Photo Post: Namur

More adventures in tourism! This time, I decided to go to Namur, partially because it had been recommended as a lovely city by family, and partly in the name of actually meeting the person who had invited me to give the paper at the conference on advocacy I mentioned when I ended up writing what would have been most of a fairly interesting paper, had I but known at the time. So I sent him an e-mail, and he very kindly agreed to spend several hours of his weekend showing me around Namur. So I’d like to thank Nicolas for that (and if you want to know more, you can follow his Twitter account at @nruffinironzani)!

Namur is in the valley of the Meuse, where it joins the Sambre, and it’s got, really, two parts to it. First is the town proper, down in the river valley; but overlooking the town is a rocky escarpment. This was an obvious place to build a castle, and indeed many regimes have done so over the years, starting with the tenth-century counts (because tenth century is best), and going all the way up to modern times. The current fortress is early modern – it wasn’t actually built by Vauban, but the tourist information boards did play up the connection.

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Its setting is extremely impressive, and the views are lovely, but to get the most of it, you probably have to be more of a fan of eighteenth-century military architecture than I am.

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Or of giant gold tortoises, which I admit may be more likely to generate consensus.

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The cathedral is relatively new; certainly in the period with which I’m familiar(-ish) with Namur’s history, there wasn’t a bishop here. The building itself is Baroque, but we didn’t go in, because instead Nicolas recommended what turned out to be the highlight of the trip:

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The Jesuit church of Saint-Loup.

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I’m not usually one for Baroque, but this church was seriously gorgeous.

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Only a quick post this week, because coming up is some more hard-core history. Having been swotting up on Aquitaine and Burgundy, it’s time to finally get some thoughts down about the tria regna of post-Carolingian France in comparative perspective…

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Photo Post: Nivelles

Because rail travel in Belgium is (at least to an English mind/wallet) very cheap, I decided I may as well try and see more of the country than the flat, the office, and the library (to which I now finally have access! All I need now is for the mutualité to actually respond to me and the administration will be done…). To start with, I thought something simple, and close; so a couple of Saturdays ago I set off from Bruxelles-Central to a town called Nivelles.

Nivelles is mostly known for its collegiate church of Saint-Gertrude. The church was founded in the seventh century, and became important under the Carolingians – it was a major nunnery, and there are a number of royal diplomas in favour of the house.

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The current church building is Romanesque, dating from the eleventh through to the thirteenth centuries.

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Unfortunately, there was a wedding going on, so I didn’t get much of a look at the inside, but I did get to see the inside of the cloister, which now houses the town hall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs you can see, the church rather dominates what is otherwise a small town (it reminded me faintly of High Wycombe or Amersham). It towers over the town square and is easily visible from most of the town centre.

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In terms of its late Carolingian history, Nivelles – and female monasticism generally, actually – is a bit out of my wheelhouse. It’s not that there weren’t female monasteries in the West Frankish kingdom, but the evidence for them is basically non-existent. This includes some cases, such as Chelles or Sainte-Radegonde in Poitiers, where more evidence would be really useful.

However, Nivelles does show up at least once in my research proper. In 907, Charles the Simple got married, to a woman named Frederuna. It seems to have been a happy marriage and there are a number of diplomas from around the time of wedding which give an idea of what was there. One in particular features a kind of ‘family portrait’ of some of the biggest court names: ‘Our beloved wife Frederuna, and the beloved Abbess Gisla, and the venerable Count Robert and Countess Adele, and Counts Altmar and Erchengar, and Robert beloved to us…’ Abbess Gisla there is in fact abbess of Nivelles and she’s Charles’ second cousin, a daughter of King Lothar II. It would seem that she’s the bridegroom’s party. (I say that largely because if there was a political context, there’s not enough information to sort it out, at least not without going and reading around and thereby taking time away from the mounds of Church councils I have to read for the Ghent paper in November…)

Charles and Frederuna probably deserve a longer post, actually. On the grounds that that will be easy to write on the train to Luxembourg next week, that can be next week’s effort, and then after that the last thought on the Tübingen conference. Sound good?