MSA Cultural Tours Presents



Henry Adams, grandson of John Quincy Adams, journalist, historian and Professor of Medieval History at Harvard, published in 1904 Mont Saint Michel and Chartres. While not his most famous book, it is a remarkable work. In Mont Saint Michel and Chartres, Adams concentrates on two of medieval civilization’s most remarkable monuments, the Romanesque grandeur of Mont Saint Michel and the Gothic elegance and beauty of Chartres Cathedral. Adams contrasted Mont Saint Michel that he believed characterized the masculinity, strength, and bellicosity of 11th century Europe with the more feminine ethos of Chartres. In the Adams thesis Gothic architecture and sculpture, the Code of Chivalry and evolution of the troubadours and courtly love represented an increasing feminine influence and gentility of 12th Century culture. These magnificent monuments will be centerpieces of this tour, thus a reading (for those seeking a literary and intellectual challenge) of Mont Saint Michel and Chartres could be of value for those going on this tour.

APRIL 15-24, 2011




Chartres is on a hill on the left bank of the Eure River, crowned by its famous cathedral, the spires being a landmark in the surrounding country. Chartres was one of the main towns of the Carnutes (named for the Carnutes, a powerful Celtic people who inhabited the area in the pre-Christian era), and was called Autricum by the Romans, from the river Autura (Eure), the name "Chartres" derives from "Carnutes". During the Middle Ages it was held by the counts of Blois and Champagne and in 1286 came under the direct control of the French King. In 1417 it fell into the hands of the English (during the Hundred Years War), and was recovered in 1432. The city suffered heavy damage by bombing in the course of World War II.






We will leave Chartres in the morning and journey approximately 200 miles to the medieval walled city of St. Malo.

Saint-Malo is a walled port city in Brittany in northwestern France on the English Channel. In the Middle Ages it was a fortified island at the mouth of the Rance, controlling the estuary and the open sea beyond.

St-Malo traces its origins to a monastic settlement founded by Saints Aaron and Brendan early in the sixth century. In later centuries it became notorious as the home of a fierce breed of pirate-mariners, who were never really under anybody's control and from 1590-1594, St-Malo declared itself an independent republic. The corsairs of St-Malo not only forced English ships passing up the Channel to pay tribute, but also brought wealth from further afield. Jacques Cartier, who is credited with the discovery of Canada, lived in and sailed from St-Malo, as did the first colonists to settle the Falklands. Now attached to the mainland, St-Malo is the most visited place in Brittany.


The citadel of St-Malo, which was for many years joined to the mainland only by a long causeway, is the prime destination for visitors.
Sites of interest include:
The walled city (La Ville Intra-Muros)

The château of Saint-Malo, part of which is now the town museum.
The Solidor Tower in Saint-Servan is a fourteenth century building, which holds a collection tracing the history of voyages around Cape Horn. Many scale models, nautical instruments and objects made by the sailors during their crossing or brought back from foreign ports invoke thoughts of travel aboard extraordinary tall ships at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.


The tomb of the writer Chateaubriand

The Cathedral of St. Vincent.


The Privateer's House ("La Demeure de Corsaire"), a ship-owner's town house built in 1725, shows objects from the history of privateering, weaponry and ship models. It is now in use as a hotel.

We will overnight in Saint Malo.


Mont Saint-Michel is a rocky tidal island in Normandy approximately one kilometer off the country's north coast, at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches. The current population of the island is 41. Mont Saint-Michel was once connected to the mainland via a natural land bridge, which was covered at high tide and revealed at low tide. Over the centuries the distance between the shore and the south coast of Mont-Saint-Michel has decreased. In 1879, a land bridge created a true causeway, in 2112 the causeway will be replaced by an elevated light bridge, under which the waters will flow. Visitors will have to use small shuttles to cross the new bridge, which will also be open to pedestrians.


According to legend, St. Michael the Archangel appeared to St. Aubert, bishop of Avranches, in 708 and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet. Aubert ignored the angel's instruction, until St. Michael burned a hole in the bishop's skull with his finger. The mount gained strategic significance in 933 when William "Long Sword", William I, Duke of Normandy, annexed the Cotentin Peninsula placing the mount in Normandy. It is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry (which will also be seen on this tour), which commemorates the 1066 Norman conquest of England. Ducal patronage financed the spectacular Norman architecture of the abbey in subsequent centuries.


