Normandy to Britanny

Edited by Lynne Hand.

Outside, a storm is raging: Rain is clattering on the dormer, and the huge pine tree in the front garden is bending ever lower towards the house. One day it will snap, but hopefully not today.  Sometimes that's all we can pray for, "Not today please". And yet this is peaceful compared with the noise we have experienced over the last few days. We are in Normandie at present, and this weekend there has been a huge agricultural show in the area with around half a million visitors: Most of whom seemed to walk straight past our gate.

The festival of St Croix has been going for a thousand years or so, and, because of its name, was presumably some sort of religious festival when it began. The church is still involved, although it plays a very minor role nowadays.  I’ve just looked it up, and discovered it was originally founded to celebrate the opening of the abbey in Lessay.

At the side of the house is a field where there were many horses on sale or on show – everything from tiny ponies less than waist high, to the mighty Percherons, but at seven o’clock last night, the heavens opened and within an amazingly short time almost everything, and everyone was packed and gone.  However, they have left their legacy, huge ruts in the ground from the enormous agricultural machinery that had been on show, splats on the grass, from the horses and the other animals - donkeys, goats and the rest. Of course, the ruts will disappear, and the animal waste will fertilise the land, but the human waste will be harder to get rid of – plastic bags, discarded cans and all the rest.

There many other abbeys in this area; all the way to Mont St Michel, and you could visit one every day without going very far.  It has to be said that the church as an institution is not as important in French society as it once was, yet it is still there. The faithful still express their faith, whether in the church we attended yesterday or by lighting a small candle in a wayside chapel.  These places are well-worth visiting; there are often exhibitions showing the history of the area, although of course the relatively recent history is all too often very dark. Here we are not far from the landing beaches of D-Day, so the storm of war and revolution is all around us, from stories of priests being carried off to concentration camps, and how the local cathedral in Countance became a ‘temple of reason‘ during the revolution; no services were allowed for two years, and the nuns who had been running a hospital in a nearby town had to go into hiding. They didn’t get the hospital back until 1956. 

There has been an interesting survey in America recently. It was trying to assess how the Catholic church is doing, and instead of just asking about church attendance it asked about belief and adherence. Large numbers stated that they were cultural Catholics. This means they may not attend on a regular basis , but that their thinking and life-style expresses some affinity with Catholic values.  And it really doesn't matter what our beliefs are, we all need good moral guidance in our lives. I have a grandson who is just over a year old. Sometimes he does things, or wants to do things, to which we have to categorically say ‘No’. At other times he is praised for doing a positive thing. At this age he hasn’t worked out for himself which is which in every case, but over time a pattern will emerge. There will be times when he pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable, but at least the boundaries are there and he will know what they are.

Yesterday I saw a huge cart-horse negotiate a very difficult route round lots of obstacles. He did this with the guidance of the man on the cart he was pulling. We all need some help round the obstacles in our lives, especially in stormy times, and sometimes we can also be the person doing the guiding.