ROYAL ABBEYS OF THE HOLY TRINITY AND ST. STEPHEN—FUNERAL OF THE CONQUEROR, EXHUMATION OF HIS REMAINS, AND DESTRUCTION OF HIS MONUMENT.
(Caen, August, 1818.)
The two royal abbeys of Caen have fortunately escaped the storms of the revolution. These buildings are still standing, an ornament to the town, and an honor to the sovereign who caused them to be erected, as well as to the artist who planned, and to the age which produced them. As models of architecture they are the same land-marks to the history of the art in Lower Normandy, as the church of St. Georges is in the upper division of the province. Their dates are equally authenticated; and the characteristic features in each are equally perfect.
Both these noble edifices rose at the same time, and from the same motive. William the Conqueror, by his marriage with Matilda, daughter of Baldwin, Earl of Flanders, had contracted an alliance proscribed by the degrees of consanguinity. The clergy inveighed against the union; and they were supported in their complaints by Lanfranc, then resident at Bec, whose remonstrances were so uncourtly and strenuous, that the duke banished him from the province. It chanced that the churchman, while in the act of obedience to this command, met the sovereign. Their interview began with recriminations: it ended with reconciliation; and Lanfranc finally engaged to undertake a mission to the supreme Pontiff, who, considering the turbulent disposition of the Normans, and that a better end was likely to be answered by peaceable than by hostile measures, consented to grant the necessary dispensation. At the same time, by way of penance, he issued an injunction that the royal pair should erect two monasteries, the one for monks, the other for nuns. And in obedience to this command, William founded the abbey of St. Stephen, and Matilda, the abbey of the Holy Trinity; or, as they are usually called at Caen, l’abbaye aux hommes, and l’abbaye aux dames.
The approach to the monastery of the Trinity is through a spacious gate-tower, part of the original structure. Over the rent and shapeless door-way are three semi-circular arches, upon the capitals of which is distinctly observable the cable-moulding, and along the top of the tower runs a line of the same toothed ornament, remarked by Ducarel at Bourg-Achard, and stated by him to have been considered peculiar to Saxon architecture. The park that formerly environed the abbey retains its character, though abandoned to utter neglect. It is of great extent, and is well wooded. The monastic buildings, which are, as usual, modern, are mostly perfect.—A ruined wall nearly in front of the church, with a chimney-piece, perhaps of Norman workmanship, belonged to the old structure. Such part of the chimney wall as was exposed to the flame is built of large tiles, placed diagonally. All other vestiges of the ancient apartments have been removed.