Wednesday, June 25, 2014


During my recent trip to Flanders our group visited Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer. Most impressive was Auguste Rodin's group Les Bourgeois de Calais (The Burghers of Calais).

Driving along the Côte Opale we saw the white cliffs of Dover in far distance and in sunshine.

Following arrival in Boulogne-sur Mer our coach parked near the fishing harbor. My readers probably know that Red Baron likes lobster but what I saw cut my appetite. A fishmonger offered a mutilated lobster still alive and moving on a bed of crunched ice for 18 euros the kilo and its right claw separated for 15 euros the kilo. This was not the place to linger.

We walked up Main Street to the old city. On our way we again met French children with their questionnaires visiting the historic place but English school classes too. They were without sheets of paper and rather buying pink berets.

Boulogne's upper town is built at the place of the Roman castra surrounded by a wall following the ancient perimeter. There are the typical two main streets running east-west and north-south crossing in the middle. The four Medieval gates are at the position of the former Roman gates.

The castle surrounded by moats situated at the highest point of the hill dominating and controlling lower city and harbor is strange. I was puzzled. Where did the rulers get the water from to fill the ditches in times of a simultaneous drought and attack? The construction of the castle nevertheless is impressive and the photo taken out of the moat from below of Boulognes' neo-baroque basilica even more so.

The Basilica of Notre-Dame is the other place to visit. According to a legend a wood carved sculpture of Mary with Child reached the shore of Boulogne on a skiff guided by two angels. The city already rich as a seaport and fishing harbor became even more prosperous as a place of pilgrimage. The original church Our Lady of the Sea where Mary's effigy was worshipped was completely destroyed during the French Revolution and the rubble sold as building material. In 1801 Boulogne lost its bishop seat becoming part of the bishopric of Arras.

Our Lady of the Sea, statue with miraculous powers
 In the early 1820ies Benoît Haffreingue, a local priest, driven by divine inspiration, pushed for the construction of a new church that was eventually erected as a basilica in neo-baroque style.

Benoît Haffreingue offering his church to Our Lady
There were only two drops of bitterness:
Haffreingue died in 1871 before he saw his church consecrated.
The episcopal seat was not returned to Boulogne and the building never regained the status of a cathedral as Haffreingue had prayed for.

PS: A day later I had overcome my nausea for seafood. In Lille I had oysters, a demi-douzaine, and a glass of Pouilly-Fumé for lunch.

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