Honfleur is magical. It’s almost timeless. You can gaze above the heads of the locals and tourists and it’s as if nothing has changed.
Perhaps that’s what is so special about churches. There’s something peaceful about time standing still, even for a moment.
Saint Catherine church of Honfleur is just north of the colourful and bustling little harbour.
The steeple of the main church can be seen over the tall wooden houses of Quai Sainte-Catherine and it’s bell tower points up just behind.
As we approach the back of the church the stained glass windows are dark, belying their florescence within.
Surrounding the church are narrow cobbled streets where teenie shops are crammed with local produce or art, cafes and restaurants.
At the front of the church, the far end of the Place Sainte-Catherine, sits the old bell tower.
The church is dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria. This we know because of a wooden sculpture above the porch.
The 15th century church was thought too weak to support its bell tower. Lightening tended to strike it, therefore the parishioners were also protected from the risk of fire.
The original stone church was destroyed during the One Hundred Year War, finally a church was built during a time of peace at the end of the 15th century.
Most of the money was used to restore the fortified walls protecting the town, so there was little money left to build the church.
Ship making carpenters were employed who used oak from the Touques forest.
The nave on the left side was the first built and was used by ship owners and sailors. The population rapidly expanded so the 2nd nave on the right was added.
Inside feels vast.
At the back, above the doors sits the organs balustrade. It is 16th century and either comes from the original organ or from a noble family from Honfleur (their coat of arms are just seen).
The characters represent seventeen instruments used in the 16th century.
The organ itself has been restored and improved since its original version. Eventually resulting in 35 pipes that produced powerful and orchestral acoustics that sounded heavy and monotone.
In recent history flooding practically destroyed it’s mechanism. But the organ was restored once again so that it could make the sound of a traditional organ, allowing classical music to be played once more.
This Saint was called Therese. I thought she looked very kind, but I don’t know her story.
There is a curious box placed at her alter. It contained a stone.
The main alter was the home of the 19th century stained glass windows. They mainly depict important Saints.
The original and older left side alter was decorated with a beautifully detailed nativity scene.
These seats sit along the wall. They look like waiting chairs for the confessional which is at the end of the row.
They look mighty uncomfortable – but I suppose the experience of confessing should be at least a little disagreeable.
A little further on and there are a number of Saints you can light a candle for and perhaps pray to.
Looking up at the ceilings remind you that the builders of this church were originally ship builders. It seems fitting that the ceilings look like the hull of a ship as most of the parishioners were sailors etc.
The ‘Axe masters’ of the cities naval yards built this church 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 the side walls are of unequal length. This is because there were not anymore oak trees long enough to construct them. Therefore, some have a footing of stone, some of greater or lesser height, and some have no footing at all.
This large antique porch, with columns and a triangular façade, is 19th century. The Norman entrance used today is opposite the bell tower.
After one last look around the outside, there is nothing for it but for us to enjoy the winding streets of Honfleur and sample a glass of Calvados or two. Santé!
Claim Your FREE Travel Guide & Checklist
Claim your free travel guide and checklist and be sent weekly posts on travel, recipes and more! Helping to make your midlife more fabulous.