Many famous explorers set sail from the port of Honfleur, including Binot-Paulmier de Gonneville who left to explore Brazil in 1503, Jean Denis, who was the first European to sail the Saint-Lawrence Seaway, and Samuel de Champlain who is a famous figure in Canadian history, having founded Quebec in 1608. The town’s heritage is entirely owed to the sea. Since the 17th century, the Old Harbour entrance has been guarded by the Lieutenant’s House. The wind ruffles the tall and narrow houses and their slated roofs at Quai Sainte-Catherine. In contrast, Quai Saint-Etienne is lined with more luxurious stone houses. In the old days, valuable commodities would be stored at this wharf’s salt stores before being loaded onto fishing boats that sailed all the way to Newfoundland.
The 16th century St. Catherine’s Church was built in a hurry by shipwrights so that they could worship in a church of their own. It is shaped like an upturned hull, the same shape they were used to seeing, day after day.
Honfleur also owes much of its culture to the artists and philosophers who come to observe the sea. Many painters set up their easels by the hills, quayside, or jetty and get to work. The first artists arrived 150 years ago. Today’s artists can only dream of gaining the fame and reputation of their predecessors, Boudin, Jongkind, Lebourg, and Corot, to name a few. These artists used to meet at the Saint-Simeon Farm not too far outside of Honfleur. Nowadays, their works are displayed gloriously in a fine museum named after Boudin. The city, of course, was also a famous place for other muses such as the popular Baudelaire and Musset. It was also the place where Henri de Regnier, Erik Satie, Alphonse Allais, and Albert Sorel were born. The famous poet and novelist, Lucie Delarue-Mardrus, also used Honfleur as the setting for many of her literary works.
From Honfleur, you can take a steep slope up a hill to reach the Chapel of Our Lady of Gracy. This tiny church is set in the midst of age-old trees and was erected in the 17th century after the reign of Richard II. The church before it stood on the cliffs and was swallowed up by strong waves. Underneath the vaulted blue roof, the close ties between Normandy and Canada are evident with the votive offerings and the decorative engravings of stars and marbles. Many seafarers of bygone days expressed their gratitude to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Gaudez, René, Hervé Champollion, and Angela Moyon. Tour of Normandy. Rennes: Éditions Ouest-France, 1996. ISBN: 2737317185.
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