s house is now lived in by the French owners so it’s not possible to visit. However, you may be lucky enough to be invited into the La Salle de la Source and see the spring water running underneath the building. The western facade of the abbot’s house is particularly stunning. It was re-done in the 18th century to create a good impression because this side of the building is what guests would have seen.

There’s a central path down to the remains of the abbey church and this is the first stop on your visit.

The Abbey Church

As you walk towards the church’s ruins you’ll be walking where the nave used to be. The nave was attached to the abbot’s house and created the south side of the cloister. What remains of the abbey church is the choir or chancel and part of the northern transept. As you reach the choir, remember there would have been a lantern tower here. You can visit the transept but not the choir. You can, happily, see into the choir but it’s not safe to go inside. Pause to look at the architectural details here.

Longues sur Mer

The Cloister and the Chapter House

Follow the route past what remains of the southern transept. You’re now walking along what would have been the galleried cloister. To your left are two windows which are the remains of the chapter house.

chapter house Longues sur Mer

Before you continue, take a look at the rear of the abbot’s house. The eastern side of the building is very simple and in stark contrast to the western facade.

The Gardens

The gap in the hedge leads to the first of three gardens. The first garden is a formal garden of box hedges and flowers. It’s on the site of the former cemetery and affords a wonderful view of the southern side of the abbey church. Continue through to the vegetable garden and finally into the medicinal herb garden.

benedictine abbey church

The Monks’ Refectory

This huge barn was constructed in the 14th century. The refectory would have completed the south side of the cloister.

It originally had 3 floors; the ground floor was the refectory, the first floor was the dormitory and the top floor was a small chapel. There’s some fascinating architectural detail in the refectory. The displays of glazed floor tiles and three tombstones of the abbey’s benefactors are wonderful. These were discovered in the ruins of the abbey in 1932 by Charles Dewey. There are also interesting decorations high up on the walls. Leave through the main door, exit through the garden and you’re back in the abbey’s courtyard. If you walk along the south side of the refectory you’ll see the remains of a staircase on the far corner of the building.

Practical Information

Longues sur Mer abbey is located at 17 rue de l’abbaye, 14400 Longues-sur-Mer. There’s a car park that is clearly marked from the main road. Park here and then walk back to the main road through the gate you’ve driven through. The buildings adjacent to the car park are private although they belong to the abbey. The entrance is via the gatehouse.

Longues sur Mer abbey

The abbey is open from May through to July from Tuesday to Saturday inclusive. Opening hours are 2 – 6pm. There’s more information on this website or you can follow the abbey on Facebook @AbbayedeLongues. It costs 5€ to visit and under 18s go free.

The abbey has been selected to participate in the 2019 heritage lottery for some much-needed restoration funds. You can watch the video below to see an aerial view of the abbey. But do go and visit in person to experience the calm and serene surroundings as you’re transported back through the centuries.

If this has whetted your appetite, then here are 10 more Normandy abbeys and castles to visit.

We spent 3 weeks creating the best online guide to Normandy on the web. It includes everything from a bucket list, must see attractions to the best places to eat and drink.

It covers Mont St Michel, Monet’s garden, the D Day beaches, wine tours and much more. .

It’s packed with our personal recommendations, maps and videos.

CLICK HERE FOR OUR THINGS TO DO IN NORMANDY GUIDE