This will seem out of place in the context of some of the previous entries, but I am not going to post too many religious reflections. First of all, I’ve half-filled a note book with reflections, which I am sure that my literary executor will find profitable to publish some time in the future; and, second, because there is so much else going on! That doesn’t mean that the most engaging part of the program is not in the sessions; but being in a foreign country is always surprising, especially in Europe, where the history is always around the corner.

So it turns out that the sleepy, poor little town that Chevalier came to because it had the reputation as the most poverty-stricken and least religious place in the Diocese of Bourges is a simplification, and Father Chevalier himself was interested in the political and religious history of the area (his local history is still in print). It is to only centrally located in France, but it is close to some significant places in French history and is the site of significant events dating back to the Romans, whose walls are obvious around the old town. These notes are just to remind me and perhaps motivate you to visit the place.

The name is the first point of interest: it’s Celtic, dyn being a fortified place. I think the river may be the source of the name, but the Romans made short work of the Gauls around here and must have fortified the town, although no one has said anything about a camp or anything, so I suppose it was just part of Roman Gaul. Most of the walls of the town have Roman foundations.

Charlemagne brought his own devotion to St Cyr to the place and rebuilt the old St Pierre in a Romanesque style as St Cyr. The monks had an Abbey here from 1000 AD until the Revolution, although I haven’t noted down which branch of the Benedictine family they came from. The gate of the abbey was part of the town defences, and is still there.
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There was a chateau here from the 11th Century, and Richard Coeur de Lion took it in 1148. I recall that he built what is now the White Tower — la Tour Blanche — but the French retook it and the name was given to commemorate Queen Blanche of Castille. From an English point of view, Issoudun is in Aquitaine, but right on the border, so it became English with the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and often changed hands. Poitier is an hour down the road! Eventually the town was sold to Louis IX, so it became a royal city, with three fleur de lys on its escutcheon along with a Y, whatever the heraldic term! I forgot to mentioned that the town was also the place of a famous meal between Richard I, Frederick Barbarossa and Louis, which is commemorated in one of the pubs down the street.

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The Hundred Years War also had a connection with the town, because Marie de Luxembourg was thrown from her carriage and died, along with her stillborn child; I need to go back and check but that was a precipitating factor in the outbreak of the Hundred Years War, because there was no obvious claimant to the throne.

The poverty of the locals was one of the reasons for the violence of the Revolution in the area. There are some fine Pre-Revolutionary buildings, but even today you can see that the town was not wealthy: the area around the old castle is a rabbit warren. It is easy to be sympathetic with the dominant force on the Commune who opposed Chevalier, because the money in the town was firmly in the hands of the religious orders, who owned quite imposing buildings. I think the socialists and the masons had very long memories. You could say that both Chevalier and the commune had the same concern for the welfare of the people; but Chevalier worked through prayer, education and charity, while the commune provided sanitation, health care and water.

It’s impossible to get very far into the Chevalier story without coming in contact with two key themes: the confiscations and the Franco-Prussian War (la Guerre de 1870-71, for the French). The confiscations and expulsions are still part of the French story: very little church property has been returned, churches built before 1905 are still state property — so now they have to pay for the upkeep of the fabric — and the basilica and the Centre only stayed in the hands of the order because of collaboration and generosity of wealthy and influential lay people. I was amazed to find that Johannes still can’t legally use MSC after his name: the religious orders are still legally proscribed, even if the law is not enforced.

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The War had a somewhat different effect: the Prussians did not enter the Indre Department, probably because had run out of French armies to fight; but the dedication of Issoudun, Bourges and other towns popularised the devotion and identified it strongly with the French nation. The story of the park is tangled up in the post-war situation and Chevalier’s identification with refugees from Alsace.

So true history is everywhere around you when you visit, and part of the experiences is seeing things a little like Jules saw them.

Can’t wait for Bourges!

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