In 1067, the monastery of Mont-Saint-Michel gave its support to Duke William of Normandy (The ‘Conqueror’ and first Norman King of England) in his claim to the throne of England. It was rewarded with lands on the English side of the Channel. During the Hundred Years' War the English made repeated assaults on the island but were unable to seize it due to the abbey's fortifications. Les Michelettes, two wrought-iron bombards left by the English in their failed 1423–24 siege of Mont-Saint-Michel, are still displayed near the outer defense wall. When Louis XI of France founded the Order of Saint Michael in 1496 he planned to have the abbey church of Mont Saint-Michel be the Order’s chapel, but because of its great distance from Paris his plan failed.

The wealth and influence of the abbey waned with the Reformation, and by the time of the French Revolution there were few monks in residence. The abbey was closed and converted into a prison, but by 1836 influential figures, including Victor Hugo, launched a campaign to restore what was seen as a national architectural treasure. The prison was closed in 1863, and the mount declared a historic monument in 1874. The Mont-Saint-Michel and its bay were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979.




Caen ("kehn") is a city of about 117,000 people (including 30,000 students) in the Lower Normandy region of France, 148 miles northwest of Paris. It is located 15 km (9.3 mi) inland from the English Channel. In the mid-11th century, Caen became the preferred residence of William the Conquerer and Queen Matilda and as the city of William the Conqueror, Caen has inherited a magnificent heritage. Caen is known for its historical buildings built during the reign of William the Conqueror (The beautiful twin abbeys they founded which still remain and 8 other old churches), who was buried in Caen, and for the Battle for Caen—heavy fighting took place in and around Caen during the Battle of Normandy in 1944, destroying much of the town (three-quarters of the city - totalling 10,000 buildings - was destroyed).


In 1346 King Edward III of England led his army against the city and on 26 July, his troops stormed the city and sacked it, killing 3,000 of its citizens and burning much of the merchants' quarter. Only the castle of Caen held out, despite attempts to besiege it. A few days later the English left, marching to the east and on to their brilliant victory at the Battle of Crécy on August 26.
During the Battle of Normandy in World War II, Caen was liberated in early July, a month after the Normandy landings. During the battle, many of the town's inhabitants sought refuge in the Abbaye aux Hommes ("Peoples' Abbey"), built by William the Conqueror some 800 years before.

Main sights

The castle, Château de Caen, built circa 1060 by William the Conqueror, is one of the largest medieval fortresses of Western Europe. It remained an essential feature of Norman strategy and policy. At Christmas 1182, a royal court celebration for Christmas in the aula of Caen Castle brought together Henry II and his sons, Richard the Lionheart and John Lackland, receiving more than a thousand knights (The Plantagenet Christmas gathering made famous in the movie “A Lion in Winter” was the following year, 1183 in the Castle of Chinon about 125 miles south) . Caen Castle, along with all of Normandy, was handed over to the French Crown after of the defeat of King John in 1204. The castle saw several engagements during the Hundred Years' War (1346, 1417, 1450) and was in use as a barracks as late as World War II. Today, the castle serves as a museum that houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen (Museum of Fine Arts of Caen) and Musée de Normandie (Museum of Normandy) along with many periodical exhibitions about arts and history .

In repentance for marrying his cousin Mathilda of Flanders, William ordered two abbeys to be built on the Pope's encouragement:
St.-Etienne, formerly the Abbaye aux Hommes, completed in 1063 is dedicated to St Stephen. The current town hall) of Caen is built onto the South Transept of the building.

Ste.-Trinité, formerly the Abbaye aux Dames was completed in 1060 and is dedicated to the Holy Trinity.
Church of Saint-Pierre, The construction of the present building took place between the early 13th and the 16th centuries. The spire was destroyed in 1944, and has since been rebuilt.

Mémorial pour la Paix ("Memorial for Peace") built in 1988.




In the abbey church of Saint-Étienne a slab marks the place of the tomb of William the Conqueror, though his bones were scattered by Huguenots in 1562, during the French Wars of Religion. The tomb of William the Conqueror was desecrated by Protestants during the Wars of Religion, and only a single femur survived. The leg bone was placed in a lead casket and later, in 1742, this was reverently placed in a vault covered by a marble slab. The slab was smashed only fifty years later, during the French Revolution. The tomb of William the Conqueror now seen by visitors dates from 1802.





Bayeux is located four miles from the English Channel, 18 miles northwest of Caen and 166 miles from Paris. The area around Bayeux is called the Bessin, a province of France until the French Revolution. The name of the city and the region come from the Celtic tribe inhabiting the Bajocasses region. In the 4th century the town of Bayeux became headquarters for an early Roman Catholic bishop.  Rollo, the Viking, captured the town in 880 and it became a Norman stronghold.  In 1106, Henry I of England pillaged the town.  During the Hundred Years’ War, from 1337 to 1453, and during the Wars of Religion, from 1562 to 1598, the town was besieged and taken numerous times by various forces. During the Second World War, Bayeux was the first city in France to be liberated during the Battle of Normandy, and on 16 June 1944 Charles de Gaulle made his first major speech in Bayeux stating that France sided with the Allies. The buildings in Bayeux were virtually untouched during the Battle of Normandy because the German focused their defense on Caen.

