The way of tourists’ nourishment in France has one interesting feature: either it does not work at all, or the operating hours are very inconvenient for tourists.
Just imagine: you’re a Chinese tourist, who decided to come to Normandy to the town of Jumieges by himself in order to have a look on the picturesque ruins of the Benedictine abbey early in the morning, while his numerous countrymen are still asleep or have a breakfast. The abbey opens at 9.00. Around 10.00 excursion buses bring troops of tourists, whereby the ruins start to resemble an anthill; and if the school children also arrive there, the sound background approaches to decibels of a football match.
Having known that, you missed the hotel breakfast and went off for a photo-shoot by nine o’clock. The ruins of the Jumieges Abbey are magnificent and grand; it’s hard to argue with Victor Hugo in this case.
So, you wander along the abbey for two hours, admiring with the opening views, search for different angles, take pictures, and finally the nature asserts its rights: you start to feel hungry. Not a big deal, after all, you are in France, a country with widely boosted culinary traditions – mostly by the French themselves, getting some eats should not be a problem here. No way! You leave the abbey full of impressions and photos with a sense of properly executed work and with intend to have some square meal, but finally you realize that in this little city Jumieges – existing only on the tourism revenues – EVERYTHING is closed. So, what is the time? 11.00 in local time and 17.00 in China; you’re ready to eat the whole dragon and pay any money for it.
But the French are of no concern at all. Local restaurants and cafes start to serve something edible at 12.00 and finish at 15.00. Then “absolutely exhausted” after three hours of works, the restaurateurs have a rest and go back to work only at 19.00. But this time they work even less: for two hours – fair enough: they have already got tired in the afternoon – and all restaurants close at 21.00.
It’s absolutely comfortless for you, because it’s already 3 a.m. in China. You wish you could eat a bit earlier and go to sleep, but the French do not give a hoot about that: they operate only within the given periods of time and do not care about their guests in others. After all, the bars are open almost for the whole day, so you can always have a drink to hold out till the moment when the warmly welcoming hosts will deign to cook something edible finally, by the way, not always so amazing, that you were waiting for after reading some enthusiastic articles about the French cuisine.
But let’s go back to our brave Chinese tourist. He can barely walk, his body needs of reinforcement. What to do? There are two ways: always to be equipped with some food, saved after the dinner, and/or find a local food shop operating humanly. You can always find there a couple of Normandy’s cheese sorts and bacon. If you also take a bottle of good red wine and some Cherry-tomatoes (oh, no, not wine – you should better take local cider!), you may sit in some quiet place – means almost everywhere, because till 12.00 small French towns look like test range of neutron bombs, after the explosion of which all alive die and only the building remain – and have a good meal.
There is a tiny street along the wall of the Jumieges Abbey, accommodating a shop several times pulling us from starving to death in the country of famed culinary traditions: France.
In the evenings it is all the same: if you did not succeed to eat between 19.00 and 21.00, all is left to do is drinking at numerous bars, chewing the muck they call the snacks; usually it includes different sandwiches, which are even worse than at McDonald’s, and of course the desserts. What have you said? To book a more expensive hotel? We were living in a very tidy and stylish hotel Le Clos Des Fontaines in Jumieges which has even a heated pool, and eight Ferrari (not ours!) were parked under our window. The hotel did not offer any lunch or dinner. 🙂
The hotel served only breakfast – rolled cakes with raisins were great; as for the rest, they could have not served it at all. Granted, there are no normally operating restaurants nearby, only those feeding the guests in accordance with the usual French schedule: just like in prison, hospital or army.
But still we survived and want to tell you in details what for you are risking the health of your stomach: the ruins of the Benedictine Abbey in Jumieges.
Sad history of Jumieges Abbey
Founded by Saint Philibert in the 7th century, Jumieges Abbey was one of the first Benedictine monastery in the lower Seine valley. In his undertaking, Philibert was assisted by Queen Bathilde (680). Of Anglo-Saxon descent, Bathilde was a former slave, sent to Gaul to serve Erchinoald, mayor of the Palace of Neustria. Since the death of Clovis, Frankish Gaul had effectively been divided into two kingdoms: Neustria to the northwest and Austrasia. Bathilde attracted the attention of King Clovis II, who took her for his wife.
Hawing becomes queen, she devoted herself to charitable works, founding the monasteries at Chelles and Corbie, and aiding numerous religious establishments with donations of land and funds. To Philibert, she ceded the Jumieges estate, a vast royal property situated in a meander of the Seine, with fishing rights in the river and diverse forestry outbuildings. Such proximity of royal power ceased to be an advantage at the end of the Merovingian epoch, during instances of rivalry between the aristocracy and mayors of the Palace.
Philibert built four churches in his monastery, the principal one dedicated to Saint Peter, the other three to the Virgin Mary, Saint Denys, and Saint Germanus. No historical traces have been retained on his administrative role at Jumieges, apart from the development of business relations with England, to which he became attached.
