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Bayeux Cathedral and the Occupation

by Bill Morris

Contributed by 
Bill Morris
People in story: 
Bill Morris
Location of story: 
Bayeux, Normandy
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A2102068
Contributed on: 
02 December 2003

Following the D-Day Landings Bayeux was the first town to be liberated and considering the heavy bombardment very little damage done to the buildings. About one week after the liberation I was in a survivor's camp near Arromanches which was set up by the Royal Marines. The camp was running short of drinking water and along with a marine we loaded up a jeep with empty jerricans to take to Bayeux in order to fill them at a military depot. Having completed the filling we decided to spend an hour in the town. The marine wanted to see the town but I went to visit the Cathedral. We arranged to meet back at the depot where the jeep was parked. The Cathedral entrance was through a small door, large enough for one person at a time to enter or leave. This door was cut out of a great oak door. It was a brilliantly clear June day and once through that door it seemed like another world. The darkness and gloom wrapped around me and was so powerful that it was necessary to stand still in order to become accustomed to the change. After a while I noticed a few candles glowing, spaced at regular intervals, breaking into the awful darkness. I could just make out the figures of a dozen or so servicemen standing around in this massive empty Cathedral. In spite of the nakedness of the building there was a feeling of a holy stillness.

Just inside the entrance was a crude block of stone more than one cubic square metre. On top of it was a box of unused candles beside an open tin with a few coins inside. There were some lighted candles on this makeshift altar. As I looked around it dawned upon me that the place had been stripped of all furnishings. there was no high altar, no golden candlesticks, no pews, no pulpit, no organ. no lectern, no choir stalls, no chandeliers, no screen, no pictures, The stained glass windows were boarded up and everything had been removed to a safe place during the Occupation.

In the silence I stood before the crude altar with my own thoughts and prayers when suddenly the small door half opened. From inside the building a blinding light shone through. A young French boy was silhouetted there for a moment. He came inside and closed the door behind him, he hesitated there at the threshold, nervous, like some wild animal about to take off. He was only a few feet away from where I stood and I estimated his age as ten years. He was dressed as a typical French schoolboy with short blue trousers and blue shirt. He looked unkempt and struck me as having been 'sleeping rough.'

He slowly moved towards me and I gave him an encouraging smile which seemed to relax him a little. He came and stood beside me at the makeshift altar, he took two or three centimes from his pocket, placed them carefully in the tin and took a candle. Lighting the candle from the flame of another he placed it in position on the altar, put his hands together, closed his eyes and prayed. I stood there for many minutes with him, then he made a movement, stood back, turned to me with a smile, walked to the door, turned once more, waved his hand as farewell, and was gone.

Except that he has not gone, at least not from my mind. Down through the years he has caused me to ask questions without ever knowing the answers. Who was he? Had he come there that morning freely or had he been sent there on an errand? Had his mother sent him to pray for his brothers and sisters? Had he come here to pray for his father, taken away to a forced labour camp, or something much worse? Had his family been wiped out by the invasion? Was he an orphan without a home? What would become of him. So many questions spawning other questions, all without answers.

Fifty years afterwards I stood upon the same spot and the questions all came flooding back. The old stone block with the candles was no longer there, the Cathedral was no longer in darkness and gloom but with bright new lighting, chandeliers, stained glass windows displayed in all their glory, music flowing from the organ, the replaced pews, the pictures, the images, the high altar, the chatter of hundreds of visitors, happily celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation. I stood at the hallowed place of meeting, where once had been a crude stone altar, where once had been a holy stillness.

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Message 1 - A2102068 - Bayeux Cathedral and the Occupation

Posted on: 17 December 2003 by Bill Morris

Please place the srory under the Personal section.

Bill Morris

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