Authie et Mi

A golden valley

19th July 2017

The legend Orval

An early start to the day because we had a lot of driving to do. Finding our way out of Aachen was not too difficult but there did seem to be either a lack of filling stations or I just wasn’t looking for the correct sort of front. Anyway, we regained Belgium and headed south down the autoroute towards Bastogne and the Ardennes.

An hour down the road and we came off the autoroute and started across the 1914 battlefields. I have travelled across the area a couple of times whilst on dead people mode and some of the locations came back to memory. Almost at the frontier with France we picked up the signs for the Trappist Abbey at Orval.

The emblem of Orval is a fish holding a golden ring in it’s mouth. The legend goes that the widow of the Count of Chiny, Mathilde de Toscane (1046—1115) was sitting beside the local spring when she accidentally dropped her wedding ring into the waters. Praying that it would be recovered she was filled with awe when a trout appeared with it in its mouth. She was so grateful to have the ring returned that she donated the funds for the building of an abbey.

Supposedly she said :

This truly is a golden valley (Or-val)

The spring is still there today and provides the Abbey with its water. Caught in the afternoon with the sun glinting off the yellow stone buildings it is difficult to imagine a place where the suggestion of a golden valley is not more apt.

The Abbey is always busy. It is situated in a picturesque area, its ruins and gardens make a pleasant visit and the boutique sells its world famous beer.

Arriving at the Abbey of Orval

First glimpse of the Abbey

Orval is the oldest of the Trappist monasteries that brew beer. It was founded in 1070 by Italian monks who were given land by Count Arnould de Chiny (a town on the far side of Florenville) the local lord — and remember the connection with Mathilde.

In 1132 the community became Cistercian and for centuries the monks would continue their lives without being too bothered by the outside world. The area around the Abbey is clearly not conducive to agriculture but numerous gifts of land in other areas provided them with all that was needed. In particular they were given the right to set up a forge on the premises by Holy Roman Emperor, Charles Quint, and so became important to regional industry.

History is complicated along the Franco-Belgian frontier. Perhaps the most important person in this knotted affair is this chap, Charles Quint (1500-1558). Born in Flanders he was the grandson of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (so down a long line of Emperors since Charlemagne). His mother was the daughter of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. His father, Duke Philip of Burgundy owned lands covering much of what we now consider France — including the town of Arras.

Whilst the Burgundy wine region is in the south of France it also produced a very powerful house with vast territories in Artois and Flanders. They spent a lot of time in conflict with the King of France. The Burgundians were allied with England against Joan of Arc and it was they that captured and handed her to the English.

Charles would slowly inherit all of Burgundy, then Spain and finally the Holy Roman Empire. He is known as Charles I of Spain (and was the first to unite both Castille and Aragon) and Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire — this gives him the title of Charles Quint from an old word meaning fifth.

In a nutshell this area would form part of the Spanish Netherlands until 1714 when it was ceded by treaty to Austria and the Hapsburg Empire.

In June 1791 Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (daughter of the Hapsburg Emperor) fled revolutionary Paris bound for the Royalist stronghold of Montmédy as their initial destination. It is believed that they were then to continue to Orval where they would meet Austrian troops. As things turned out they were caught en route at Varennes and forced to return to Paris.

A new legend grew up suggesting that the two accompanying carriages, carrying a fortune in treasure, were never stopped and continued on their way. The question being — to where ? Orval ?

Religious mementoes, cheese, jam and cases of beer on sale

He has obviously come prepared

As Austrian troops had been billeted on the monks, and had received a warm welcome, the marauding French revolutionaries burnt the abbey down on 23 June 1793. The destruction lasted ten days and the French officer in charge of the operation, General Loison, was later promoted. They never did find any treasure though !

In 1926 the land was offered to the Cistercian Order in order to rebuild their monastery and in 1935 the monastery regained its title of Abbey. The church was finally finished and consecrated in 1948.

In order to help finance the construction of the new abbey the monks began brewing their own beer in 1931. I have visited the brewery and it is far from what you might have thought when you think : monks. It is pretty state of the art and they only brew the one variety which comes in its famous skittle shaped bottle.

Picture taking alongside the well

Will their wish come true ?

Having been sat in the car for a couple of hours it was nice to be able to get out and stretch our legs whilst walking around the old ruins and herb gardens. It could have been sunnier but the rain stayed away as we did our wandering. The boutique sells a few items of porcelain and I have picked up pieces as gifts for the family over the years. Mum was looking to increase the collection but couldn’t see what she was after and had to make do with one of their small chalice shaped beer glasses which she felt would do nicely for Martini. It cost less than the pot of quince jam !

It was now coming on lunchtime and I wanted to reach our final destination before stopping. Following the road just inside the Belgian border we reached a scenic spot that I recognised from a visit with Anton, Debbie and Hannah from 2003. A great lookout onto the village of Chassepierre. Had to stop for photos.

A few more minutes up the road and we arrived in Bouillon where high on the cliff you can see a castle that is everything that a castle should be, literally rock solid.

The Castle of Godefroy de Bouillon

The castle is what we might consider, a real one, a château fort in French, and not an ornate and pretty job. It guards the north-south route between what used to be upper and lower Lotharingia (in France that would be Lorraine). During the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 American troops realised that a couple of anti-tank guns mounted in the castle would command the entire Semois valley below.

