Western Europe #04– Jumièges Abby, Giverny, Gisors
Western Europe #04– Jumièges Abby, Giverny, Gisors
This is part 4 of a car trip we took through Northwestern Europe in August of 2018.
Full Trip Map
Map for this trip segment
The Jumieges Benedictine Abbey, located in the little town of the same name, is one of the oldest in Normandy and dates back to the year 654. As the name Abby suggests it was a place for monks to live and worship and at one time hosted nearly a thousand monks. In the ninth century it was pillaged and burned to the ground by those pesky Vikings. But it was rebuilt on a grander scale by William Longespee, Duke of Normandy. A new church was consecrated in 1067 and among the attendees was William the Conqueror.
Enjoying the patronage of the dukes of Normandy, the abbey became a center of religion and learning with its schools producing, amongst many other scholars, the national historian, William of Jumièges. It reached the zenith of its fame about the eleventh century, and was regarded as a model for all the monasteries of the province. It was renowned especially for its charity to the poor”.
The church was enlarged in 1256, and again restored in 1573. One of the abbots, a Robert Champart, became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1051, after being Bishop of London. Many others became bishops in France, and some were also raised to the level of cardinal.
But as in most such cases, the fortunes of the abbey suffered somewhat with the English invasion of the fifteenth century, but it recovered and maintained its prosperity and high position until the whole province was devastated by the Huguenots and the Wars of Religion. In 1649 Jumièges was taken over by the Maurist Congregation, under whose rule some of its former grandeur was resuscitated.
The French Revolution, however, put an end to all of that when in 1791 it was sold as a national property and summarily used as a source for stone blocks needed for construction projects elsewhere. This went on until the 19th century when the site was rediscovered by the Romantics who helped bring it’s dismantling to an end. This left only the impressive ruins we see today and explains why we don’t see jumbles of fallen stonework as one does with most fallen down structures of the era.
What is there today is a 34 acre park containing the hollowed out shell of the church with its beautiful twin towers and western façade, portions of the cloisters, and part of the library the contents of which were removed to Rouen when the abbey was dissolved. The old gatehouse is still there and has been reconstructed to house the obligatory gift shop, offices and care taker quarters. However, the grounds are said to be for the most part unchanged from the time of the French Revolution although most all the ornamental plantings have died from lack of attention. In the middle of the former cloister, there is still a 500-year-old yew tree that somehow survived being completely ignored.
Notre Dame Church’s Nave
Back of the church
Back of the Nave from Transept area
Stonework in the front of the church
Church from the spot of the Refectory showing Yew tree in the middle of the now missing cloister
Giverny is a small French village 50 miles (80 km) west of Paris and, like Paris, sits in the Seine River valley. The village is best known as the rural retreat of the Impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840-1926). Monet moved to Giverny in 1883 with his family, including his second wife and 8 children where he stayed until his death in 1926. The village surroundings and the gardens of his house formed a great part of the inspiration and subject matter for his paintings. It was after his move to Giverny that Monet began his famous series of paintings, repeatedly rendering haystacks, cathedrals and water lilies from his garden pond in his own unique Impressionist style. A number of American Impressionist artists also settled in Giverny, drawn by the landscapes, the overall atmosphere, and the presence of Monet.
A town or village has existed here since Neolithic times and a monument attests to this fact. Archeological finds have been dated to Gallo-Roman times and to the earlier 1st and 2nd centuries AD. In its earliest days it was known as "Warnacum". Historically it was an agricultural area with the primary crops being grapes. But now it is for the most part a tourist attraction.
Like most villages going back to the Middle Ages it has a cute Romanesque church and a mix of old and new houses and cottages – many of which are now B&B’s catering to the massive numbers of tourists that come to see where Monet painted. But, the village has remained somewhat rural with a distinctive rural vibe.
Being only 50 miles from Paris, most of the tourists tend to be day trippers which in turn has kept development at bay. There are no large (or modern for that matter) hotels, most of the modest number of restaurants tend to cater to the day tripper lunch crowd, and no shopping centers or strip malls. What commerce there is, consists mostly of small boutique shops and galleries. When Monet arrived in 1883 with his family, the population was around 300. Today it is only around 500 and this has gone a long way in preserving the charm of the town.
Another thing that helped keep development at bay is that the town of Giverny is a commune. So, the people of the town have much more direct control on its growth and character than in most places. And, as they know their bread and butter is based on it retaining its rural charm, they are quite good at keeping it that way. So, if you’re after a Big Mac or Whopper here you are out of luck.
We stayed at a nice B&B about a 10-15 minute walk from the Monet house and gardens. It was only one of many along this country road that goes right into town. Once in the village proper they try to keep car traffic to a minimum so there are pedestrian only sections but even in those sections cars are allowed if they are coming or going to a parking lot or private residence. We checked into our B&B in mid afternoon and took a stroll down this lane, past the graveyard and church, peered into a few galleries had an ice cream, found the gardens (for the next day) and at the far end of town dropped into the old hotel for an early dinner. Along the way I made a mental note of a public parking lot right across the street from the entrance to the Monet House and Gardens.
