I was Born for This – A Blog about France
At least, it’s a blog about the tiny bit of France that we visited on a short cruise. We went to Rouen then to Le Havre and from Le Havre I took a short coach trip to visit Deauville and Honfleur.
Joan of Arc
I will start with a brief introduction to one of the most famous heroines of France. You will find out why a bit later.
Joan of Arc did not come from a place called Arc. She was born in Domrémy in the northeast of France. In French she is always known as Jeanne d’Arc. She was Jeanne, spelt in medieval times as Jehanne, and her father’s surname was D’Arc. In the English language her first name has been always been Joan since the fifteenth century because that was the only English equivalent for the feminine form of John during her lifetime.
The surname of Arc is a translation of d’Arc, which itself is a nineteenth-century French approximation of her father’s name. Apostrophes were never used in Fifteenth Century French surnames, which sometimes leads to confusion between place names and other names that begin with the letter D. Based on Latin records, which do reflect a difference, her father’s name was more likely to have been Darc. Spelling was also phonetic and original records produce his surname in at least nine different forms, such as Dars, Day, Darx, Dare, Tarc, Tart or Dart. [Perhaps she was related to another hero – from Pride and Prejudice!] She also has the common nickname la Pucelle d’Orléans (“the Maid of Orléans”).
I won’t say much about her life. As a young peasant girl, she had visions of the Archangel Michael, Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine speaking to her. She left home; supported King Charles VII against the English in the Hundred Years War; was apparently important in the ending of the siege of Orléans (hence the nickname) but was captured by the English. After a trial she was burned at the stake in 1431 at the age of about nineteen. It was not until the Twentieth Century that the Roman Catholic Church finally made her a saint.
While Our Lady of the Assumption, the Virgin Mary is the patron saint of France, Joan of Arc is one of the nine secondary patron saints of France, along with Saint Denis, Saint Martin of Tours, Saint Louis, Saint Michael, Saint Rémi, Saint Petronilla, Saint Radegund and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.
Rouen is a city on the River Seine in the north of France. It is the capital of Normandy, formerly one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe. It was founded by the Gaulish tribe of Veliocasses, who named the settlement Ratumacos. The Romans called it Rotomagus, the second city of Gallia Lugdunensis, after Lugdunum (Lyon). In the Fifth Century it became the seat of a bishopric and later a capital of Merovingian Neustria.
During the Hundred Years’ War, in 1419, Rouen with a population of 70,000 surrendered to Henry V of England, who annexed Normandy once again to the Plantagenet domains. It became the capital city of English power in occupied France. When the Duke of Bedford, John of Lancaster bought Joan of Arc her liberty from the Duke of Burgundy who had been keeping her in jail since May 1430, she was sent to be tried in the city during Christmas 1430. After a long trial by a church court, she was sentenced to be burned at the stake. The sentence was carried out on 30 May 1431 in the city. Note this date as we visited on 30 May 2017.
For our very short visit we were deposited by the shuttle bus near the old city and started with Rouen Cathedral (Cathédrale primatiale Notre-Dame de l’Assomption de Rouen.) the see of the Archbishop of Rouen, Primate of Normandy. Our visit was quite late in the evening when the cathedral was shut but even from the outside it was impressive, starting with its pointed spire currently being restored.
With no real aim in mind we followed the narrow street from the cathedral towards the market square. The buildings still had a mediaeval look to them and we passed under an arch bearing large ornate clock faces.
We came to an insignificant church and tucked behind it was an unassuming statue of a young girl.
There was a large cross and a little garden area.
We had just come to see an old French city and it was strange to discover this monument almost by chance.
And we realised that we were there on the anniversary of the day Joan of Arc was burned. 586 years later we had the opportunity to reflect how much the World has changed since then – and how much it hasn’t.
I will say very little about our cruise. Here are just a few pictures of our Ship, Magellan – outside the ship; the Bridge room where we spent several hours playing cards; and part of the long corridor leading to our cabin.
It was a short cruise and we had just come from Antwerp. The Seine was very wide as we made our slow progress over several hours passing under some impressive bridges to Rouen and after our visit we made the return journey through the night.
The first bridge, nearest to the estuary was the Pont de Normandie a cable-stayed road bridge that links Le Havre to Honfleur. Its total length is 2,143.21 metres – 856 metres between the two piers. It is a motorway toll bridge, but there is a footpath as well as a narrow cycle lane in each direction allowing pedestrians and cyclists to cross the bridge free of charge. The bridge was constructed from 1988 to 1995. At that time the bridge was both the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world, and had the record for the longest distance between piers for any cable-stayed bridge. This what it looked like as we passed underneath.
It was only a day later when I took the coach from Le Havre. To get to Deauville and Honfleur we had to cross the same bridge.
