Volcanoes, a Pope, and Monky Business

From Bozouls we continued in a generally Northerly direction. Le Puy en Velay was a bit of a disappointment, mainly because our guide book described it as “one of the most impressive sights in France”. It wasn’t THAT good…

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Our next stop, travelling through an increasingly snowy landscape, was the Abbey of St Robert at La Chaise-Dieu, which I for one thought was much better than the billing given in the guide book.

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The future Pope Clement was a novice at the Abbey and took his vows here in 1305. He became the 4th Avignon pope and was known for his lavish tastes. Having decided that he would be interred back at La Chaise-Dieu, he sent a potload of money to have the place rebuilt (the original presumably not being up to scratch). The signs at the Abbey told us how the rebuilding was impressively completed in just 6 years between 1345 and 1351, which was a good thing really as he died in 1353.

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Clement VI was the pope at the time of the Black Death. He seems to have been quite pragmatic, declaring that everyone who died of the plague would be let off their sins (which must’ve handily reduced the number of people insisting on seeing a priest in their final hours) and consecrating the whole of the Rhone River (no need for a burial – chucking bodies in the river was now completely OK). At least you can say that he looked after his workforce…..

The abbey also contains a 15th century Dance Macabre fresco. Mark liked this as there was an information sheet explaining the whole thing; the skeletons are the dead inviting the living to dance (this representing their death). The living figures shown include a pope, an emperor, a trader (who looks down on death), a child etc. The second photo shows a cardinal in his red robes.

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Our next stop was at Puy de Dome. The weather wasn’t the best so we didn’t bother with the train to the summit. We stopped for lunch at the car park and noticed a footpath sign showing 1.5 hours to the top, so we plan to park there and walk up next time we’re passing. We did manage to get a reasonable photo from further away as the weather cleared…

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After a couple of unexciting overnight stops, we now discovered the aire at a place called St Saturnin. This was at the football field and had the luxury of free electricity – as long as you were brave enough to park directly behind the goalposts to plug in…. It was a Friday night….. hmmmm….

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Kampington survived unscathed, but others may not have been so fortunate….

Continuing North, it was time to visit some more abbeys. Firstly we saw the Abbaye de Noirlac near Bourges, which our guidebook described as “one of the best-preserved Cistercian abbeys in France”, founded in 1136. Note Mark in his now usual reading pose – he has decided that perhaps he should have his eyes tested when we get home!

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Noirlac went through a bit of a tough time in the 15th century. Having a monk who renounced his vows and a murdering monk among their number probably didn’t help…. For me though, the best part of the story came in the 18th century. There was the usual tale about how the number of monks dwindled over time…. and by some point in the 18th century there were only 6 monks left. At this point they decided to do away with the monks’ dormitory and have a corridor of sumptuous individual bedrooms built instead, with stone fireplaces, large windows overlooking the abbey parkland, alcoves big enough for a king-sized bed, a walk-in wardrobe, and another little ensuite room whose purpose was not explained so we had to make it up….

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From the Cistercians we moved swiftly on to the Bendictines and the abbey church at St Benoit sur Loire, just South-East of Orleans. The abbey here was founded in 651 (we weren’t told when the current building was constructed) and originally had the name of Fleury. St Benedict was born in Italy around 480 and died at Mont-Cassin around 547, where he was buried. Given that his tomb was (so they said) abandoned, and that they’d had a series of premonitions telling them what to do, the monks of Fleury decided sometime around 700AD that it would be a good idea to collect St Benedict, take him home, and change the name of their abbey to St Benoit-sur-Loire. Whatever bits and pieces they have do seem to fit into a surprisingly small box in the crypt….

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We’re making good time on our journey North – less than 5 hours from Dieppe with 4 full days to go before our ferry. Hopefully we’ll find a few more interesting things to look at along the way…..

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