CHAPTER IV. Concerning the Cathedral City of Evreux and the Road to Bernay

The tolling of the deep-toned bourdon in the cathedral tower reverberates over the old town of Evreux as we pass along the cobbled streets. There is a yellow evening light overhead, and the painted stucco walls of the houses reflect the soft, glowing colour of the west. In the courtyard of the Hotel du Grand Cerf, too, every thing is bathed in this beautiful light and the double line of closely trimmed laurels has not yet been deserted by the golden flood. But Evreux does not really require a fine evening to make it attractive, although there is no town in existence that is not improved under such conditions. With the magnificent cathedral, the belfry, the Norman church of St Taurin and the museum, besides many quaint peeps by the much sub-divided river Iton that flows through the town, there is sufficient to interest one even on the dullest of dull days.

Of all the cathedral interiors in Normandy there are none that possess a finer or more perfectly proportioned nave than Evreux, and if I were asked to point out the two most impressive interiors of the churches in this division of France I should couple the cathedral at Evreux with St Ouen at Rouen.

It was our own Henry I. who having destroyed the previous building set to work to build a new one and it is his nave that we see to-day. The whole cathedral has since that time been made to reflect the changing ideals of the seven centuries that have passed. The west front belongs entirely to the Renaissance period and the north transept is in the flamboyant style of the fifteenth century so much in evidence in Normandy and so infrequent in England.

The central tower with its tall steeple now encased in scaffolding was built in 1470 by Cardinal Balue, Bishop of Evreux and inventor of the fearful wooden cages in one of which the prisoner Dubourg died at Mont St Michel.

In most of the windows there is old and richly coloured glass; those in the chancel have stronger tones, but they all transform the shafts of light into gorgeous rainbow effects which stand out in wonderful contrast to the delicate, creamy white of the stone-work. Pale blue banners are suspended in the chancel, and the groining above is coloured on each side of the bosses for a short distance, so that as one looks up the great sweep of the nave, the banners and the brilliant fifteenth century glass appear as vivid patches of colour beyond the uniform, creamy grey on either side. The Norman towers at the west end of the cathedral are completely hidden in the mask of classical work planted on top of the older stone-work in the sixteenth century, and more recent restoration has altered some of the other features of the exterior. At the present day the process of restoration still goes on, but the faults of our grandfathers fortunately are not repeated.

Leaving the Place Parvis by the Rue de l'Horloge you come to the great open space in front of the Hotel de Ville and the theatre with the museum on the right, in which there are several Roman remains discovered at Vieil-Evreux, among them being a bronze statue of Jupiter Stator. On the opposite side of the Place stands the beautiful town belfry built at the end of the fifteenth century. There was an earlier one before that time, but I do not know whether it had been destroyed during the wars with the English, or whether the people of Evreux merely raised the present graceful tower in place of the older one with a view to beautifying the town. The bell, which was cast in 1406 may have hung in the former structure, and there is some fascination in hearing its notes when one realises how these same sound waves have fallen on the ears of the long procession of players who have performed their parts within its hearing. A branch of the Iton runs past the foot of the tower in canal fashion; it is backed by old houses and crossed by many a bridge, and helps to build up a suitable foreground to the beautiful old belfry, which seems to look across to the brand new Hotel de Ville with an injured expression. From the Boulevard Chambaudouin there is a good view of one side of the Bishop's palace which lies on the south side of the cathedral, and is joined to it by a gallery and the remains of the cloister. The walls are strongly fortified, and in front of them runs a branch of one of the canals of the Iton, that must have originally served as a moat.

Out towards the long straight avenue that runs out of the town in the direction of Caen, there may be seen the Norman church of St Taurin. It is all that is left of the Benedictine abbey that once stood here. Many people who explore this interesting church fail to see the silver-gilt reliquary of the twelfth century that is shown to visitors who make the necessary inquiries. The richness of its enamels and the elaborate ornamentation studded with imitation gems that have replaced the real ones, makes this casket almost unique.

Many scenes from the life of the saint are shown in the windows of the choir of the church. They are really most interesting, and the glass is very beautiful. The south door must have been crowded with the most elaborate ornament, but the delicately carved stone-work has been hacked away and the thin pillars replaced by crude, uncarved chunks of stone. There is Norman arcading outside the north transept as well as just above the floor in the north aisle. St Taurin is a somewhat dilapidated and cob-webby church, but it is certainly one of the interesting features of Evreux.

