Monthly Archives: October 2013

Brancion – October 2 2013

View of Village from Castle Brancion
View of Village from Castle Brancion

I first visited Brancion several years ago on a Pilgrimage through Burgundy. This ancient medieval village, tucked away on a hilltop above the valley of the river Grosne immediately captured my imagination. You enter by way of a covered stone gateway (the clatter of hooves on the cobblestones is still almost audible). To your right, and elevated above the village, stands the ruins of the 12th century keep with its later 14th century additions still more or less intact.

View of Countryside from Brancion
View of countryside from Brancion

The views from its walls are spectacular and offer a clear view of the surrounding countryside – no enemy was going to sneak up on the lords of Brancion. But who were these lords who built this place? Continue reading Brancion – October 2 2013

Cluny – October 2 2013

Cluny today from end to end
Cluny today, from end to end

Cluny breaks your heart – at least it breaks mine. Traveling around France you become accustomed to seeing the destruction visited on Cathedrals, Churches, Abbeys and religious artifacts during the French Revolution (1789-1799), but in my view nothing compares with the loss of this once magnificent architectural and spiritual marvel of Medieval Europe, the greatest Abbey in western Christendom and Motherhouse of the Benedictine order. Little remains today of the glory that was Cluny, although you can still see the foundations extending from the remaining towers and running for nearly quarter of a mile parallel to the market square and streets of present day Cluny (now in part the site of the lovely little hotel de la Bourgogne.) Continue reading Cluny – October 2 2013

Travels in Burgundy: Vézelay to Cluny October 2 2013

Vézelay countryside
Vézelay countryside

The novelist Persia Wooley offers very sound advice when she suggests that a historical novelist should, whenever possible, visit the places she is writing about. Not only is there a good chance that this will provide additional material and inspiration, but also actually experiencing the terrain (one thing that time has probably not changed that much) can save the writer from a number of unfortunate mistakes that anyone who knows the area would pick up on immediately!

Hence my drive from Vézelay to Cluny through the endless hills and valleys of the Morvan convinced me that there was no way a 12th century traveler in his right mind would have taken this route (so chapter 2 of Holy the Sword goes right into the “circular file!”). Continue reading Travels in Burgundy: Vézelay to Cluny October 2 2013

Travels in Burgundy: Vézelay October 1 2013

The Basilica
The Basilica in Vézelay

The ancient hilltop village of Vézelay has been a gathering place for Pilgrims since about 1040 C.E. when an enterprising Abbot declared that their Basilica possessed the body of Mary Magdalene – a great holy relic. Henceforth and until its decline two centuries later, Vézelay was not only a destination in its own right but also an important milestone on the road to Compostela and the shrine of Saint James in Galicia, which, after Rome, was perhaps the most celebrated pilgrimage destination in Europe – at the height of its popularity in the late 11th and 12th centuries, an estimated half a million pilgrims a year made the arduous trek across the Pyrenees to this holy site. Continue reading Travels in Burgundy: Vézelay October 1 2013

Travels through Champagne & Burgundy – September 30 to October 5 2013

The whole reason for this trip to Belgium and France was to trace the route my hero, Rohan de Brancion, would have followed in 1146 when he left his home in the hillside village of Brancion in central Burgundy and headed north for Ghent. After facing initial opposition, he (or rather others more persuasive than he) convinced his robber baron father, Lord Bernard de Brancion, to allow him, an illegitimate son, to undergo training to become a knight at the court of Lord Bernard’s powerful brother-in-law, Thierry, Count of Flanders. This in itself was unusual given Rohan’s base birth, but it was not unheard of – there were many famous early medieval bastards who rose to high positions – Duke William of Normandy, better known as William the Conqueror, was a bastard. Rules about these matters became more rigid in the 14th century, but still this was a pretty big deal for Rohan and would have put considerable pressure on him to prove himself worthy. Continue reading Travels through Champagne & Burgundy – September 30 to October 5 2013