The Bayeux War Cemetery and memorial is the largest British cemetery from W.W. II in France with 4648 graves, including 3935 British and 466 Germans, most being killed in the Normandy Invasion.

Bayeux is a major tourist attraction because of the Bayeux tapestry, made to commemorate the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. It is now displayed in a town center museum but the Norman-Romanesque Cathedral Notre-Dame de Bayeux consecrated in 1077, was its original home.

The Bayeux Tapestry an embroidered cloth — not an actual tapestry — depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England as well as the invasion. It is remarkable both as a source of 11th century history and as a work of art.  It is an invaluable historical representation of the arms, costumes, manners and ships used by the Normans (led by William The Conqueror) prior to the invasion of England. The Tapestry stretches 231 feet long and is 19.5 inches wide.  It was made of a seamless strip of linen, embroidered with eight colors of woolen thread.  It is a needlework panorama of 72 individual scenes, and 1512 figures, with identifying Latin inscriptions, of the Norman Conquest.  It tells of Harold’s failure to honor the oath, he gave at Bayeux recognizing his cousin William’s right to succeed Edward the Confessor, and the consequences that followed. 

The borders are decorated with animals and scenes taken from fables.  It was probably made in England soon after the conquest  but wasn’t displayed in public until about 1476, when it decorated the nave of the Bayeux Cathedral. The earliest known written reference to the tapestry is a 1476 inventory of Bayeux Cathedral, but its origins have been the subject of much speculation and controversy. French legend maintained the tapestry was commissioned and created by Queen Matilda, William the Conqueror's wife. However, scholarly analysis in the 20th century shows it probably was commissioned by William's half brother, Bishop Odo. It was probably designed and constructed in England by skilled Anglo-Saxon artists since Anglo-Saxon needlework was famous across Europe.



On 6 June 1944 the Western Allies landed in northern France, opening the long-awaited "Second Front" against Adolf Hitler's Germany. It had been four long years since France had been overrun and the British driven from continental Europe, three since Hitler had attacked the Soviet Union and two and a half since the United States had entered the struggle. The invasion of Normandy was the establishment of Allied forces in Normandy, France, during Operation Overlord in World War II. The invasion was the largest amphibious operation in history.

The Allied invasion plans had called for the capture of Saint-Lô, Caen, and Bayeux on the first day, with all the beaches linked except Utah, and Sword and a front line 6–10 miles from the beaches. However practically none of these objectives had been achieved. Overall the casualties had not been as heavy as some had feared (around 10,000 compared to the 20,000 Churchill had estimated) and the bridgeheads had withstood the expected counterattacks.

By June 19, when severe storms interrupted the landing of supplies for several days, the British had landed 314,547 men, 54,000 vehicles, and 102,000 tons of supplies, while the Americans put ashore 314,504 men, 41,000 vehicles, and 116,000 tons of supplies.
The Normandy landings were the first successful opposed landings across the English Channel in over eight centuries. They were costly in terms of men, but the defeat inflicted on the Germans was one of the largest of the war. Strategically, the campaign led to the loss of German occupation in most of France and the establishment of a new major front. In larger context the Normandy landings helped the Soviets on the Eastern front, who were facing the bulk of the German forces and contributed to the shortening of the conflict there.


The small town of Honfleur on the Normandy Coast is one of the most picturesque ports in Europe.

The first written mention of Honfleur is in 1027 and by the middle of the 12th century it was a major transit point for goods from Rouen to England.
Located on the estuary of one of the principal rivers of France with a safe harbor and relatively rich hinterland, Honfleur profited from its strategic position from the start of the Hundred Years' War. The town's defenses were strengthened by Charles V in order to protect the estuary of the Seine from English attacks. Nevertheless, the English occupied Honfleur in 1357 and again from 1419 to 1450. When under French control, raiding parties often set out from the port to raid the English coasts, including partially destroying of the town of Sandwich in the 1450s.

At the end of the Hundred Years' War, Honfleur benefited from the boom in maritime trade until the end of the 18th century. Trade was disrupted during the 16th century Religious Wars. The port saw the departure of many explorers including an expedition in 1608, organized by Samuel de Champlain.

After 1608, Honfleur thrived on trade with Canada, the Antilles, the African coasts and the Azores. As a result the town was one of the five principal ports for the slave trade in France.
The wars of the French revolution and in particular, the continental blockade, were the ruin of Honfleur. It only partially recovered during the 19th century with the trading of wood from northern Europe.