We had purchased our Monet tickets prior to our trip so that would be one less line to wait in the following morning. We checked the website and saw what time the gardens opened. So, the next morning, after a home cooked breakfast at the B&B we drove over to the main road (that bypasses the village) so as to re-enter the village at the proper end. Along the way we passed several large parking lots for the Monet House and Gardens all of which were many blocks away from the destination. But, I remembered that little lot, right at the entrance so decided to head for it. Of course I didn’t know any street names, but even though there were absolutely no “parking this way” signs as there had been for those other lots, using my sense of direction I found a likely looking road to turn onto that looked like a good candidate for leading back into the village. And, guess what? It did. I had to guess at another left turn by the hotel we had dinner at the night before and that led us right to that little parking lot. As it was still about 15 minutes till the Gardens opened the lot was only about half full.
Well, as it turned out, if you pre-purchased your tickets as we had, you don’t use the main entrance; you use the side entrance which is around the corner. The other thing that we were not aware of is that with a pre-purchased ticket you can get in an hour earlier than the official opening time. Wish we had known that as the photography would have been much better with fewer tourists and earlier morning light. But, even so we were still an hour ahead of when the busses from Paris hit town. So, we high-tailed it down to the famous lily ponds for some shots before the crowds descended. Now don’t get me wrong, there were still plenty of people milling about but you could still walk at your own pace and with a bit of waiting get a shot with only 1 tourist and sometimes none.
After touring the gardens for a couple of hours and admiring the flowers, we waited about 10 minutes in line to get into the house for a walk through. It was getting on toward lunch time by the time we exited the house and the line to get in had grown to at least an hour wait. Now, it was getting hard to walk around through the crowds so, with one last foray back to the lily ponds just to see what photographic opportunities had developed (not many) we decided to leave. It turns out the exit is – guess what – through the gift shop which is attached to the house and out onto the street, just a few steps from that marvelous little parking lot and our car.
The Monet house and gardens is a must see destination if you are photographically inclined. But, buy your tickets ahead of time and arrive a bit before you are allowed in. Then plan to leave around noon when the crowds are more like Disneyland on Labor Day weekend.
So how did all of this come about? It seems that Monet noticed the village of Giverny while looking out of a train window as he zoomed by. He thought it was a lovely little village and a place he could paint and so made up his mind to move there. He rented a house along with the area surrounding it and moved in. In 1890 he had enough money to buy the house and land outright and set out to create the magnificent gardens he wanted to paint. Some of his most famous paintings were of his garden in Giverny. The actual gardens include archways of climbing plants entwined around colored shrubs, the water garden formed by a tributary to the Epte river with the Japanese bridge, pond with the water lilies, wisterias and azaleas. Monet lived in the house from 1883 until his death in 1926. He and many members of his family are interred in the village cemetery.
During his time in this house in Giverny, Monet hosted many impressionist artists from around the world, many of whom decided to take up residence in the village. Some of these included Willard Metcalf, Louis Ritman, Theodore Wendel, John Leslie Breck, and Theodore Earl Butler who married Monet's stepdaughter.
House along road leading into town
Another house along the road into town
Most places in town have wonderful flowers growing in their yards
Waiting to get in at the main entrance
The famous lily pad pond and Japanese bridge – Monet style
One last look at the lily pad pond
After leaving the Monet Gardens, and grabbing a bit of lunch in Giverny we decided to just roam around the countryside following “attraction” suggestions on our GPS. Our first stop was at a strange circular fortress on top of a manmade hillock which in turn was surrounded by a perimeter wall. This was the Château de Gisors in the town of Gisors. Sometimes referred to as a Château and sometimes referred to as a castle. But, either way it was weird.
Apparently it was a key fortress of the Dukes of Normandy in the 11th and 12th centuries and was intended to defend the Anglo-Norman Vexin territory from the land grabbing King of France.
King William II of England ordered the building of the first castle at Gisors. Later King Henry I of England built the octagonal stone keep as part of a royal castle building program in Normandy. The whole idea of this program was to secure the region against the aspirations of the French crown. It saw the construction or improvement of more than 25 castles. You can’t get up into the castle on your own, and none of the guided tours was in English so we didn’t get inside. I’m sure there was some interesting history involved but the castle itself seemed to be somewhat plain.
Castle at Gisors
I hope you enjoyed reading about this leg of our NW Europe trip, Please check out my other travel blogs under the “Blogs” menu item at www.DanHartfordPhoto.com .
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Thanks for reading – Dan
(All images by Dan Hartford. Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, and pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way.
Keywords: Blog, Dan Hartford Photo, dantravelblog, dantravelblogNW-Europe, France, French Countryside, Gisors, Giverny, Jumièges Abby, Monet, Monet Gardens, Northern France, Western Europe, Western France
Good description and photos of the Abby and of Giverny. Now we know to buy tickets early and park near the house--if we can find that little parking lot.
Thanks, Dan - great photos as usual, and of a place I'm not likely to get to - so great to get to see it.,
Beautiful pictures Dan. I enjoyed your write up too. I can hardly do captions anymore. I'm sorry you were at Monet's house when it was overrun with tourists. We were there in October 2016 and had the place to ourselves. Give my regards to Ellen.
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