Saturday, 25 September 2021

Three Abbey Churches

        Before continuing to write about those matters on which I have been focusing up until now, I will take a few moments to consider an incident which occurred on our recent holiday, and try to fit that in with other, and related, experiences in the past.

          We were  taking our habitual September break and for the second time this year were visiting Donville-les-Bains, which adjoins Granville on the S.W. coast of la Manche, [the Cherbourg Peninsula]. All the country around there is rather salt-marshy, unspoiled and fairly unpopulated. There isn't too much farming, but does have a fair proportion of market gardening: quite lonely, and lovely.

          So it was on one sunny morning much like any other really, except that we did briefly commemorate an event which happened eighty-four years ago to the day when a squawking foetus was gifted to the world. Within a few days that particular individual was given the name which I have carried ever since. Anyway, it was on that day that we visited the Abbaye de Lessay. From the outside the building was not over-elaborate, neat and simple, but on the inside I found it stunning. Sadly, the abbey has had a terrible history of violence dating from the time of King Edward III of England in the 100 year's war, his French opponents, and the forces of the king of Navarre [Charles the Bad], who between them massacred thousands. Then after the wars of religion and the French revolution, the government took over, and that was a pillaging and quarrying disaster. Eventually the Benedictines rebuilt and renovated the abbey. Then of course, came all the damage of allied bombing in WWII, culminating in the Nazis planting of fifty landmines and a couple of bombs in the abbey. The damage after they exploded was so bad it was almost decided to pull the rest of the abbey down. That is a very brief outline of the abbey's travails. Fortunately, the abbey was rebuilt in twelve years and is now run by a group of nuns.

          Switching back a few years, I well remember visiting Chartres cathedral in 2009, the first of the three churches that has influenced my inner search. After that visit I walked out of the cathedral feeling profoundly changed in some way. What happened was nothing to do with Christianity, at least as far as I believe it has been practised for centuries. It was almost a glimpse into ..... something else, some sense of ..... otherness that existed beyond my normal consciousness.

          More recently, I visited Boquen Abbey. I have written about that visit in previous blog posts - [e.g. L'Abbaye de Boquen, 27.4.2013]. In that experience the question was asked, "Still scratching at the surface of Christianity?" It was a question that demanded a response, but a response that I had no idea how to give. How could I respond when I didn't really understand the question? Nevertheless, that question has never been far from my thoughts. Certainly, and considering my earlier involvement with the Christian religion and the Church, the Christianity about which something deep within me was asking the question was of a quite different order. And now to return to the third church, the Abbaye de Lessay.

          My subjective memory of the Norman-Romanesque building is one in which the stone has been completely cleaned to a pale greyness, giving the quite simple building a look of rare purity. There is a marked lack of icon paintings and aggressive, in-your-face, crucifixion symbolism. Frankly, I find representations of the crucifixion revolting. I recall thinking that the abbey was, and this is the crucial point of this visit, like ..... contemplative prayer given form. 

          Gradually, and perhaps tentatively, I feel I am reaching out towards, or pursuing, something of which I cannot be certain; something that holds experiential answers to the Chartres experience, and also to the Boquen question.


  1. Hi Tom,
    The Boquen post expressed a beautiful memory. I do think memories, to a certain extent, define who we are as we more or less become all that is past in being in the world. Part of that memory in the higher order of thinking is a manifestation of the soul ? Best wishes

    1. Hi Lindsay,
      I'm glad you enjoyed the Boquen post. It is an experience that will remain with me, I hope, to the end. An interesting idea, that memories define who we are, at least in part. I will give that more thought.

      I believe that all three experiences are an inner conversation that is leading [sometimes chivvying, perhaps] to where I should be going. It reminds me of the Tav Sparks phrase of 'a nostalgia for the future'.

      Thank you for your comment. Best wishes to you also.