Caen & Rouen -- Normandy France    
(Avranches, Argentan, Alençon et l'Aigle)

Rennes Link is here Now

Caen was never thought to have been a Roman town. It grew up at the confluence of the Orne and Odon rivers, the spot first reaching importance as William the Conqueror's capital. It is placed strategically within the Normandie region and possesses a well-protected port. In Caen, William constructed fortress and two Benedictine abbeys (the Abbaye aux Hommes in the west and the Abbaye aux Dames in the east).

Separate population districts marked his main structures. The Bourg le Duc (Bourg le Roi (1066)) expanded about the chateaux-fortress. The Bourg l'Abbè and the Bourg l'Abbesse spread around the domains of two abbeys. This original growth pattern, with the same boundaries, is found preserved in Caen today. Markets have always been held every week in the same locations.

Caen, a strategic port city in Normandie, was to have been liberated on D-Day (June 6th). Allied forces freed it, however, during the second and third weeks of July 1944. Heavy street-fighting severely damaged or destroyed much of the town. Pictured left is the Église Saint Pierre that suffered extensive damage. The spire soars 220 feet above the church, a landmark dominating the plain surrounding Caen. The main building was begun in the 13th Century, and fully completed in the 16th. The clock tower built in 1308 has been destroyed twice. In 1563, a cannon shot intended for the chateau leveled the spire. In 1944, a shell from the British ship HMS Rodney hit it again. In 1793 during the French Revolution, it became a Temple of Reason, the fate of many other churches in France, which were not destroyed outright. Lots more HERE.

Inauguré le 6 juin 1988 par François Mitterrand, Le Mémorial de Caen est le musée de référence sur l’histoire du XXe siècle. À partir d’une scénographie innovante et chargée d’émotion, cette Cité de l’Histoire pour la Paix propose un voyage historique et une réflexion sur l’avenir à travers trois principaux espaces muséographiques. June 6, 2009 marks the 65th anniversary od D-Day. The museum and city are prepared with fireworks, Friday night of the 5th as a kickoff.

More About Normandy in June -- Abbaye Notre-Dame du Bec-Hellouin: English Henry II, Plantagenêt was the son of Matilda, by her second marriage. A simple enough sentence with a somewhat complicated history, because she was the daughter of a King of England, direct heir to the throne (Indeed, a direct descendant of King Egbert (mentioned Here)), Empress of an ancient empire, mother of another English King and a countess and duchess in her own right by marriage of a not inconsiderable part of France.

On January 7, 1114, Matilda first married Heinrich V, an Emperor of the German Empire, who died on May 23, 1125, at Utrecht, Netherlands (no issue by this marriage). So, she was for a while, the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire. On April 3 or 22, 1127, she married Geoffery V Plantagenêt (Count of Anjou, Duke of Normandy -- born August 24, 1113, at Anjou, France; died September 7, 1151, at Chateau, Eure-et-Loire, France). Thus, she became a duchess and countess. Also known as Maud to distinguish her from her mother (see below), she was born Adelaide, Princess of England in about 1104. Adelaide was denied the throne of England by her cousin Stephen after a brief civil war upon the death of her father. She passed away on September 10, 1167, at Abbaye Notre-Dame des Prés, near Rouen, France and was buried at Abbaye Notre-Dame du Bec[-Hellouin], Eure, France. Her son would be the King of England, vindicating her claim.

Rouen Market 
PissarroEmpress Maud was the daughter of another Matilda (born about 1082 in Scotland; died May 1, 1118 at Winchester, Hampshire, England), whose baptized name was Edith, a Princess of Scotland. On November 11, 1100, the Princess Edith (Matilda) married English King Henry I, BEAUCLERC (born about 1068 at Selby, Yorkshire, England; died December 1, 1135, at Angers, Maine-et-Loire, France). He was the youngest son of William I THE CONQUEROR, King of England, Duke of Normandy, one of the 12 peers of France {that elected the French King}.

