Let there be balloons

Happy birthday to me Florian and Richard looking pensive Coke in a beer glass Two bottles to keep me going Arrived with a card - can stay ! Close up of the tower Joan of Arc: 1430/1930 The classic pose
Click on the thumbnails for a larger picture The roof work The choir stalls

It's my party

20 July 2008

Once more the annual question of - well where did that year get to ?

It has been busy these past few months. In May my neighbour Therese was diagnosed with cancer and her decline was rapid. She ended up in hospital after a fall at home and never recovered.

I noticed her absence even at her funeral on the 13th June because she had always been integral to my conversations with Guy - translating his Picard as we went along. Guy himself has not been in the best of health for a couple of years (and mainly because he just won't look after himself) and toppled over himself the following day.

This was followed by a second fall in the hospital and he had to be transferred down to Amiens. It didn't look good and we all felt that he would never recover but the staff finally decided to operate and the difference was remarkable. From being asleep all the time and being half paralysed, within 36 hours he was able to move again and was bright and alert. He has just been transferred back to Abbeville which makes visiting a lot simpler as it is half the distance.

Sandra, Peter, Richard, Sue and myself usually celebrate the end of a job by eating curry - or at least wiping the bowl clean - and I thus organised the night.

I hadn't mentioned that it was my birthday and was extremely impressed when everyone turned up with cards and balloons. Even JJ managed to provide a card (So he gets to stay another wee while yet).

My battlefield friend Florian drove over from Arras and we insisted on him practising his English with us for the best part of the evening. I think he found that talking English with other students was one thing but a clatter of British accents was another.



St Riquier Abbey

St Riquier Abbey

Everytime I head down to Abbeville I drive past the imposing abbey at St Riquier and whilst visiting Guy I have finally had the chance to pass whilst it has been open and I have had the time to take a look.

The church is described as an eglise abbatiale as it was attached to a Benedictine monastery. The town's original church had been destroyed by the Normans and the abbey was built on top of its ruins from about the 13th century. The monastery itself is now a museum of rural life.

The exterior is flamboyant Gothic architecture of the 15th and 16th centuries and is unusual for two things. Firstly there is just the one 50 metre tower and secondly, if you look you will realise that there are no windows on the tower. Instead there are about fifty full sized statues depicting characters from both testaments of the bible.

The interior is quite calm in comparison to the exterior though the vaulting is splendid; the organ is one of the oldest in the Somme and a listed monument in its own right. There are a number of references to Joan of Arc within the abbey as she was held prisoner in the town whilst being transferred to Rouen.

St Riquier Abbey

St Riquier Abbey

During the reign of King Dagobert (628-638) two Irish monks: Cridoc and Frichor arrived in the town of Centula and converted one of the inhabitants called Riquier (Richarius). Riquier began spreading the word of his new found religion and spent time in England buying the freedom of slaves.

A small group of these slaves returned to Centula in about 625 and formed a monastic community based on the Irish monk, St Columb's way of life.

Some years later they decided to join the Benedictine Order whilst Riquier himself eventually returned home and lived out in the Crecy Forest where he died in or around 645. His body was brought back to the town that would soon carry his name - though the inhabitants are still referred to as Centulois.

The abbey achieved patronage from King Dagobert and one of the abbots would be a son-in-law of Charlemagne. The local Counts of Ponthieu sent their sons destined for the church to the abbey for their education and one such boy called Guy would become Bishop of Amiens.

His teacher: Enguerrand the Wise was one of 300 monks who provided the education for 100 scholars. Enguerrand died in 1045 whilst the abbey was at the height of its powers and just before the Norman invasions.

St Riquier Abbey

The beffroi

For centuries St Riquier would remain capital of the local Ponthieu district, its fortifications sheltering 15000 inhabitants which is ten times more people than today.

However, a port would be built nearby on the Somme with its own abbey. This new abbey-town began to take precedence and in modern times Abbeville is our local administrative centre.

Ponthieu would be ravaged by the Hundred Years War (Battle of Crécy en Ponthieu 1346) and put to the sack in 1474 by the French King Louis XI who was not happy with the town siding with the Dukes of Burgundy (who were responsible for capturing Joan of Arc and handed her to their allies: the English).

French history (if you could call it that) is very complicated and is in part proved by the beffroi (Belfry tower).

The town was one of the first to obtain a charter (In 1126) and a symbol of communal power was the watchtower. The original had to be demolished on the order of the Abbey as it was too close for the comfort of the monks (read: power of the church).

The tower we see today dates from 1283 and is one of 23 towers listed by UNESCO in the north of France - all of which were in Flanders - owned by the Dukes of Burgundy.

When Louis XI defeated Charles the Bold in 1482, Picardy finally came back into French hands, whilst Artois would pass into the control of the Hapsburgs when Burgundy came by marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor. St Riquier became a border town and it would only be during the reign of Louis XIII that from here to the current Belgian border would definitively become part of France. There, I said it was complicated and it explains why Hesdin celebrates its liberation in 1639.


See also

The Dubliners: July 2008

Sanding away

Cassel : Bagpipe festival