Magnificent abbeys were built beside the Seine between Rouen and Le Havre in medieval times. None was more powerful than Jumièges. Its imposing ruins reflect the centuries when monks ruled life and spirituality along the majestically meandering Lower Seine.
The ruins of Jumièges Abbey impress by their scale, and by their setting, in a beautiful meander in the Seine. The remnants are medieval, but an earlier, Dark Ages abbey had gone up here in the mid 7th century. At that time, the greatly influential bishop of Rouen, Ouen, encouraged the building of a string of monasteries along the Seine. A follower of Ouen’s, Philibert, became first abbot of Jumièges, and, going on to travel around France, one of the most important saints from that period.
A legend tells of two rebellious sons of King Clovis II of France who rose up against their father at this time, while he was abroad. On his return, Clovis wanted to have his rebellious sons killed. Their mother Bathilde asked instead that they have their nerves removed, handicapping them. She then cast them off from Paris on a boat on the Seine and they drifted as far as Jumièges, where Philibert recognised their royal attire and took them in. The royal connection went on to give many advantages to the abbey. The legend, it should be said, is not based on any reality.
Viking raiders did devastate the Dark Ages Jumièges Abbey in the mid 9th century. As these Norsemen settled in Normandy and turned to Christianity, one of their early leaders, William Longsword, reinstituted a monastery here from the mid 10th century. In 1040, building began on the vast abbey, often described as the first major Romanesque building in northern France. The enterprise was overseen by Robert Champart, who would also become Bishop of London, then Archbishop of Canterbury for a brief time. This was under King Edward the Confessor. Robert Champart’s cross-Channel roles recall the important facts that Edward the Confessor was, via his Norman mother, the grandson of Duke Richard of Normandy, and that he was in good part brought up in Normandy.
Edward the Confessor’s eventual successor, William the Conqueror, came as both Duke of Normandy and newly crowned King of England to the consecration of Jumièges Abbey’s church in 1067. Jumièges established itself as a great centre of medieval learning. William of Jumièges, a contemporary of William the Conqueror, wrote a significant history of the Norman dukes. The abbey church was given a Gothic choir end in the 13th century, when it was at the height of its power. Although clearly a very rich religious institution, signalled by its immense grandeur, it was renowned for its care for the poor.
From the 16th century French Wars of Religion, Jumièges went into rapid decline. The monks ran from fanatical Protestants who looted the place, wreaking devastation. After a small-scale revival, at the Revolution, large amounts of stone were sold off. The ruins that remain to this day recall the abbey’s greatness.
Notre-Dame Abbey and Saint-Pierre Church: Victor Hugo declared the ruins of Jumièges’s Notre-Dame Abbey to be the most beautiful in France. They are dominated by two great twin towers, reaching almost 150 feet into the air. The adjoining church of Saint-Pierre is an interesting Gothic edifice, in the main, although it conserves portions of an earlier, Carolingian church, plus a rare Carolingian wall painting. The grounds around the abbey are serene, calling for contemplation. On certain summer nights, visitors can visit them lit up.
Jumièges village and ferry: the village between the abbey ruins and the Seine is pretty, and a little ferry (or bac) still operates crossing the Seine here.
Jumièges Base de Loisirs and Golf de Jumièges: the Jumièges outdoor sports and recreation centre is set around lakes in the great Seine meander just south of Jumièges village. A fine golf course lies next to the Base de Loisirs.
Parc Naturel Régional des Boucles de la Seine Normande (Seine Valley Regional Nature Park): this regional natural park works to protect the wonderful meanders in the Seine between Rouen and Le Havre from industrialization, while preserving its forests, wetlands and flora and fauna. The Maison du Parc stands on the opposite side of the Seine from Jumièges at Notre-Dame-de-Bliquetuit where you can get much more information on the park’s importance and attractions.
Seine Abbey Route: for visitors interested in the exceptional string of religious buildings along the Seine between Rouen and Le Havre, also visit the tremendous abbeys of Saint-Georges-de-Boscherville, of Saint-Wandrille and Notre-Dame in Montivilliers, the last putting all these abbeys in their historical and cultural context. As to Caudebec church, it is a masterpiece of Norman Gothic.