Richard I of Normandy (born 28 August 933, in Fécamp, Haute Normandy, France died November 20, 996, in Fécamp) was the leader of Normandy (princeps Nortmannorum at Rouen) from 942 to 996; many consider him to be the first to actually have held that title. He was called Richard the Fearless (French, Sans Peur). Richard was still a boy when his father died, and so he was powerless to stop Louis IV of France when he seized Normandy. Louis kept him in confinement in his youth at Laon, but he escaped with the assistance of Osmond de Centville, Bernard de Senlis (who had been a companion of Rollo of Normandy), Ivo de Bellèsme and Bernard the Dane (common ancestor of houses of Harcourt and Beaumont). In 968, Richard agreed to "commend" himself to Hugh, Count of Paris. He then allied himself with the Norman and Viking leaders, drove Louis out of Rouen, and took back Normandy by 947. He later quarreled with Æthelred II of England. The Dukes of Normandy descend in an unbroken line to Wooden (Odin of Nordic Mythology) of the Thracian Æsir, whose peoples migrated from the Black Sea; said to be a remnant of the House of Troy.

Facing the abbey church (L'Abbatiale de la Trinité), the remains of the ducal palace recall the Norman Rolland (Rollo) to Fécamp, and rest upon the remains of an early 10th century castle built by William I. Today the site hints at what housing was like in the 10th and 11th centuries. Behind the abbey church , the old town bears witness to Fécamp's rich past, along France's Alabaster Coast. The abbey church of the Trinity, a masterpiece of primitive gothic (12th century), possesses the grandeur of a bishop's cathedral. It still retains numerous gems, including the chapel of the Virgin and its 14th century stained glass as well as later additions and art. The Church of Saint Stephen (Étienne) is a much later structure from the 16th Century.

Fécamp is situated in the valley of the river Valmont, at the heart of the Pays de Caux. It sits about 50 miles NE of Cæn and about 40 miles NW of Rouen. According to legend, the trunk of a fig tree carrying the Precious Blood of Christ collected by Joseph of Arimathea was washed ashore on the riverbank at Fécamp in the 1st century. In short order, the relic attracted many pilgrims. Many items of the Gallo-Roman period have been found locally, such as gold coins and celtic axes. Two Gallo-Roman cemeteries have also been discovered.écamp Charles II of England landed at Fécamp in November 1651, soon after the Battle of Worcester, where he had been defeated by Cromwell. This recalls Edward the Confessor (son of Æthelred the Unready and his second wife, Emma of Normandy), King of England's exile to the same city, where he stayed with his cousins.

April 15, 1450 -- Battle of Formigny (Hundred Years' War): Formigny is not indicated on many modern road maps. It sits about halfway between Carentan and Bayeux, and is only a few miles south of Omaha Beach, a landing site of the Allied Invasion during Second World War (1944). The many visitors to the modern D-Day landing region may well puzzle over the finely-detailed, life-size statue of Generals Clermont and Richemont in the crossroads of this very small village. Nearby is the small church (1486) that Clermont built. The destruction of Kyriell's army left the English without enough troops in France to protect the holdings in Normandy. The entire region fell to the French in just a few months after the battle of Formigny. The French advance continued, and quickly swept up all English possessions save Calais. Today Formigny is a commune in the département of Calvados in the Basse-Normandie region of France.

Normandy, more specifically Lisieux (east of Caen and south of Honfleur), will be the end-point in the 2011 Tour de France. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Bayeux and Lisieux, is a diocese of the Catholic church. The diocese is coextensive with the Department of Calvados, and is a suffragan to the Archdiocese of Rouen, also in Normandy. At the time of the Concordat of 1802, the ancient Diocese of Lisieux was united to that of Bayeux. A pontifical Brief, in 1854, authorized the Bishop of Bayeux to call himself Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux. In turn, Lisieux is also a commune in the Calvados département in the Basse-Normandie region of France. Lisieux is the capital of the Pays d'Auge area, which is characterised by valleys and hedged farmland. The inhabitants of Lisieux are known in France as Lexoviens (male) or Lexoviennes (female).

