Moyen Age — middle age — no not us, long past that — but Senlis (sohn leece), a well preserved medieval village not far from Paris and also just around the corner from Charles de Gaulle airport. We took the train to Chantilly and then the connecting bus to Senlis which no longer has train service.
It was not the most successful of our trips — we chose Monday because the weather looked promising and we knew the museum was closed on Tuesdays. Unfortunately we didn’t realize that the town itself is pretty much shut down on Mondays. The Tea Room touted in a guidebook has been closed for years (so much for their 2009 update) and the very excellent restaurant near the Cathedral was closed — in fact we were lucky to find a bar to get a cup of coffee and a bakery to grab a sandwich. Note to self — Mondays are not a good day to travel to small villages.
And as you can see from this gloomy picture of remains of Roman walls in the village, the weather was not all that swell either.
Senlis is a place I have always wanted to visit, we were there and so we made the best of it. Near the bus stop is the town’s war memorial — begun to honor WWI dead and expanded to include names of soldiers lost in WWII as well as those deported to concentration camps and those lost to the resistance.
Most towns in France list names of those lost on their war memorials. One sad reminder of the cost of war is the frequent repetition of the same name from the WWI list to the list beside it for WWII — perhaps the son of the man fallen in the first war or the nephew.
The route into the center of the old town from the bus stop took us by the old abandoned church St. Pierre which is deconsecrated and used as a cultural center now.
The town began in the fourth century as a Roman outpost and there are still vestiges of the original Roman walls around the town. It was a popular home for French royalty for centuries. Hugh Capet the first King after the line of Charlemagne petered out with Louis V was crowned here in 987. This window in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Senlis, one of the very earliest gothic cathedrals in France, commemorates this historic event.
It was only the third gothic cathedral built in France — the first was St. Denis in Paris which I will write about soon. It has the classic use of flying buttresses to provide the support that allows the construction of the windows that bring the beauty of colored light into the church.
We encountered one of the odder ‘miracles’ being commemorated in one of the paintings hung in the church. Clovis, the first Catholic King of France and founder of the Merovingian line which you may recall from the conspiracies of the DaVinci code, took a tooth from the corpse of St. Rieul who had been bishop of Senlis and a great builder of churches and the Church; the tooth bled. The bar for miracles was not high in the 5th century apparently.
The town center is well preserved in its medieval character and the inhabitants obviously take pride in it; nearly every home is covered in roses or has flowers planted.
The town is ringed with an old Roman wall and there is a charming walk on the ramparts along the ‘river’ Nonette a tributary of the Oise. We walked around the town finding the tiny stairway by an old convent that led to the ramparts walk.
The old convent has been converted to condominiums; the developer promised to restore the chapel. Here is what the back of it looks like today.
and by the old Abbey of St. Vincent which has been turned into a boys boarding school.