Friday, 7 February 2014


Lanterne des Morts


A curious pointed tower can be seen in the graveyard behind the church at Sarlat in the Dordogne region of France.  It is called Lanterne des Morts, or Lantern of the Dead.  It was erected in the twelfth century to commemorate a miracle performed by St Bernard when he preached in Sarlat in 1147.  When he blessed bread presented to him he said that any sick person who ate the bread would begin to recover and it is said that the miracle happened.

Despite its name, no one is certain what its purpose was although there was an ossuary under the tower with a chapel above.

Divine water


An out of place brick structure attached to the tower of St Martin’s Church in the medieval town of St Valery sur Somme served two purposes.  The upper part contained  a tank to collect rainwater from the church roof.  The bottom part housed, free of charge, a widow who was employed to sell the water to needy parishioners.

Meanwhile at Calais a similar system was employed by Louis X1V in 1691 when he ordered the construction of a reservoir to hold some 400,000 gallons of water.  It was built against the north side of the cathedral of Notre Dame in order to receive rainwater from the church roof.  It was for the use of the garrison and the population in times of drought.  With walls up to 2 metres thick to withstand attack, it was in use until the middle of the 19th century.



Life saving oven


The little Normandy cheese town of Vimoutiers was destroyed by US Marauder bombers in 20 minutes on 14th June 1944 during the WW2 invasion of Normandy.   A few hours later many refugees turned up at Blondeau Farm some 1.5km from the town centre.  The farm had survived the bombardments and the farmer and his family soon had a meal ready for all comers.  They had boiled a nourishing stew in a huge cauldron formerly use for washing clothes and preparing pig swill.  The farm was to continue this offering for some three months and became the salvation of the refugees.
The actual cauldron is preserved for eternity as a showpiece
in the centre of Vimoutiers.

Camembert cheese


During the French revolution, farmer’s wife Marie Harel sheltered a priest from Brie at the family farm in Camembert (pop. 185).

The priest showed her how to improve her cheese making and Mme Harel sold some of her cheese at the local market.  It became so popular and before long the same recipe was used by all and sundry and the soft Camembert cheese became a popular household food throughout France.

 Statue of Marie Harel in Camembert


William The Bastard


King William The Conqueror was also know as William The Bastard, and not because of his bad temper and ruthlessness, but because his father and mother were not married.

William's statue at Falaise

His father was indeed the powerful Duke of Normandy and the story goes that he was bewitched by a young girl whom he saw washing clothes at the well beneath the walls of his mighty castle in Falaise.  Arletta was the daughter of a local tanner and despite her lowly status, she became William’s mother.
The Washing Well
The meeting of the Duke and Arletta
Falaise Castle
Napoleon’s helmet
The Pink Granite Coast in Northern Brittany is an area of many huge rock formations.   Alongside The Bay of St Guirec near Ploumanach a huge rock can be seen  -  it is known locally as ‘Napoleon’s helmet’.
Another rock at Ploumanach
Another rock at Ploumanach
Paratrooper John Steele
The little town of Ste-Mère-Eglise in Normandy is close to Utah Beach, where American forces landed on 6th June, 1944 during the invasion of Normandy in World War 11.  Airborne troops were used to secure inland positions and amongst the 13,000 men,  Paratrooper John Steele dropped from the sky near the Ste-Mère-Eglise and gained lasting fame when he actually landed on the church.  Steele’s parachute got caught on the parapet of the church tower and he hung there helplessly feigning death before he was eventually taken prisoner.   A dummy paratrooper still hangs from the church tower to this day.

The event is also commemorated in stained glass inside the church

Liberty Highway
The first stone marker on the Liberty Highway through France can also be seen close to this church

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