Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Abbaye St. Georges de Boscherville, Haute-Normandie

There are places that speak to you.  This is one of mine.  I never tire of visiting the Abbaye St. Georges de Boscherville in Normandy.  There is an atmosphere here that always sets me aglow.  I have been inside the Abbey and I know that it is a beautifully preserved building, but that's not it.  I spend most of my time wandering the gardens.  There is something about them as they bask on their sunny hillside rolling down to the Seine which feels privileged, blessed even. More than a millennium before the Benedictine Abbey was constructed in the 12th century, this place was chosen for pagan and early Christian worship and burial.  As I wander around, I get an instinctive sense of that long spiritual tradition and of why people chose to practice it here.

Today's gardens are a modern 'reconstruction' of those laid out by monks in the 17th century, but that's a detail: the spirit of the place pervades them as, I like to dream, it has always done.  They are beautiful; there is a potager with fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers; an orchard; a vineyard; a scent garden; a maze; a shady terrace of pleached plane trees.  Depending on the season, different parts of the garden shine.  In autumn, the trees hang low with Normandy apples and the vines drip with grapes.  As I wander through them all, I hum with contentment - rather like a bee!  In the enclosed scent garden, to one side of the abbey, the perfume held on the still air is intoxicating. There is a sublime fragrance I can't identify.  I think it is a variety of 'sarcococca', a sweet box  It is as potent as incense from a censer.

La Vierge à l'enfant by Jean-Marc de Pas
In the cloister, Jean-Marc de Pas's sculpture, La Vierge à l'enfant, twinkles at me in a way it has not done before.  Suddenly, I appreciate how it speaks of the universality of love.  It radiates unity: the child a part of the mother, the mother a part of the child, the individual a part of the whole, the whole a part of the individual: a message that extends beyond religious boundaries. 

L'Abbaye St. Georges is in the village of St. Martin de Boscherville.  It's a stone's throw from Rouen and a practical place to stop en route to and from the Channel tunnel.  Right next to the abbey is an excellent bed and breakfast, Les Hostises de Boscherville, which meets more earthly needs.  It's like a boutique hotel but with a friendly family atmosphere.  The beds are super comfortable, the food is home-made with local produce and there is Normandy cider to go with it.

From every room is a picture postcard view of the abbey and when, at 7am, the first bells of the day call you from bed to look out, you may find the abbey rising up out of a magical mist that has risen silently from the Seine overnight.      

All photos © Andrew Holman.

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