Going Off the Beaten Path in Normandy
There is a reason Normandy is one of the top destinations in France, actually more than one. Some say Normandy is the birthplace of impressionism. And sadly the region also has a tumultuous past, having been invaded by the Romans, the Vikings, the English, and much later by the Germans, then the allied forces during the second World War. All this world-changing history results in some well known sights that have become very popular tourist attractions.
For lovers of art and architecture, here, as with all other regions of France, it is still possible to go off the beaten track and find some real gems tucked away in small villages. One of these is the Saint Peter and Saint Paul church in the town of Aumale. Today the town might not look like much, but in its day it was thought of as the la Porte de Normandie. This Renaissance church with traces of Gothic flamboyance, is one of the signs of the town’s former glory.
The church we see today was built between 1508 and 1607, the earlier church (dating to 1130, at least) having been destroyed in 1472 by ‘Charles the Bold’ (aka ‘Charles the Terrible’) during his rampage across northern France, from Beauvais to Rouen. As French rural churches go, this one may not be that old, but it has some exquisite features – and goes to show how exploring off the beaten path can be as rewarding as following the hoardes of tourists around Normandy’s Top Ten attractions.
A programme of restoration has been under way for over a decade now – both to the exterior fabric and the features inside the church. But the traces of Gothic influence are still evident throughout the church.
Looking down the nave towards the choir, and its sixteenth and nineteenth century stained glass windows.
Lookin back up the nave from the choir to the sixteenth century organ. The organ’s casing is one of the oldest in the region – first mention of the casing is in 1550, while the organ itself is dated to 1579.
One of my favourite features of this church is the terra-cotta holy sepulchre. Unfortunately this is not the original, which was destroyed during the French Revolution, but a copy from Bourges Cathedral, made in 1882. The marble crying angels are dated to the seventeenth century.
On the ceiling of the side chapel that houses the holy sepulchre are some of the most exquisite frescoes, that date back to construction of the church. These were restored during the 1990s, but it was their bad state of preservation that saved them from destruction during the French Revolution – when they were covered in distemper. They depict aspects of the last judgement.
And of course, there is the ever-present, ubiquitous statue of Jeanne d’Arc!
About the Author:
Thomas Dowson founded the website Archaeology Travel – part travel blog, part online guide to archaeological sites and museums around the World. Before this he was an active archaeologist, specialising in prehistoric art and the contemporary significance of the past – on which he has published numerous articles and books. When not searching out ruins of the past or looking for the influence of archaeology on contemporary architecture and society, Thomas lives in Normandy, France.