A wandering bird's-eye overview of most things even vaguely related to travel, and an opportunity for writers, artists and photographers to contribute the historical, the hysterical, the quirky and quixotic... anything with heart.

2 years ago
From the mouths of Saints
From the mouths of Saints

I peer out from under an arch of stone, this ancient Valery gate; northwards over the Normandy harbour of Somme, my thoughts with a simple French peasant girl and a war that lasts one hundred years. The year is 1430.  She's bought this way from Crotoy to the north, to be taken south to a court and trial in Rouen.

The evening is gloomy, the arch wet with sea mist; the watching crowd hushed. They say she's a simple girl; just 13-years old when first bothered by the voices of Saints Catherine, Margaret and Michael: the Archangel Michael head of the heavenly militia and responsible for the balancing of souls on judgment day. It's St Michael and this young peasant girl, who can halt the English, their Protestant heresy and their claims to the French throne.

2-days later I wake to wheeling, screaming seabirds 300km away, chimney stacks and steep slate gables: the Medieval village of Mont St Michel perched on the edge of this mighty rock. The 10th century abbey is high above, like Joan, a symbol of French nationhood. From impregnable city gates I stare, a sweeping 2km coarseway afloat these endless mudflats and the ruination of would-be conquerors.

This indomitable rock resisted the English to become a prison after The Revolution and through to 1863; from 1979 a World Heritage site just now bereft of tourists.

Morning's breakfast is potato and cheese, Calvados with my coffee.  I climb cobbled paths that vanish round corners, follow steps and crooked winding ways by steep rooftop slates. Gloom hangs in this thick salty air, a blurred grey sky on a blurred horizon. I lean back on slippery wet cobbles, the gilded bronze form of Saint Michael high atop a mighty spire, sword in one raised hand and a set of scales in the other.

My path rises from the city gate and lower city walls, past nook and cranny, crooked crag and cobbles, crossing the guard room and mighty staircase, through a great studded gate and across suspended passage. Prayers echo, shuffling steps of abbots long gone.  On the Western Terrace I gaze across the bay to Brittany, the floating Iles Chausey a source of the cold granite under my feet. I take a deep breath, the cold salt-laden air rich and thick, this mighty edifice safe and sound from a world gone mad. I wonder at the horror of the monks when they get the news, their own patron saint Joan's too: the all-powerful Saint Michael strong enough to save this place from the ravages of a crazy 100-year's war but not the life of a teenage girl, Joan burned at the stake for the immodesty of wearing men's' clothing and the temerity to suggest that Saints speak in French rather than English.

Photo: Of Saints and sinners - Mont St Michel, Normandy, France _ Ian Cochrane