Welcome to the Medieval Ages
….well sort of. Shared by medieval historian Veronica Domagalski, I learned more in a half day about medieval cathedrals, saints and stained glass than I ever thought I would in a lifetime.
I had the pleasure of this historical account of the times during a recent “spiritual
” trip to Normandy
, where Chartres was one of the stops. For those who are not familiar with Chartres
and its magestic cathedral with 4,000 sculpted statues and 5,000 figures in 2,600 square meters of stained glass from the 12th and 13th centuries, its a place of deep history and spiritual amazement.
From April to October, the city of Chartres transforms at night with The Festival of Lights
, a creative project that transforms how the cathedral looks at night.
Before and during this cathedral transformation, I learn that they had 32 banks in the Middle Ages and each town had its own money. I also learn a number of fascinating facts from my guide that is astonishing even to the most astute historian.
Did You Know?
- There are 200 Mary’s on the windows and frescoes?
- The Wings date back to 1194?
Rewind the clock to over twenty years ago. I’m in my early twenties and hitching my way through France…
every nook and cranny of her, from the castles and valleys in the south, to Dijon, Lyon, the Loire Valley and Paris, through the coastline of Brittany and then to northern Normandy. I was young and my luggage and budget were both slight — back then, it was more about the discovery and meeting new people than it was about capturing an experience. Today, I somehow manage to do both.
There was a magical and remarkable place I visited oh so long ago on that lovely and free-spirited summer that has remained on my mind since I first set eyes on her. I didn’t have a serious camera at the time so never managed to get high quality shots of this magical, remarkable place and so I decided to make up for it this time. Welcome to Mont Saint Michel
on the northern coast of France.
Mont Saint-Michel is an island commune approximately one kilometer off the country’s northwestern coast, at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches. It boasts several marvels of medieval architecture, with…
A major stop on any trip through Normandy
, a commune in the Calvados area in northwestern France. I’d be hard pressed to find any traveler who doesn’t fall in love with Normandy after setting foot on her soil – it’s simply impossible. The serenity and beauty of the region is what pulls you in and the warmth of the people is what keeps you glued and this is all before you’ve spent time walking in the countryside or eating their delicious cheese.
It is the capital of the Pays d’Auge
area, which is characterized by valleys and hedged farmland. As you’re driving north from Paris, the landscape suddenly changes and you’re greeted by stunning countryside. Apple trees are scattered alongside the road on both sides and depending on the time of day, mist meets your gaze and suddenly you have no choice but to stop the car…
We headed north on Route A14 to Evreux where we went through town before then getting onto the D613 which headed further north towards the Normandy coast. At first, it felt a bit like France’s Kansas, where flat grassy fields
It’s early September and I’m in Auray
in the northwest of France
where I’m surrounded by some of the most hospitable hosts in France to-date. Cancel the Provence experience I had now twenty years ago, for it was far too long to remember it clearly.
Truth be told, I instantly fell in love with the fun-filled and high spirited attitude of the Bretons the moment I set foot on Auray’s soil — they appear to be a little less serious than their Normandy neighbors to the east. Joie de vivre is the order of the day and I learn from Auray’s deputy mayor Regine Fily
who was my dinner guest one evening, that Bretons are not shy, they love a good party and they’re keen on dancing, beer and a strong Calvados late at night.
It’s ironic to find a community with such passion for living life in Brittany’s spiritual capital. My grandfather would have argued that the two go hand-in-hand however, for if you’re truly living a spiritual life, you’d be more likely to be joyous more often than not. Bretons…ahhh yes, my kind of people.
After several fabulous spiritual tours of the…
Even though Brittany
is most definitely in France
, I never quite feel like I’m in the same France as the rest of the country. The people of the region seem to have a hunger for learning from new things and people around them and a generosity and warmth that Paris and more urban centers can’t touch.
Brittany is a bit like that regardless of where you go. Although I had been there before, it had been many years and Auray wasn’t one of my stops. What a hidden gem — I LOVED Auray. Of course, it didn’t hurt that we had incredibly knowledgeable guides, were able to zip around the city on a segway, had an opportunity to meet with the local mayor and attend a private organ concert at the Basilica directed by the Director of Sacred Music Bruno Belliot.
(be sure to see our write up and photos on the concert
We started our glorious day taking in the history of Saint Anne of Auray
and its sanctuary with the local tourism board rep Emelie Lesper
, who had a wealth of knowledge about the area. Sites to see in the historical center include the town…
It’s no secret to anyone who has followed my posts for awhile, that I have a soft spot for the Adirondacks
and that I spent my childhood hiking in her woods, climbing her peaks and swimming in her waters. For those who haven’t followed my travels and may not even know where the Adirondacks are, it refers to the Adirondack Mountains, a mountain range in upstate New York, roughly a 3-4 hour drive from New York City.
The Adirondacks are not that close to get to for urban travelers nor for those who only have a short window to see a few major highlights when they come to the states. If you have a car, it’s a fairly easy shot up the New York Thruway but if not, you’re stuck on a not so stellar Trailways bus
which I had the misfortune of taking this past summer.
That said, if you give the Adirondacks your time, you’ll experience a serene spirit and sense of peace you’ve never known before.
Does that serenity and peace come from the Mohawk Indians of yesteryear? The Hudson River with…
While I had been to Chartres France
before and of course visited its majestic cathedral, I didn’t remember how much of a spiritual presence it had, inside and out. Spending time in the Chartres Cathedral
was one of my favorite experiences on a recent fall “Spiritual France”
tour, which included homes of famous saints, cathedrals, churches and cemeteries throughout Normandy and Brittany. With her 4,000 sculpted statues, 5,000 figures and artisan craftmanship steeped in 12th and 13th century design, the Cathedral
pretty much has everyone at “hello.”
It’s no surprise that its listed and registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The cathedral touts a number of impressive facts, but the one that is bound to impress any American is that the first cathedral was built as far back as the 4th century, with the oldest relics dating back to the 9th century with the crypt of Saint-Lubin. Several buildings were then rebuilt on the same site.
After a fire in the 11th century, Bishop Fulbert had a new cathedral built. Today, all what remains of this cathedral is the crypt, the third largest in Europe after Saint Peter’s in Rome and Canterbury. In 1134, most of the…
One of my favorite afternoons in Tokyo
was spent at the Nezu-jinja Shrine
in the north, which is located off the beaten path on the Chiyoda line in a tiny little suburb called Nezu. It is said to have been established over 1,900 years ago by the legendary priest Yamato Takeru no Mikoto in Sendagi with Susanoo no Mikoto as the chief deity.
The shrine itself was completely empty when I arrived and by the time I left a few hours later, there was only one man walking his dog and a teenage student in her school uniform wandering about. The place was so serene, so tranquil that it would be easy to sit amidst its spiritual presence for hours if not days.
It has an incredibly rich and old past and boasts a number of fascinating factoids, largely related to the shrine’s age. In the Edo Period (1600-1867), the 5th shogun Tsunayoshi relocated it from Sendagi to Nezu to commemorate the adoption of Ienobu as his successor and the 6th shogun Ienobu chose it as the guardian deity. The Gongen-style architectures (typical of modern shrines) of Honden (main sanctuary), Haiden (worship hall),…
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