This Cathèdrale (Notre Dame) was made famous by Monet 
It is not in Reims, but link is to another beautiful CathedralRouen was founded by the Gaulish tribe of the Veliocassi, who controlled a large area in the lower Seine valley. They called it Ratumacos The Romans called it Rotomagus, the second city of Gallia Lugdunensis after Lugdunum (today's Lyon). Later, Rouen became the capital of Merovingian Neustria, a counterpart to Metz. From their first incursion in the lower valley of the Seine in 841AD, the Norman Viking invaders overran Rouen. From 912 Rouen was the capital of the Duchy of Normandy and residence of its dukes until William the Conqueror built his castle at Cæn. During the Hundred Years' War, on January 19, 1419, Rouen surrendered to Henry V of England, who made Normandy once again a part of the Plantagenêt domains. Sainte Jeanne d'Arc est brûlée vive à Rouen, sur la place du Vieux-Marché, après avoir été abandonnée par son roi. It is a traditional feast day for the French, and not much recognized by the English.

Rouen is the historical capital city of Normandy on the River Seine, downstream from Paris. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen contains a tomb of Richard the Lionheart that houses only his heart. The French tore down the English Norman-style cathedral and built their own, which Claude Monet made famous by his studies. War during the 20th century left that structure in ruins. Other famous structures include the Gothic Church of Saint Maclou (15th century); the Tour Jeanne d'Arc, where Saint Joan of Arc was brought in 1431 to be threatened with torture (contrary to popular belief, she was not imprisoned there) and the Church of Saint Ouen (12th–15th century).

Le 14 mars 1590: Le protestant Henri de Bourbon, roi de Navarre et prétendant au trône de France, bat l'armée catholique conduite par le duc de Mayenne (Mainz), de la famille des Guise, à Ivry, au nord de la France. C'est au cours de cette dernière bataille que le truculent Béarnais aurait lancé son apostrophe célèbre  -- Ralliez-vous à mon panache blanc, vous le trouverez toujours au chemin de l'honneur et de la victoire ! -- Rally around my white standard {men}, for today you will discover the path of honor and of victory. A panache directly translates into the word "plume;" but, just as the War of the Roses was not a disagreement about flower types, the English word "standard" fits better in the translation here. Never-the-less, the English word misses the potential play on words that Henri may have intended. An alternative meaning to the word coronate has to do with large bird feathers, so perhaps the King-to-be was reminding everyone about his new job.

The battle took place on the Eure River at Ivry, about 30 miles west of Paris (today called Ivry-la-Bataille to distinguish it from Ivry-sur-Seine). See  Henry's army had swept through Normandy, taking town after town that winter of '89-90. By mid-March it was getting close to Paris, deployed on the plain of Saint André. The decisive event took place on the battlefield when the King led the charge against a group of enemy lancers, who had strayed too close to his position to use its weapons, a tactical mistake leading to a strategic victory. After Ivry Henri, roi de Navarre, became the only credible claimant to the throne of France.

Gate of the old Abbey Ivry-la-Bataille

Avranches, Argentan, Alençon et l'Aigle

May 21, 1172: The Compromise of Avranches in September 1172, marked the reconciliation of Henry II Plantagenêt of Normandy and England with the Catholic Church, after the murder in 1170 of Thomas Becket. Henry was purged of any guilt in Becket's murder, but he agreed that the secular courts had no jurisdiction over the clergy, with the exceptions of high treason, highway robbery and arson. This is the origin of the Benefit of Clergy provision in modern English law, although it had a tradition before. The compromise grew out of a dispute between the King and the Church in England that had resulted in the Archbishop of Canterbury's death (December 29, 1170) at the hands of some rogue knights, for which murder the King was deemed responsible. The final stage setting for the agreement was a public humiliation of the King (a whipping, his request for forgiveness and the ceremony of reconciliation) on May 21, 1172, at the alter of the Cathedral of Avranches. Revolutionary zealots destroyed this structure in 1794. Today a paving stone marks the spot where apostolic absolution took place (La Plate-Forme) in the gardens of the Sous-Préfecture, Place Daniel Huet (17th century church scholar).