Our second port of call in France was Le Havre, an urban French commune and city in the Seine-Maritime department in the Normandy region of northwestern France, situated on the right bank of the estuary of the river Seine. Modern Le Havre retains its maritime traditions. Its port is the second largest in France, after that of Marseille, for total traffic, and the largest French container port. The name Le Havre means “the harbour” or “the port”. The city and port were founded by the King Francis I of France in 1517. Celebrations were starting for the six hundred year anniversary.
The city was largely destroyed (by the Allies) during the Second World War, and rebuilt according to the plans of the architect Auguste Perret between 1945 and 1964. Only the town hall and the Church of Saint Joseph were personally designed by Auguste Perret. UNESCO listed the city of Le Havre in 2005 as a World Heritage Site. The architecture of the area is characterized by the use of precast concrete using a system of a modular frame.
We didn’t venture into Le Havre but here is the view from the ship.
Deauville is a commune in Normandy just beyond Honfleur. With its race course, harbour, international film festival, marinas, conference centre, villas, Grand Casino and sumptuous hotels, it is regarded as the “queen of the Norman beaches” and one of the most prestigious seaside resorts in all of France. It is the closest seaside resort to Paris, and has long been home to French high society’s seaside houses and is often referred to as the Parisian Riviera. Since the Nineteenth Century, the town of Deauville has been a fashionable holiday resort for the international upper class and the wealthy. In France, it is known perhaps above all for its role in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.
We were dropped by the coach by the very expensive Normandy Hotel and the Casino and walked to the famous boardwalk with the row of beach huts, each bearing the name of one of its famous Hollywood visitors. I walked out over the beach and briefly visited the harbour and marina area.
Honfleur is a commune in the Calvados department on the southern bank of the estuary of the Seine across from Le Havre and very close to the exit of the Pont de Normandie. It is especially known for its old, beautiful picturesque port, characterized by its houses with slate-covered frontages, painted many times by artists, including in particular Gustave Courbet, Eugène Boudin, Claude Monet and Johan Jongkind, forming the école de Honfleur, which contributed to the appearance of the Impressionist movement.
From the Eleventh Century it was variously named Hunefleth, Hunefloth, Honneflo, Honflue and Honnefleu, up to the Eighteenth Century. It was traditional pronunciation with the h strongly expirated as in ‘loch’.
The marker -fleur, formerly -fleu which is widespread in Normandy means ‘stream, or river running into the sea’ and was still in use in the Thirteenth Century. It is probably cognate with the English ending -fleet seen in place-names. The element Hon- seems to come from an Anglo-Saxon personal name Huna or the Norse Húni.
[The port of Honfleur is le port de Honfleur, not le port d’Honfleur. Those interested in linguistics will note that Le Havre and Honfleur both use the rather uncommon ‘aspirated H’ (“h” aspiré) an initial silent letter that represents a hiatus and prevents the normal contraction and liaison processes. It does not represent aspiration but derives from the voiceless glottal fricative [h] of Old French and Middle French, now remaining only in some words in Belgian dialects.]
We started our visit to Honfleur with a walking tour through the mediaeval streets and an excellent guide.
The church, dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria, is the largest church made out of wood in France. The first nave, the oldest part of the building, dates from the second half of the Fifteenth Century right after the Hundred Years War. It was built on the model of a market hall, using naval construction techniques, which gives the impression of an upside-down ship’s hull. Then the bell tower was built a good distance away, so that parishioners would not be burnt in case of a fire. In the Sixteenth Century, a second nave was added. This second part was rather rounder, and did not look like a ship’s hull. The famous “Axe masters” of the naval yards of the city created the building without using any saws, just like their Norman ancestors.
The beams used to create the pillars of the nave and the side walls are of unequal length, because there were not anymore any oak trees long enough to construct them. Also, some have a footing of stone, some of greater or lesser height, and some have no footing.
Here are outside views of the twin naves from the front and the campanile and two inside views.
The classical organ comes from the parish St. Vincent of Rouen. It is situated at the back of the church and the seats can be reversed by flipping the backs!
I had a little time to see the port, which is still used for fishing.
There is a small municipality in Quebec called Honfleur, founded in 1904. It is similar to Honfleur in France, from where many sailors came from during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries to North America.
There was a plaque on an arch of the Lieutenancy building at the port of Honfleur commemorating some of these early settlers.
Much of the information in this blog is taken unashamedly from Wikipedia. The pictures are, of course, all my own.
I will end with the source of my title. As Joan of Arc was leaving Vaucouleurs to begin her mission to save France she was asked by a woman: “How can you make such a journey when on all sides are soldiers?” to which Joan responded: “I do not fear the soldiers, for my road is made open to me; and if the soldiers come, I have God, my Lord, who will know how to clear the route that leads to the Dauphin. It was for this that I was born!” The original in French is: “Je n’ai pas peur des soldats, car ma route m’a été ouverte, et si les soldats viennent, j’ai Dieu, mon Seigneur, qui saura comment libérer la route qui mène à Sieur le Dauphin. C’est pour cela que je fus nais.” It is often quoted as just:
“I am not afraid, for God is with me. I was born for this!”