Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Quo Vadis? Normandy!

Immediately after the Vocations Retreat at Lymington, we had the half-term trip of the Quo Vadis Group to Normandy. We left on Monday morning after Mass at St Osmund's Church in Barnes, travelling by minibus to Portsmouth where we took the Brittany Ferries' crossing to France. Having only travelled P&O in the past, I was very impressed by the Mont St Michel. It was very comfortable, served really great, yet inexpensive, food in its restaurant, and even had a children's entertainer who instantly gained a new, somewhat older, fan club from among our group.

Having landed in France, it was only a short trip to Caens where we were booked into a hotel. After sorting out our rooms and praying Compline together we got an early night. On Tuesday we prayed Morning Prayer and then enjoyed a plentiful French breakfast. We then travelled by minibus to Rouens, the city where Joan of Arc was martyred. Having grown up with the typical British propaganda about the Maid of Orleans, I was very pleased to learn more about this teenage saint. We were able to visit the spot where she was burnt at the stake before celebrating Mass together in the new basilica built in her honour.

It is in the old market square and incorporates some stained glass from Churches destroyed as the allies liberated France. Inside the basilica is quite pleasing. From the outside it is unusual - not disimilar to a dragon. Just opposite the basilica is a wax-work museum depicting the saint's life. It is well-worth a visit should you ever be there.

On Wednesday we travelled to Lisieux where a guide kindly showed us about for the day. Not quite catching her name, we settled on Liz and since she didn't travel with us the question was often asked: "Is Liz 'ere?".

In the morning we visited St Theresa's Convent where - although we can't get into the Carmelite monastery because of the enclosure - we were able to see the museum and also to spend some time in prayer before her relics. Later we travelled to another part of town to visit the house where the Martin Family lived after the death of their mother. It was from here that St Theresa and a number of her sisters entered religious life.

In the afternoon we went to the magnificent Basilica dedicated to the saint which now preserves also the relics of her beatified parents. We were made very welcome and were able to celebrate Mass in a side chapel. We also saw a video on St Theresa's life in the new visitors' centre.

Thursday was a gentler day. We stayed in Caens and celebrated Mass in the Church of the Men's Abbey which was founded by William the Conqueror. It's a magnificent Church with lots of interesting features - including William's tomb. Just by the tomb there's a grill with the names of former abbots including Langfranc, the great canonist who became Archbishop of Canterbury.

It is also the Church where St John Eudes began preaching devotion to the Sacred Heart and the reform of the French clergy. After Mass we went round to his house which, although currently a convent, had no one in so we had to make do with a photograph on the steps.

Caens suffered heavily during the liberation. After the D-Day landings it was largely destroyed by aerial bombardment. Most of the populace took refuge in the Abbey Church where the parish priest ensured the rooves were decked with white sheets and red crosses. The Church was spared but a shocking sight awaited the people as they emerged after several days: the city was largely flattened.

Today there are only isolated examples of its former wood-beamed architecture and many of the Churches are still left in ruins. On Thursday afternoon we went to the Memorial, the museum dedicated to the War and the post-war period.

Because all work and no play isn't good for anyone - expecially for the Quo Vadis Group, on Thursday night we went bowling!

Friday morning gave us a chance for a guided tour of the Abbey followed by a trip to the colourful Friday Market with some spare time to shop. After lunch we cllected our luggage and drove to Juno Beach where the Canadians landed on D-Day before travelling on to our ferry for the journey home. Once again the Mont St Michel was offering entertainment - only this time the fan club was able to get a photo with their idol!

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