And so, at day 82, we have our first lazy day. This was always going to be an ambitious trip, but even so, that took a while. There’s still a little sightseeing to be done though, the beautiful Jumieges Abbey ruins beckon.
The Abbey was founded by Saint Philbert of the Benedictine order in 654. It was built on a grand scale, comprising the enormous Notre Dame Abbey Church, the smaller Saint Pierre Church for the monks, the cloisters, a hospice, a refectory, abbot’s residence, the scriptorium, gorgeous gardens and a rather impressive gate house and stables.
In its incredible history, the Abbey has seen significant time periods unfold: the Viking raids between 841 and 940, two reformations, one in the 11th century, the other in the 17th, being seized during the Revolution and very sadly, being sold and plundered for its stunning limestone; it was used as a quarry during the industrial revolution. It was eventually rescued by a private sale in 1852, but by that stage, less than a third of the original buildings remain, mostly in ruins.
Even though in ruins, it’s clear the Abbey was exquisite, and for its time, extraordinary. The main church towers over the village – it’s 46 metres high. Interestingly too, given its age, there are many example of architectural styles as modifications were made in the 11th, 13th, 14th and 17th centuries. Of the original 9th century decorations, only a faint a Carolingian painting remains.
Works are being conducted to shore up some of the more dangerous sections so that they can be opened to the public, however there are no plans to restore it: the ruins are considered one of France’s most beautiful.
We wander around, marveling at it all. Oh for a time machine! What utter terror the Vikings must have wrought when they landed, how sad it must have been to watch it be pulled apart centuries later. I didn’t know the Revolution was a time when religious places were seized. I thought only the aristocracy lost their property along with their heads.
The grounds are beautiful, filled with ancient trees and forested walks, comprising 15 hectares surrounded by 2.5 km of limestone fencing. The grounds as we see them now, meadows, wooded borders and gardens are largely as they were at the the time of the Revolution. Here, time has stood still.
We meet a slinky tabby in our travels, about her catty business, not tame enough to pat, not so so wild that she freaks out. We also see a wonderful network of bunny burrows on a hill. So this is where French bunnies hide. Sanctuary from farmers, on holy land. There’s a giant chess set in one of the gardens and Chris attempts to teach me how to play. Practice needed there…
Abbey toured, we laze away the afternoon at lunch nearby. Jumieges is deemed a gourmand village and rightly so, the food is divine. Under a glorious blue sky, we lunch on seafood gratin, unctuous, crispy duck, cheesecake that’s light as a feather, accompanied by a light rose wine.