Saint Georges abbey church
In 1113 Guillaume de Tancarville decided to found an abbey to replace the existing collegiate church, with the agreement of Henry I Beauclerc (Duke of Normandy and King of England). He called upon the Benedictine monks of St. Evroult en Ouche.
So the building of this Roman church made of Caumont stone took place from 1113 to 1140.
The Norman builders aimed to have very well-lit naves and they did this by means of tall, large windows, initially made possible by a wooden ceiling, which prevented uplift, although this was replaced by a Gothic vault in the 13th century.
The church is in the shape of a Latin cross, facing east. As is often the case in Normandy, it has galleries in the transept arms and a lantern tower erected at the transept crossing. The apse is in a rounded shape covered by a quarter sphere supported by enormous ribs.
The builders used the thick wall technique: at the last level the wall itself becomes thinner and, just in front, an elegant row of columns increases the overall strength. The church has numerous historiated capitals, with scenes showing characters.
The abbey’s French-style gardens: the only example of its kind in Normandy.
The gardens behind the abbey building were reconstructed twenty or so years ago to look just as the Maurist monks created them in 1683, considerably enlarging the medieval garden which had existed up until that time. They were influenced by the late Renaissance style and mingled the heritage of the medieval gardens in with that of Italian-style gardens, adapted to French tastes which were somewhat plainer.
The organisation into four terraces spaced out on the hillside is characteristic of Italian gardens. Here at Boscherville, they are laid out around a majestic central axis, rising up from the monastic building to the wind pavilion, this elegant building which dominates the scene.
The laying out of the gardens matches the majestic architecture of the buildings. The yew trees cut into the shape of a pyramid give a restrained, meticulous feel which is very much in the French style.
Down below the square borders with a mixture of vegetables, flowers and medicinal herbs are the heritage of the Middle Ages, when geometric order was established in contrast to chaos, which is essentially satanic. In these gardens there are four parts rising from bottom to top in tiers. First of all we find two levels of produce being grown: the kitchen garden to the north with an orchard full of small red fruits, to the south the medicinal plant and condiment patches, then the huge orchards planted with ancient or local varieties of fruit trees.
There are a lot of mazes which appear on the paving of our cathedrals: Chartres, Amiens, etc. Worshippers would kneel and follow the complex drawing, symbolising the difficulties and hazards of life before reaching the heavenly city of Jerusalem. At Boscherville, near the wind pavilion, a maze has recently been planted with yew trees, adding a fun dimension to this historic reminder.
There are two other levels above which are strictly for pleasure: the flowerbeds and the charming groves. So the gardens combined a useful purpose with something more pleasurable.
A watercolour by Gaignières shows how Saint-Georges de Boscherville abbey looked back in 1702. We can make out what was very probably a spherical dial on a column, in the middle of the monumental staircase.
In olden times obviously its main task was not to tell the time; it was actually more of a decorative and educational item for monks concentrating on intellectual tasks, who also took a keen interest in science. A column dial has been traced on the column supporting it. It was frequently used to complement spherical dials in the 18th century.
Certain ancient texts describe this type of dial under the heading of “mathematical recreations”, thus illustrating the interest in science and its specific applications during this century.
Finally, the device has been completed by using tiles inlaid into the ground to show the location of the sphere’s shadow depending upon the time of day and the season. The purpose is solely educational, it is a third way of giving visitors a few basic ideas about the visible movements of the sun. The combination of two dials and inlays on the ground is very rare. This supplement to the furnishings of the gardens of Saint-Georges abbey makes a visit to the site all the more interesting.