Pays AlençonThe Abbot of Mont-Saint-Michel presided, which Abbey and the estuary of the Sée and the Baie rivers are visible from this spot today. Avranches, in the southwestern part of the region Manche (Cotentin Peninsula), also marks the spot from which General George Patton began his lightening fast advance east across France (July 31, 1944). Saint-Gaudens, Haute-Garonne, (since the autumn of 1944), has been a twin city, when that town fraternally assisted Avranches by furnishing clothing and food to it. The major church Notre Dame des Champs was constructed in a Gothic-revival style (in the 19th century) to restore the religious life of the town after the destruction of the cathedral. The Basilica of Saint-Gervais (Dagobert fonde l'église en 637) houses a treasury, best known for the skull of Saint Aubert (mourut en 725) featuring a hole where the Archangel Michael's finger pierced it when the messenger was prodding Aubert to finish construction of the Abbey in a timely manner.

To the southwest of Avranches and only 105 miles southwest Paris is Alençon, another town in Normandy. It was probably during the 4th century, while the area was being Christianized, that the current city of Alençon was founded, although it was in an area well-populated for hundreds if not thousands of years. The name is first seen in a document dated in the 7th century. During the 10th century, Alençon was a buffer state between Normandy and the Maine regions (its city symbol is an eagle facing two directions). In 1047, William Duke of Normandy, later known as William the Conqueror and king of England, laid siege to the town. Alençon was occupied by the English during the Anglo-Norman wars of 1113 to 1203. On June 17 1940 the German army occupied Alençon. On August 12 1944 Alençon was the first French city to be liberated by the French army under General Leclerc, after minor bomb damage.

The Eagle has landed; another first for France -- April 26, 1803: Over 2,300 meteorite stones, weighing between one quarter ounce and 20 pounds, fell upon the people of l'Aigle. The meteorites rained down along an 8-mile-long strip of land near this town, 100 miles west of Paris. No one was hurt. It was the first time scientists could verify that stones could come from outer space,, eventhough meteorites have been sought after and perhaps worshipped for centuries (such as at Mecca). L'Aigle is in Normandie, France, on its western border, about 80 miles due west to Paris, on the road from Versailles, Plaisir and Dreux. Further to the west is Argentan (in the Orne Department). Argentan est appelée Vagoritum dans l'Antiquité, et sert de capitale à la tribu gauloise des Arvii. Argentan became a Roman town sitting along the Orne River, later conquered by the Vikings. Throughout the Middle Ages, Argentan is either magificant and rich or it is in burnt ruins. During the Second World War, the city was again largely destroyed, during the battle to close the Nazi escape route at Falaise, culminating in Argentan's liberation by Patton in August 1944. It has two chief church structures that have survived the ravages and savages of time -- Saint-Martin and Saint-Germain.

Bagnoles-de-l'Orne is southwest of Argentan and northwest of Alençon by about the same distance. The Belle Époque of the thermal bath quarter in the town constitutes today a rather well-preserved example of what could be a typical French upper-class residential area of the beginning of the 20th century. Built between 1886 and 1914, in the southern part of the town, it contains superb villas with polychrome façades, bow windows and unique roofing -- opulence ruled the day. During what is known in France as Les Années Folles ("Roaring Twenties"), the success of Bagnoles-de-l'Orne became even more massive in design and international in scope (highly influenced by the "Art Deco" movement). The thermal season was filled with classical music concerts, horse races at the hippodrome, golf tournaments as well as other sophisticated leisure activities. The demand for entertainment was high and a second casino was eventually built, the Casino du Lac by the renowned architect Auguste Bluysen. L'église Saint Jean-Baptiste (1934-1935), is today listed as a 20th century heritage site.

Pictures from Mont Saint-Michel -- Poitiers -- Tours -- Le Mans -- Orléans -- Blois -- Beauvais -- Troyes -- LaRoche-sur-Yon -- Cities of Bourges & Nevers -- Auxerre -- Compiègne -- Reims -- Sens -- Chartres -- Rennes & Brittany

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New: 06/03/08 -- Revised: 09/21/09