Pagan(ish) Highlights of my Normandy-Brittany Trip

Green Man at Bayeux Cathedral

Green Man at Bayeux Cathedral

My family and I stayed in Normandy for a week for a holiday. Here’s some of the highlights that I thought may interest readers…

La Pichardiere Farmhouse

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My family (parents, husband, sister, sister-in-law and two nephews) spent the week renting La Pichardiere, a beautiful old farmhouse deep in the Normandy countryside. The farmhouse and the grounds were stunningly beautiful – the grounds were quite extensive with wooded areas, a pond and old tumbledown barns.

Butterfly at La Pichardiere

Butterfly at La Pichardiere

We spent several days of our holiday just relaxing in the beautiful surroundings. There was so much wildlife to see, too – there were butterflies, birds, grasshoppers, lizards, deer and all sorts of creatures (diving beetles, newts, frogs and raft spiders) in the pond. At night, lots of bats came flying low over the house, and you could also hear owls. In the neighbouring field was a herd of friendly cows.

We also took my oldest nephew (who’s three years old) on a couple of wildlife walks around the local area, to gather blackberries or find leaves. He really enjoyed exploring and seeing all the different animals in plants. When we got back, I made him a Green Man face with all the leaves, fruit and nuts we’d found:

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Bayeux

When in Normandy, you have to go to Bayeux and see the famous Bayeux Tapestry, commemorating the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest of England. Which of course we did (I don’t have any photos because photography of the Tapestry is not permitted). It was actually my second time to see the Tapestry – the first time I saw it was on a school trip as a teenager. I liked it then, and I still liked it now. It’s incredible to see such a vivid relic from such a long time ago.

We also went to Bayeux Cathedral, a lovely Cathedral built shortly after the Battle of Hastings and the original home of the Tapestry. What I love about medieval churches and cathedrals is that the Pagan element is still very strong – just take a look at some of the designs in the architecture…

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This strange grotesque reminded me so much of the “Helping Hands” in the movie Labyrinth!

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Strange grotesques possibly based on the Greek Comedy/Tragedy masks?

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I really liked this couple! They are apparently a symbol of fidelity. They reminded me so much of Japanese “Jou and Uba” dosojin!

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The crypt had some beautiful examples of medieval works of art.

As a former Catholic himself, my Dad mentioned how strange it was to be in a Catholic cathedral (Cathedrals in the UK are typically Church of England, not Catholic). We agreed that actually, we prefer the Catholic style – it’s much more ornate and interesting (and for me, more Pagan).

La Ferté-Macé Church

La Ferté-Macé is a town near to where we were staying, and we popped in one day to visit the market. They also have an impressive medieval church with some very interesting features..

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The church facade is covered with intricate carvings and fascinating symbols. I wish I knew what they all meant!

One of those symbols was a mouse or rat (can you see it below?). I would have loved to have known the story behind putting a picture of a rat on the church.

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Inside the church was interesting too. There was an image of a devil, something that you don’t usually see in churches from a later period.

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Beauvain Village

One evening my husband and I decided to walk from the farmhouse to Beauvain, the nearest village. On the way, we dropped into the little local graveyard, which was so pretty and still, surrounded by fields…

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Beauvain itself is really mysterious. It feels really deserted – absolutely no shops were open, and we only caught sight of three human beings there the whole time we were there. What it does have, however, is a huge, abandoned mansion:

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The mansion is all tumbledown and has quite a lot of grounds. We were so tempted to jump the rather small wall and go and explore! (But we were worried about getting caught). Again, we have no idea about what this mansion is.

The only inhabitant we did regularly see was a large, white dog, which didn’t seem abandoned but also didn’t seem to have an owner with him. I speculated that perhaps the mansion is in fact owned by a vampire aristocrat, who takes the form of a white dog by day, which is why the village is abandoned!

True or not, there is something quite eerie about Beauvain. Even its church seemed to be haunted by a ghostly figure…

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(Or perhaps it was a statue of Mary seen from behind…)

Mont Saint-Michel

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Another blast from the past – Mont Saint-Michel, the incredible island Abbey with a history dating back to pre-medieval times. I remember how impressed I had been seeing it on that school trip years ago, and I still found it breathtaking today. If you’re ever in Normandy you MUST go – don’t let the hoards of tourists put you off, go first thing in the morning and you’ll avoid a lot of them (plus the buildings look best in the early morning light). It has a really magical, fairytale quality to it, even with the touristy line of shops at its entrance (which reminded me very much of the approach to major shrines and temples in Japan) – those shops and restaurants help to absorb the tourists and keep the Abbey from overcrowding, anyway.

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The Abbey was constructed primarily for the veneration of the angel St Michel, which I find to be rather Pagan in itself – non-Catholic Christians would probably balk at the idea of worshipping an angel in this fashion!

Barenton Forest

Last of all, we entered neighbouring Britanny to go to Barenton Forest. This place is significant because it is identified with Brocéliande, the legendary forest said to be the tomb of Merlin and to have a magical fountain.

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We did indeed find the fountain (it’s a lovely little trek through the forest to find it), but the serene and magical atmosphere was rather spoilt by a huge coachload of noisy tourists who got there before us. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to be in what is certainly a place of pilgrimage for Arthurian enthusiasts and Pagans (it was very special for my Dad, who has always loved the legends of King Arthur)

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Perhaps due to its magical nature, many visitors had made cairns of stones around the forest, some of which they had arranged into rings

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Bareton was uncannily like another place associated very much with King Arthur in England – Cornwall. Not only was the landscape similar to Cornwall, but the atmosphere was almost the same – sleepy yet happy, and full of little tourist shops catering to the pilgrims with an interest in magic/Pagan/New Age things

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I absolutely recommend Bareton to any Pagans who find themselves in Brittany – but visit the forest early in the day to find the fountain before it gets too crowded!

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