Instead of keeping on the road to Caen after reaching the end of the great avenue just mentioned, we turn towards the south and soon enter pretty pastoral scenery. The cottages are almost in every instance thatched, with ridges plastered over with a kind of cobb mud. In the cracks in this curious ridging, grass seeds and all sorts of wild flowers are soon deposited, so that upon the roof of nearly every cottage there is a luxuriant growth of grass and flowers. In some cases yellow irises alone ornament the roofs, and they frequently grow on the tops of the walls that are treated in a similar fashion. A few miles out of Evreux you pass a hamlet with a quaint little church built right upon the roadway with no churchyard or wall of any description. A few broken gravestones of quite recent date litter the narrow, dusty space between the north side of the church and the roadway. Inside there is an untidy aspect to everything, but there are some windows containing very fine thirteenth century glass which the genial old cure shows with great delight, for it is said that they were intended for the cathedral at Evreux, but by some chance remained in this obscure hamlet. The cure also points out the damage done to the windows bysocialistes at a recent date.

By the roadside towards Conches, there are magpies everywhere, punctuated by yellow hammers and nightingales. The cottages have thatch of a very deep brown colour over the hipped roofs, closely resembling those in the out-of-the-way parts of Sussex. It a beautiful country, and the delightfully situated town of Conches at the edge of its forest is well matched with its surroundings.

In the middle of the day the inhabitants seem to entirely disappear from the sunny street, and everything has a placid and reposeful appearance as though the place revelled in its quaintness. Backed by the dense masses of forest there is a sloping green where an avenue of great chestnuts tower above the long, low roof of the timber-framed cattle shelter. On the highest part of the hill stands the castle, whose round, central tower shows above the trees that grow thickly on the slopes of the hill. Close to the castle is the graceful church, and beyond are the clustered roofs of the houses. A viaduct runs full tilt against the hill nearly beneath the church, and then the railway pierces the hill on its way towards Bernay. The tall spire of the church of St Foy is comparatively new, for the whole structure was rebuilt in the fifteenth century, but its stained glass is of exceptional interest. Its richness of colour and the interest of the subjects indicate some unusually gifted artist, and one is not surprised to discover that they were designed by Aldegrevers, who was trained by that great master Albrecht Dyrer. Altogether there are twenty-one of these beautiful windows. Seven occupy the eastern end of the apse and give scenes taken from the life of St Foy.

You can reach the castle by passing through the quaint archway of the Hotel de Ville, and then passing through the shady public garden you plunge into the dry moat that surrounds the fortified mound. There is not very much to see but what appears in a distant view of the town, and in many ways the outside groupings of the worn ruin and the church roofs and spire above the houses are better than the scenes in the town itself. The Hotel Croix Blanche is a pleasant little house for dejeuner. Everything is extremely simple and typical of the family methods of the small French inn, where excellent cooking goes along with many primitive usages. The cool salle- a-manger is reached through the general living-room and kitchen, which is largely filled with the table where you may see the proprietor and his family partaking of their own meals. There seems no room to cook anything at all, and yet when you are seated in the next room the daughter of the family, an attractive and neatly dressed girl, gracefully serves the most admirable courses, worthy and perhaps better than what one may expect to obtain in the best hotel in Rouen.

There is a road that passes right through the forest of Conches towards Rugles, but that must be left for another occasion if we are to see anything of the charms of Beaumont-le-Roger, the perfectly situated little town that lies half-way between Conches and Bernay.

