Sunday 5 December 2010

Christmas Card hunt

Yesterday we went looking for Christmas cards. We'd not seen much on sale and most of what was on offer were of the postcard variety; not folded cards which need envelopes which we would prefer. 

We encountered the postcard type in The Netherlands when we lived there too. In fact, there, traditionally, one sent out Happy New Year cards not Christmas ones.  While we lived there the US/UK type became more and more common; and is now the norm for those who send cards. However, my more elderly Dutch relatives still send out the postcard type with best wishes for the New Year; not Christmas. 

First we popped into the news agent/tabac in Preuilly. There were none on display so I asked madame. She would have them in stock some time at the start of the coming week, she said. 
Abbaye de Notre Dame de Fontgombault
We thought that somewhere like Fontgombault Abbey gift shop might have some. Photos of the Abbey (with/without snow) perhaps, or reproductions of stained glass windows appropriate to the season. So off we went. They had beautiful, if sombre, 'ordinary' religious cards showing reproductions of icons but sadly no Christmas cards of any kind at all. 

chapel at Fontgombault Abbey


Visiting the Abbey is a pleasure -- it is in a beautiful spot; medieval monks always had a great eye for location and the buildings have been well restored. Originally founded in 1091 by a group of hermits led by one Pierre de l'Etoile; it lies on the right bank of the river Creuse. They had been living in caves on the left bank near the fountain of Gombaud--hence the name of the Abbey. The foundation flourished in the 12th and 13th centuries and during the 15th it played an important role in creating the fish ponds which are dotted all over the Brenne region just slightly to the east.

Like many other religious foundations it suffered during the Wars of Religion and was attacked in 1569. A century later the buildings were restored and it carried on as a monastery until the French Revolution when it was partly demolished and sold off by the state. All that was left were the cloisters and some pillar bases.

Since then it has had a bit of a roller-coaster life. Owned by various families, re-founded by Trappist monks as a monastery in the middle of the 19th century; it became, after the enforced departure of the Trappists, a Belgian military hospital during WWI. After a spell as a seminary everything came full circle when it re-founded as a Benedictine abbey in 1948; which it remains today.

We popped into the church for a quick look round. It was cold and still hazy with incense from the 10 am mass. A lone monk with his cowl drawn deep over his head was busy vacuuming the choir stalls. With a back-pack hoover and waving the suction tube he looked a bit like an extra in Star Wars.

With the sun out and the snow still looking good we took some photos. They may well turn into home made Christmas cards.

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