I adore the knots that hold history together and our mini holiday was closing with just such a connection.

The fifth Duke of the Ardennes, Godefroy (Godfrey) was born in 1060 ; the second son of Count Eustache II of Boulogne sur Mer and Ida of Lorraine. As a second son things did not look too favourable for the young Godefroy until his uncle, the Duke of Lower Lorraine, died childless, naming Godefroy as his heir. Now, in theory Godefroy should have inherited everything but Henry IV of Germany (and future Holy Roman Emperor) only allowed him to take possession of Bouillon and Antwerp.

Remember how he came into his possessions ? through his recently deceased uncle, so there was an aunt as well. Turns out that irate auntie was Mathilde of Tuscany who was far from being the poor, romantic, recently bereaved country girl, that you might think having read the Orval legend. In reality she was extremely powerful, and extremely miffed, that her husband had, according to her, cheated her out of her due inheritance. That didn’t stop her losing out though when she sided with the Pope against the new Emperor.

Godefroy might have remained a backwoods duke if it were not for Pope Urban II’s call, in 1095, for a Crusade to reconquer Jerusalem.

In order to pay for a place on the first Crusade Godefroy sold his entire Duchy to Otbert, Bishop of Liège. Although he had the option to buy back his estate Godefroy would never return. In August 1096 he set out with his two brothers, Eustache and Baudouin at the head of an army of Lorraine numbering, some say, 40,000 men.

There were a number of these Crusader armies led by some of the great noblemen of the time. Each had his own particular agenda and the most powerful of the leaders was Raymond IV of Toulouse (who had the great hero Tancrède amongst his knights). Having taken Antioch in 1098 the leaders seemed unsure as to what their next step should be until Raymond was pushed by his own foot soldiers to get a move on and advance on Jerusalem.

The Crusaders arrived before Jerusalem in June 1099 and began preparing to assault its walls. On 14th July the assault on the city began and the following day Godefroy and his knights were the first to set foot inside Jerusalem. Somebody had to govern and having refused to wear a crown in the city where Christ wore thorns, Godefroy was proposed a title suggesting that he would be the Defender of the Holy Sepulchre.

In June 1100 Godefroy fell ill — rumours of poison swell the chronicles of the time. He died in Jerusalem on the 18th July and whilst the Patriarch Dagobert might well have had notions about taking power in the Pope’s name, it was Godefroy’s younger brother Baudouin who would be crowned (because he didn’t have the same scuples as his brother) the first King of Jerusalem, on the 25th December 1100.

The Semois river hooks around the castle

The Semois river hooks around the castle

The castle’s ownership changed hands over the years as dynasties came and went. Then in 1594 the estate came into the possession of Henri de la Tour d’Auvergne a Marshal of France, close friend of the French king, Henri IV and importantly for the time : a Protestant. This provides yet another wee tie up in history. Henri went on to marry Elisabeth of Orange-Nassau and one of their children was the Marshal General of France, Henri de la Tour d’Auvergne, Vicomte de Turenne after whom the citadel in Arras is named.

The Duchy of Bouillon was invaded by Louis XIV in 1676 during his war with the young Dutch Republic and Bouillon became a French protectorate by the Treaty of Nijmegen in 1678.

(Charpentier wrote a Te Deum for the signing of the treaty. The prelude is better known to most people as the fanfare to the Eurovision Song Contest.)

The road up to the car park is suitably narrow and twisty as you climb the cliff. Having got there we were ready for feeding but I dashed across to check on times and to get the tickets. From a previous visit I remembered that they have exibitions of falconry which are interesting to watch.

The castle is remarkably well preserved and to get in you have to cross over two bridges spanning great cuts made in the rock. At the far end of the 370 metre long castle the rock was again hewn away to separate the walls from the cliff. The owners were not taking chances against unwanted guests — or people selling double glazing.

An inscription above the entrance tower gives thanks to Louis XIV (Of France) for ensuring that the Tour d’Auvergne family remained masters of Bouillon.

There is a maze of tunnels and stairs to explore but we needed to accept that we could only do so much before elderly knees declared time out. We did get to the top of the tower and took the time to watch the falconry show twice which provided a good sit down.

And weren’t we lucky ? Just as we decided to call it a day and go back and eat the cakes we had been saving it began to rain. Buns suitably munched we set out on the long journey back to the Somme. We stopped once for me to get a rest from driving and then managed to stretch our legs at Caudry where we made the most of a Leclerc supermarket for provisions.

The driver was a tired bunny by the time we got back and definitely feeling his years, which increased at midnight.

The following day was one of relaxation in readiness for the return trip to England the following day. That evening we popped down the road to the local Estaminet for a birthday meal. What the folks didn’t know was that I had already arranged for Anton and Debs to come over for the meal and then take them back home the following day.

Meal was a good one though dad was not enamoured with his very cold, sliced, beef carpaccio. The great thing about eating locally is that you are only five minuted from the house where bottles can be opened for the drivers — and Anton had a new case of Orval beer to drink.

And so the holiday for 2017 came to a close. It had been well filled.

Posted : 19 July 2017

Visitors, Belgium