The long street of the town containing some very charming peeps as you go towards the church is really a terrace on the limestone hills that rises behind the houses on the right, and falls steeply on the left. Spaces between the houses and narrow turnings give glimpses of the rich green country down below. From the lower level you see the rocky ridge above clothed in a profusion of trees. The most perfect picture in the town is from the river bank just by the bridge. In the foreground is the mirror-like stream that gives its own rendering of the scene that is built up above it. Leaning upon a parapet of the bridge is a man with a rod who is causing tragedies in the life that teems beneath the glassy surface. Beyond the bridge appear some quaint red roofs with one tower-like house with an overhanging upper storey. Higher up comes the precipitous hill divided into terraces by the huge walls that surround the abbey buildings, and still higher, but much below the highest part of the hill, are the picturesque ruins of the abbey. On the summit of the ridge dominating all are the insignificant remains of the castle built by Roger a la Barbe, whose name survives in that of the town. His family were the founders of the abbey that flourished for several centuries, but finally, about a hundred years ago, the buildings were converted to the uses of a factory! Spinning and weaving might have still been going on but for a big fire that destroyed the whole place. There was, however, a considerably more complete series of buildings left than we can see to-day, but scarcely more than fifty years ago the place was largely demolished for building materials. The view from the river Rille is therefore the best the ruin can boast, for seen from that point the arches rise up against the green background as a stately ruin, and the tangled mass of weeds and debris are invisible. The entrance is most inviting. It is down at the foot of the cliff, and the archway with the steep ascent inside suggests all sorts of delights beyond, as it stands there just by the main street of the town. I was sorry afterwards, that I had accepted that hospitality, for with the exception of a group of merry children playing in an orchard and some big caves hollowed out of the foot of the cliff that rises still higher, I saw nothing but a jungle of nettles. This warning should not, however, suggest that Beaumont-le-Roger is a poor place to visit. Not only is it a charming, I may say a fascinating spot to visit, but it is also a place in which to stay, for the longer you remain there the less do you like the idea of leaving. The church of St Nicholas standing in the main street where it becomes much wider and forms a small Place, is a beautiful old building whose mellow colours on stone-work and tiles glow vividly on a sunny afternoon. There is a great stone wall forming the side of the rocky platform that supports the building and the entrance is by steps that lead up to the west end. The tower belongs to the flamboyant period and high up on its parapet you may see a small statue of Regulus who does duty as a "Jack-smite-the-clock." Just by the porch there leans against a wall a most ponderous grave slab which was made for the tomb of Jehan du Moustier a soldier of the fourteenth century who fought for that Charles of Navarre who was surnamed "The Bad." The classic additions to the western part of the church seem strangely out of sympathy with the gargoyles overhead and the thirteenth century arcades of the nave, but this mixing up of styles is really more incongruous in description than in reality.

When you have decided to leave Beaumont-le-Roger and have passed across the old bridge and out into the well-watered plain, the position of the little town suggests that of the village of Pulborough in Sussex, where a road goes downhill to a bridge and then crosses the rich meadowland where the river Arun winds among the pastures in just the same fashion as the Rille.

At a bend in the road to Bernay stands the village of Serquigny. It is just at the edge of the forest of Beaumont which we have been skirting, and besides having a church partially belonging to the twelfth century it has traces of a Roman Camp. All the rest of the way to Bernay the road follows the railway and the river Charentonne until the long - and when you are looking out for the hotel - seemingly endless street of Bernay is reached. After the wonderful combination of charms that are flaunted by Beaumont-le-Roger it is possible to grumble at the plainer features of Bernay, but there is really no reason to hurry out of the town for there is much quaint architecture to be seen, and near the Hotel du Lion d'Or there is a house built right over the street resting on solid wooden posts. But more interesting than the domestic architecture are the remains of the abbey founded by Judith of Brittany very early in the eleventh century for it is probably one of the oldest Romanesque remains in Normandy. The church is cut up into various rooms and shops at the choir end, and there has been much indiscriminate ill-treatment of the ancient stone-work. Much of the structure, including the plain round arches and square columns, is of the very earliest Norman period, having been built in the first half of the eleventh century, but in later times classic ornament was added to the work of those shadowy times when the kingdom of Normandy had not long been established. So much alteration in the styles of decoration has taken place in the building that it is possible to be certain of the date of only some portions of the structure. The Hotel de Ville now occupies part of the abbey buildings.

At the eastern side of the town stands St Croix, a fifteenth century church with a most spacious interior. There is much beautiful glass dating from three hundred years ago in the windows of the nave and transepts, but perhaps the feature which will be remembered most when other impressions have vanished, will be the finely carved statues belonging to the fourteenth century which were brought here from the Abbey of Bec. The south transept contains a monument to Guillaume Arvilarensis, an abbot of Bec who died in 1418. Upon the great altar which is believed to have been brought from the Abbey of Bec, there are eight marble columns surrounding a small white marble figure of the Child Jesus.

Another church at Bernay is that of Notre Dame de la Couture. It has much fourteenth century work and behind the high altar there are five chapels, the centre one containing a copy of the "sacred image" of Notre Dame which stands by the column immediately to the right of the entrance. Much more could be said of these three churches with their various styles of architecture extending from the very earliest period down to the classic work of the seventeenth century. But this is not the place for intricate descriptions of architectural detail which are chiefly useful in books which are intended for carrying from place to place.