According to his anonymous biographer, the abbot of Jumieges had given an order to his merchants (likely based upon a notion of Queen Bathilde, who had not forgotten her origins) to sell merchandise at a high price and to use the profits to buy up slaves who were to be brought back free to Jumieges. New members joined the monastery, attracted by its renown, and the number of monks rapidly grew.
To the men’s abbey at Jumieges, Philibert annexed of Duke Amalbert (perhaps Notre-Dame-de-Bondeville), then transferred to Pavilly and placed under the direction of Austreberthe, abbess of Port-le-Grand, near Abbeville.
A precious description of the Carolingian-period abbey is contained in the Vie de saint Philibert [The Life of Saint Philibert], written from the 8th to 9th century:
“A square enclosure bristling with towers, some sumptuous reception halls endowed with all that is necessary to welcome visitors. Within, the domestic premises are nothing but splendid, comfortable, and dignified. At sunrise looms up a cruciform church dominated by an image of the sweet Virgin Mary; it contains an altar to Saint Philibert […] resplendent in precious stones, gold and silver, and to the sides, some altars in honour of Saint John and Saint Columbanus.
On the north side are two chapels honoring Saint Denys and Saint Germanus. To the right is the noble Church [of] Saint-Pierre with the Saint-Martin chapel to one side. At noon Saint Philibert’s cell is shown, with its splendid stone balustrade […]. To the south rises a building 280 feet long by 50 wide; this is the dormitory. Each bed is illuminated by a paned window, permitting everyone to read by daylight. The ground floor is occupied by two pantries, one used as a larder, the other as a kitchen […].”
In the month of May 841, a flotilla commanded by the Danish chief Ragnar sailed up the Seine to Rouen. The city was pillaged during two days. In descending the river, the Vikings stopped at Jumieges, sacking the abbey and setting its buildings on fire.
The abbey never recovered from this first raid.
Look like it’s the destiny of the Jumieges Abbey: being ruined all the time. It had regularly been destroyed and reconstructed; the Vikings, the English, and the French – all they contributed to the destruction, but the monks always keep coming back and trying to reconstruct the convent.
From 942, Rouen lived under the control of King Louis IV, who favored the abbey of Saint-Quen over the dependencies of Jumieges, and ordered the destruction of the Church of Notre Dame’s vestiges. Only the stout towers situated at the two extremities of the nave were saved, bought up by a cleric named Clement. The abbey was thus in great danger of disappearing yet again.
On 13 April 1790, when the Revolutionary decree ordering the suppression of religious communities was signed, Benedictines at Jumieges Abbey numbered no more than eighteen. From 3 May, a municipal delegation arrived to proceed with an inventory of moveable property. The abbatial dwelling was put up for sale in 1791.
As for the monastery premises, they served during two years as a retirement home for the friars of the suppressed establishments, then became barracks. In 1795, the ensemble was sold off as national heritage. The first buyer was a certain Sire Lescuyer, property manager, who rapidly effectuated building demolitions. After 1802, Jean-Baptiste Lefort, a lumber merchant at Canteleu, tackled the Church of Notre-Dame, where he knocked down a large part of the choir by utilizing gunpowder to blow up the transept.
Systematic demolitions ceased in 1824, when the property fell to Casimir Caumont, Lefort’s son-in-law. Numerous elements nonetheless continued to be dispersed: between 1825 and 1835, a lot of sculpted stone was purchased by Lord Stuart of Rothesay, English ambassador in Paris, to decorate his Highcliffe Manor in Hampshire.
It was necessary to wait until 1853, date of the repurchase of the Jumieges Abbey by Aime Lepel-Cointet, Parisian stockbroker, in order for the ruins to be saved definitively. The Lepel-Cointet family instigated the last modifications to the domain. After acquiring the ruins and gateway, Aime Lepel-Cointet had a Neo-Gothic building added to the latter. The ground floor (now occupied by the reception and a bookshop) and first-floor salon were fitted out as a museum to present sculptural elements which derived from the abbatial buildings.
Lepel-Cointet’s son-in-law next bought the former abbot’s dwelling, separated from the abbey’s buildings, which permitted reconstitution of the 18th-century property by reuniting the two estates.
Classified in two phases, 1918 and 1947, the ensemble was bought by the State in 1946. Today the domain enjoys a new existence, oriented toward the evocation of a past whose spiritual dimension is forever present and linked to a kind of romanticism which emanates from the juxtaposition of stone and nature.
Victor Hugo called the Benedictine Abbey of Jumieges “the most beautiful ruins in France”. The modern offspring and followers of revolutionists exist only for revenues from the tourists, who come to give a glance at the remnants of what the French did not manage to break to smash. If it happened, Jumieges would be a tiny lonely spot, unworthy the attention of even the most unpretentious tourist.