October 1, 2017. While we were packing to leave Arras to go on to Rouen and Caen, Pieter expressed an interest in seeing the ruins of the Abbey in Mont St. Eloi. “Sure”, I said. “I’d love to see the Cathedral with the statue that survived hanging down.” I went on and on until he interrupted, saying I had the wrong Cathedral in mind. The one I was thinking of was in Albert, in the Somme Valley, the ‘Leaning Virgin of Albert’, which has since been restored and leans no more.
“Doesn’t matter”, I said. We aren’t planning to return to this area, so if he wanted to see something, we may as well do it. Of course, in the morning when we were leaving, it was raining and Pieter was of two minds whether to make the trip to Mont St. Eloi or skip it. There was no connection, as far as we knew, to any of the soldiers on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, so this would be a side trip.
In the end, off we went. Mont St. Eloi is on a hill above Arras, and at the top once stood the Mont St. Eloi Abbey. All that remains today are two towers. The rest was destroyed during various wars.
Legend has it that the Abbey began in the 7th century by Saint Vindicianus, a disciple of Saint Eligius (Saint Eloi in French). By the Middle Ages it was a powerful religious centre, but during the French Revolution, the stone walls were stolen. Only two towers of white limestone and a porch on the west wall were left.
When WW1 began, the towers were used by French troops to observe German positions on Lorette Spur and Vimy Ridge. The Germans fired every time the French troops moved, causing the French to believe they had a spy in their midst. It took a while before they realized that what gave them away were birds nesting on the towers which took flight when troops disturbed them.
In the next blog entry we encounter difficulties in finding St. Sever Cemetery Extension in Rouen, and learn that PEI is not alone in charging expensive tolls. Comments or stories? You can share them by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by commenting on this blog.
© Daria Valkenburg