L’Abbaye de Villers-la-Ville

I feel like a drowned rat. Well, not so much anymore, but earlier today I did. I had plans to go the Villers-la-Ville Abbey, the place we went to for that circus, but I wanted to actually go and learn about the history of the place. According to the weather report online today was supposed to be sunny with clouds, 27°, with a chance of rain. Oh it rained alright, we had more than just the amount you would expect when it’s a ‘chance’ of rain. Well, not here in Wasseiges, it was dry all day. Last night though, woah! What a storm. There wasn’t as much rain as that storm a month or so ago, but there was more thunder and lightning. I was just falling asleep when this HUGE clap of thunder woke me up. It sounded like it was right above the house. Then it started raining harder so I closed my window. I would have loved to stay up and watching the lightning show, but it was late and I was so tired. Also, the street lights got in the way.

I left around 10:15 or so and it was sunny. As I got closer (it’s about 40 minutes away) the sky started to get darker and darker. So dark that I and others around me, turned out lights on. I think when I was about 20 minutes or so away it started to rain. Buckets. Cats and Dogs. Downpour. Whatever you like to call it it rained a lot and it rained hard. There was some wannabe hail in there to. By the time I actually got there and got parked, the rain had stopped and it looked like it was clearing up. I put my jacket on just in case though because you never really know with the weather. The first stop you make after paying and getting your audio guide is the prison. It has 4 cells, but I was only able to see two of them because the other two were flooded. I had to take pictures with the flash just to see inside it was so dark. I managed to find that half of it was actually dry I just had to take a giant step to get to it. In the end my feet got a little wet. By the end of my time at the Abbey my feet were soaking wet, but my shoes were fine with that. One interesting tidbit about the prison cells was that they all had their own personal latrine. And on the audio guide they read off a section from something Victor Hugo had written after visiting the Abbey.

After the prison I went towards the Abbot’s palace and out into the garden. This was your nice walking garden not one for veggies :P. It has two fountains, one on either end so the sound of running water is prevalent, especially today because water was dripping from everything. Another sound I heard a lot while in the garden was thunder. So much thunder. At this point I had already taken my jacket off because it was hot. After walking up as far as I could go (up the ‘monumental’ 125 steps) to the chapel I put my jacket back on because I was afraid it would rain again. I guess I didn’t climb up all 125 steps because the last section of the staircase was blocked off. But after walking up the 408 steps to the Dinant Citadel, 125 is not very ‘monumental’. Fortunately for me there is a train track that runs on one side of the garden (above it) so there are arches to take cover under if it rains. And rain it did, again. So I took cover. But not before I was already pretty wet. I had checked out all the arches and found one that led into the woods. There was a sign saying ‘way is dangerous’ and another underneath saying the close at 6, the bell will warn you, etc. It didn’t say you couldn’t walk up there. In fact, there was a bench a ways up and everything. Being by myself and being curious I decided to go along the path to see where it would take me. In fact it took me to the chapel! So they didn’t do a very good job of block it off. Maybe it was just the staircase they didn’t want people using. I couldn’t get a picture of the chapel because it started raining too hard and I had to get back under cover.

Being as the site is ruins there aren’t many areas with roofs. I guess, there is actually, but from where I was at the edge under the train track to where the next available ‘cover’ was, was too far for me to be able to continue on. So I had to wait until it stopped. They had some extra tracks on the guide so I listened to those while I waited. It was interesting seeing the place practically empty (there was only one other couple that I saw there, minus the guys who were setting up for the show) and without all the circus stuff and food/drink booths. They do hold shows there often throughout the summer and there is one coming up so they had stands and a stage set up in one area.

Finally it stopped raining and I was able to move on. It cleared up and got warm again, but I left my jacket on because I didn’t trust the sky. It actually didn’t rain again, but what can you do. Of course when you’re on any kind of tour whether it’s guided with a person or audio guide, there’s so much information thrown at you that you can hardly remember it all.

I passed through the infirmary and learned about how the sick and dying were treated. Interestingly, when a monk died, for 30 days after his death his meals were given to the poor. I don’t think they ate that much so I’m not sure how it was distributed (mostly vegetarian, bread, eggs and fish at special times during the year, meat from 4-legged beasts for the sick…), but I thought that was kind of cool. Also, before the Abbey had fireplaces throughout they had what was called a ‘warming room’. It was the one room in the whole place that you could go to warm yourself. And there was something about coming to this room 3 times a year to get bled (to help prevent sickness) and the monks used to really like this because it meant they got white bread and didn’t have to go to the night offices. The monks who lived and worked in this Abbey were of the Cistercian order which meant that they shunned the ways of the rich Abbey’s and lived with poverty and hard work. They worked and they prayed. Even studying wasn’t considered as important as hard physical labour.

One thing that really sticks out in my mind is that Abbots there worked with or had dealings with (or something) the most renowned Abbess of the time: Hildegard von Bingen. ‘The time’ would be in the 10th century (1100’s, is that right?). The reason this caught my ear was because I learned all about Hildegard in 1st year university in history class in which we studied Medieval (Gregorian chant mostly) and Renaissance music. Hildegard was an…interesting character. Wikipedia touches on some of the more risqué subjects she wrote about, but I don’t remember everything from my history classes, I just know that we always wondered how she could write about certain things a nun really has no business knowing anything about… Plus my professor, the illustrious Dr. Santosuosso, (Dr. Alma Santosuosso, her husband was also Dr. Santosuosso) wrote a book or two on Hildegard von Bingen. That was the main reason most people shied away from her as a topic when writing our history paper in that year. That first music history paper is daunting worrying about all your research plus trying to make sure you don’t forget any bibliographical information so you can’t be charged with plagiarism without having to worry about the author of some of your sources being the one reading your paper! Also, she would always tell us that friends of hers wrote some of the books most of us would be looking at so she would know first hand if we didn’t cite something properly. I don’t know how I managed to pass. A D- that’s how. I remember contacting my Don to make sure that still meant a pass, I was totally freaking out.

Enough on university, I just thought it was interesting that someone I learned about years ago sort of ‘came back to haunt me’ as it were when I wasn’t expecting it. I’m really bad with relating music history to regular history. I know it was all happening at the same time as everything else, but for the most part I always viewed it as rather separate. Of course current events influenced composers, but I still never really connected all of that with the rest of what was going on. Like it was a whole other world.

I was gone for most of the day. I took about 3 hours there and then I took time looking for somewhere to eat a late lunch before finally returning home. Greg’s friend Nico came for supper and now they’re playing one of Greg’s Medieval type games. It might be a role-playing one I’m not sure. All I know is that I’m sure it would be way to complicated for me, especially in French!

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  1. Well stated and with excellent timing

  2. This blog is wonderful. Your family and friends must love the rich detail you provide–the next best thing to being there with you. And you will be able to re-live your experience in such vivid details for years to come.

    Very engaging writing.

    • Thank you so much! I’ve never really though of my writing as being engaging before… I also feel like I forget so much. Then again, if I didn’t mention it all the time people probably wouldn’t realize it!

      Lafemmeroar suggested making a book of my blog posts as a nice keepsake. I think it’s a grand idea!


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