Saint-Catherine's Church
The church is dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The first nave is the oldest part of the building, dating to the second half of the 15th century, was constructed right after the Hundred Years War.

It was built on the model of a market hall, using naval construction techniques, which gives the impression of an upside-down ship's hull. The bell-tower was built a good distance away, so that parishioners wouldn't be burnt in case of a fire.

In the 16th century, a second nave was added, whose vault was like the wooden vaults of modest Gothic churches.
The famous "Ax masters" of the naval yards of the city created this lovely building without using any saws, just like their Norman ancestors (who can be seen in action in the Bayeux tapestry), and like the Vikings before them.
The beams used to create the pillars of the nave and sidewalls are of unequal length.
The bays for the choir, redone in the 19th century, are of rather mediocre quality, and the roof above is higher than those of the older parts.
The church is partially covered in chestnut shingles, which are called « essentes » in the local dialect.
The "neo-Norman" porch was built following the model of rural Normandy churches at the beginning of the 20th century, and replaced a monumental doorway in neo-classical style from the previous century. The doorway itself was in Renaissance style.
It is worth note that the classical organ comes from the parish St. Vincent of Rouen, and the Renaissance balcony is decorated with musicians. Nineteenth century stained glass decorates the windows of the east choir.
The building lacks a transept and statues of recent saints, including two local ones, uniquely adorn the sidewalls of the chapels: St. Marcouf and St.Teresa of Lisieux.


Église Saint-Étienne (St. Stephen's Church)
An old parish church in gothic style, dating in part, from the 14th and 15th centuries. It is the oldest in the city.


Église Saint-Léonard (St. Leonard's Church)




The face is in a flamboyant gothic style, but the rest of the building was rebuilt in the 17th-18th centuries, which explains the unusual form of the bell-tower, which forms a sort of a dome. The interior is entirely painted in murals, including the visible wooden vaulting.
















Salt barns
Two barns remain out of three originals (constructed in the 17th century), one having been destroyed by fire. These two buildings contained 10,000 tons of salt for preserving the catch of this important fishing port. The walls were constructed with great blocks of chalky limestone and wooden vaulting.


Giverny sits on the "right Bank" of the River Seine 50 miles northwest of Paris.

A settlement existed in Giverny since Neolithic and archeological finds have included artifacts from Gallo-Roman times and to the earlier 1st and 2nd centuries AD. The cultivation of grapes has been an occupation of the inhabitants of Giverny since Merovingian times. The village church dates from the Middle Ages and is built partially in the Romanesque style, though additions have since been made. It is dedicated to Saint Radegonde. The village has remained a small rural setting with a modest population (numbering around 300 in 1883 when Monet discovered it) and has since seen a boom in tourism since the restoration of Monet's house and gardens.

Claude Monet noticed the village of Giverny while looking out of a train window. In 1890 he bought a house and land and set out to create the magnificent gardens he wanted to paint. Some of his most famous paintings, such as his water lily and Japanese bridge paintings, were of his garden in Giverny. Monet lived in Giverny from 1883 until his death in 1926. He and many members of his family are interred in the village cemetery.

photo (c) Hillary Doolittle


Monet's house and gardens were opened to public visit in 1980, following restoration work. They have become a popular tourist attraction run by the Fondation Claude Monet, particularly in the summer when the flowers are in bloom.




Château-Gaillard is a ruined medieval castle, located 300 feet above the commune of Les Andelys overlooking the River Seine, in Normandy, France.

It is located some 59 miles north-west of Paris and 25 miles from Rouen. Construction began in 1196 under the auspices of Richard the Lionheart, who was simultaneously King of England and feudal Duke of Normandy. The castle was expensive to build, but the majority of the work was done in an unusually short time, just two years. Château-Gaillard has a complex and advanced design, and uses early principles of concentric fortification; it was also one of the earliest European castles to use machicolations (an opening between the corbels of a projecting parapet or in the floor of a gallery or roof of a portal for discharging missiles upon assailants below). The castle consists of three enclosures separated by dry moats, with a keep in the inner enclosure.
Château-Gaillard was captured in 1204 by the French king, Philip II, after a lengthy siege. In the mid-14th century, the castle was the residence of the exiled David II of Scotland. The castle changed hands several times in the Hundred Years' War, but in 1449 the French captured Château-Gaillard from the English for the last time, and from then on it remained in French ownership. Henry IV of France ordered the demolition of Château-Gaillard in 1599; although it was in ruins at the time, it was felt to be a threat to the security of the local population. The castle ruins are listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture. The inner bailey is open to the public from March to November, and the outer baileys are open all year.


DAY 10   -   Au revoir.......RETURN TO USA

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