come across ‘Monsieur Hulot’ phut phutting along in his vintage Citreon van; a pale green sardine can on bicycle wheels emitting noxious fumes. He was, however, most definitely in the minority and got short shrift from the other road abusers.
Road abusers apart, first impressions of rural Normandy were that it is undoubtedly beautiful and not entirely unfamiliar. Along the winding roads unadulterated villages appeared like a string of unevenly spaced pearls clinging to impossibly narrow roads. The creamy stone buildings of the hamlets en route to Erne, reassuringly sturdy, timeless and apparently unpopulated, seemed a million miles away from the stark industrial and retail developments hanging on the shirt tails of Caen.
Once settled in our charming converted farm outbuilding with its ingle nook wood fireplace, we stood in the patio door admiring the walled garden and manicured lawn.
‘It’s pleurting’, we said in perfect synergy as collared doves cooed in the pink candy floss tree and small pools of clear rain water gathered on the patio table. For a wonderfully deluded moment we felt smugly bilingual and a gazillion miles away from the rat race.
It took a few days in to get used to the lack of people as we travelled around until we realised that hamlets like Ernes had no shops or bars. Unlike English and Irish villages, with a pub and convenience store round every corner irrespective of population, the rural outposts of Normandy tend to serve the spiritual needs of the occupants and not the need for spirits.
Roadside shrines to the crucified Christ and Our Lady look benevolently over the populace almost as frequently as the rising spires and bell towers of the churches. The hamlets and villages each have their own medieval church, the simple carved Norman arches and smooth walls gleaming in the sunlight, drawing your eye upward to the sky and whatever lies beyond. At first glance it seems that Catholicsm is as strong a religious force here as it is in Southern Ireland where 80% of thepopulation adhere to the Faith and almost all attend mass.
Though freedom of religion was guaranteed to all citizens after the revolution, the majority of France does still identify itself as Catholic. That majority is thought to be a healthy 88%, but there are fears for the future
‘The numbers are grim. Last year, according to reports, more than one-third (35 percent) of France’s population and almost two-thirds (63 percent) of youth said they belonged to “no religion.”’
Not only are France’s church-goers aging, so are church officials — the average priest in the country is now 75, forcing the importation of foreigners to conduct religious services
Father Innocent Feugna, an African deacon who toils at St Pierre de Guise in northern France, complained that his congregation in aging and dying out.“ Here I’m preaching to pensioners,” he lamented to BBC.
.“The Catholics are dispersed throughout the country, more heavily in the rural areas than in the urban centers, but nevertheless geographically omnipresent,” said Yates.
“Demographically, the practicing Catholic population is gray haired, as anyone could see who walks into a French church. Many churches are so ill-attended that they are abandoned, or sold to the commune (often turned into private homes, restaurants or even cafes).”
Source : International Business Times
Still, the 2016 terrorist murder of a rural Catholic Priest in a church near Rouen caused a profound shudder throughout France.
The prime minister, Manuel Valls, said the “barbaric” attack was a blow to the Catholic community and the whole of France. Source :the Guardian 26 July 2016
Normandy and the Plains of Caen and Falaise certainly embrace their rural identity, even in the places you may not expect. On the outskirts of town painted cattle chew the cud with an up close and personal view of the traffic hurtling the wrong way round the roundabouts to the local Lidl and low rise modern apartment blocks overlook fields of livestock. Roadside, house side and in the middle of road junctions, every available patch of earth is planted with crops or supports a hobby orchard of apple trees with small collections of sheep, cattle and chickens grazing in the shade of the spreading branches.
For a time, tootling through the countryside with every square inch of earth put to some productive use or other, I began to think we were in the land of impoverished farmers. That misconception was soon put right.
‘Everybody’s loaded round here’, our host Phil who hailed from Orpington and is married to a French lady called Dominque, informed the husband doing that thing that men never do, ie gossip. ‘They all plant the fields then go away and don’t come back until the harvest’, he concluded moving the conversation on to the inevitable topics of football and ‘when I was a lad’.