It’s Friday night and I’m home doing Internet research. It is infuriating because I can’t find what I’m looking for, and in this day and age, when does that ever happen anymore? Seriously – when was the last time you typed a search into Google and you just didn’t find a single thing? Not a bean? It is happening to me right now. And I think this is because I am attempting to write about a place remote enough that the Internet has not quite discovered it yet. It is not in Antarctica or at the bottom of an ocean. It is in rural Normandy.
Normandy has been in the news a bit recently hasn’t it? On account of the recent 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorations. Wherever you are and whatever you do for a living, I’m sure at some point in the last couple of months you’ve seen the photographs of the shores of the beaches at Arromanches with Veterans paying their respects, or the Queen visiting the British war cemetery at Bayeux. And last week I went to visit the region, and I looked out over the beaches, and stood in the beautiful Bayeux War Cemetery surrounded by wonderful smelling Wisteria and the graves of over 3000 soldiers, some as young as 18.
And it was very moving. But a lot is known already about D-Day and what happened on 6th June 1944 so I won’t linger over that. The information that I’m searching for relates to somewhere further inland.
The village I was staying in is about an hour away from that coastline. It’s called Montcuit and it lies in the district of Saint-Sauveur-Lendelin, in the department of Manche, in the region of Basse-Normandy, which was freed from German control 70 years ago last month. It seems somehow apart from the rest of the world. There’s no phone signal for a start. Unless you stand in a certain position, in the kitchen, by the window, with one hand on your head. Not that you’d want phone signal. It would detract from the insane beauty of a village that has 196 inhabitants, most of which I’m convinced are chickens, ducks and horses. There are 7 streetlights on the main road, and they go off at 11pm. There is no shop.
There is a giant Catholic church, because every village in rural Normandy, no matter how tiny, has a giant church. The church is the Eglise Saint-Martin and it belongs to the parish of Saint-Sauveur-Lendelin, which is made up of 11 villages. As each village has a church, they share out the Sunday services between them all. My host and hostess for the week – Helen and Nick, go to the parish services. Helen told me when I arrived that each village also has a patron saint. The patron saint of Montcuit, she informed me, is Saint-Claude, who cured a young child of Meningitis on Christmas Day, by feeding it fresh cherries. And THAT is the information I am looking for, which brings me back to my fruitless (haha – cherries – get it?) Google search on this Friday evening. I have found a Saint Claude. But he doesn’t appear to have fed anyone any fresh fruit of note, and he doesn’t appear to be linked to Montcuit in any way. I wish I was back there, so that I could go and look up the parish records, if such things exist, and find what I’m looking for. Because, actually, Montcuit doesn’t seem to have discovered the Internet yet. Or to be more accurate – the Internet has not really discovered Montcuit.
Which comes as no surprise really, when you take into account that one of the main lanes in the village looks like this:
You wouldn’t really want it to be slapped all over the Internet. It seems too quaint for that. I feel almost bad for doing it.
While I was in Montcuit, I took a wander around the churchyard. In the great tradition of village churchyards, it seems that every resident of the village who has died in the last century and a half is buried here. What strikes me is the amount of space – which gives you an indication to the population of the village over the years. This is no London. There is no jostling for space here. In fact, there is room enough for husbands and wives to have their own gigantic graves. Each! Next to each other. It’s a wonderful sight. The churchyard shows no sign of running out of room.
There’s a magnificent Yew tree directly in front of the church, and a monument to ‘Les Enfants des Montcuit’ who lost their lives in the two World Wars. The list of names under the 1914-1918 war is so long that you imagine every male of fighting age in the village was probably lost. How extremely devastating.
As I walk around the churchyard, I look for signs of a mystery saint who fed cherries to sickly children, curing them of all ills. I’m probably not looking hard enough, but there is nothing.
My Google search too, has yielded no results. The most famous occupant of this village, as far as the Internet is concerned, is the Yew tree in the churchyard.
Do you know anything about Catholic Saints of small French villages who cured children of Meningitis with cherries? Get in touch.
I guess maybe I’m no good at doing research but I do remember a story that one of my patients told me, maybe a year ago now. He had celebrated his birthday the same day that he’d stormed the beaches at Normandy. He showed me his gunshot wound, now 69 years old. ‘One minute I was running up the beach and the next – Bang. And I was on the ground.’
One story, told in person, is worth a thousand Google searches.
All photographs Copyright Christina Owen 2014