Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Liesse, Laon, and Beyond.

Today was the day to accomplish are there was to do in the area around Reims. There are a number of places associated with the Founder that we had to check out, and the Brothers were very generous is helping us accomplish our goal.

In the morning, Br. Fernand took us by car to the three key places outside of Reims which are associated with the life of De La Salle. It helped that he grew up in
Reims and knew the place like the back of his hand. This was apparent the moment we took off (and that is the correct word) from the Hotel De La Salle and flew through the streets of Reims toward Liesse. I was certain that we would hit some pedestrian or car or bus along the way, but he somehow managed to avoid all accidents, speak to us of De La Salle's history, and gesture with his hands - all at the same time. After a while, you just get used to it, say a little prayer, and go with the flow.

Soon enough, we arrived at Liesse, where there is a church dedicated to Our Lady that was quite special to De La Salle. Although it's quite a distance from Reims (30 miles?), he and the first group of Brothers to make vows also made a pilgrimage to this church to dedicate themselves to Mary. It is likely that the journey took at least two days. We took two hours, or less. Inside the church, we took film and pictures of all the locations that we needed to check out or record and then hopped into the car for the next place, Laon.

In Laon, there were several places that we wanted to see. One of them, of course, was the cathedral which, we were told, predates the cathedral in Reims. The town is up on a hill and much of the medieval city remains. So we had to park outside the old city and walk into the cathedral square. The church is very impressive because of its size and adornments, not least of which are scupted oxen that stare out from the top of the large towers. Inside, the place was as cold (temperature-wise) as other cathedrals that we've visited, but it had its own charms. Again, we took pictures and films various elements in the area and then hightailed it back to the car for our next location, Brouillet.

In Brouillet we were to meet up with the own of the local champagne cellar (Artisan Champagne) who holds the keys to the small church in the village. There, De La Salle and his mother would come to visit his grandfather, who owned vineyards in the area, and spend his vacation. Apparently, he also learned to say the Office on his grandfather's knee in that church. The village is very small and it took a while to find, but finally we did so and met up with the wine-maker who gave us the keys. Lots of pictures and film later, we returned the keys are were invited to a free tasting. I preferred his champagne to the Mumm's that we had tasted two days ago. He told us that that was probably because his champagne is more natural. In any case, Brother Fernard bought a case and Br. Roch bought a bottle, and thusly packed we returned to Reims for a fine lunch prepared by Br. Christian.

After lunch, we really did need a short nap. But soon enough, Br. Christian took us downtown where we looked at several places associated with De La Salle: the door where he met Adrian Nyel (or approximate door, anway), the inside of the convent of the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus, founded by Nicholas Roland, and who consider De La Salle as their co-Founder. There were pictures of him all over the inside of their convent. Although they are now few in number and quite elderly, they were uniformly hospitable, feisty, and funny. They had a really fine spirit, one that that more in common with us that I would have thought.

After that visit, Roch and I proceeded on our own to St. Maurice Parish, the first location of the first school. There, I was surprised to learn (or perhaps relearn) that the Jesuit school is located right next door, and that it had been there since 1619. Somehow I find it interesting that the first Lasallian school for poor boys was located pretty much right next door to a school dedicated to boys from the bourgeoisie.

Roch and I then walked to the church of St. Remy, which used to be a Maurist Benedictine abbey but is now a parish church. There we looked at all of its unique elements, including the elaborate place where St. Remy is buried. De La Salle spent many of night in prayer in front of that reliquary, apparently. I can't quite imagine what it must have been like to spent the night by yourself in a cold, quite, dark cathedral. Not quite my cup of tea right now.

Finally, we made our way back to the house where the Brothers were waiting with dinner. Also present was the Vicar General of the Diocese, who had said Mass for the Brothers that afternoon and was staying for dinner. Dinner, as before, was very jolly, conversational, and fraternal. I somehow survived by listening as carefully as possible to the rapid French around me and having Roch translate a question or two from me when it appeared appropriate.

After dinner, we visited the wonderful little museum that is located at the Hotel De La Salle, with lots of pictures, ancient books, and articles related to De La Salle. Finally, I went to my room to write this blog, and then to bed. We plan to be up at 4:30 AM tomorrow morning to make our way to Parmenie, some 7 hours away by car.

This little project is a challenging one, and I'm sure that there will be further challenges down the line. But I'm learning alot along the way and Roch is still confident that we can proceed as planned.

Pictures: Outside of the church in Liesse; Inside of the cathedral in Laon; a quick picture outside of the Laon cathedral; Roch and Fernand inside of the small church in Brouillet; Tasting champagne at Artisan Cellars in Brouillet; "The door" in Reims where De La Salle met Nyel (sort of); Inside of the convent of the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus; The tomb of St. Remy; Trying out the Founder's chair in the museum at Hotel De La Salle. (Pictures expand if you click on them.)