It’s a tiny church in a Normandy hamlet that we stumbled upon almost by accident. But, dramatically perched on the cliff edge, with views along the northern coast of France towards Calais, it’s not difficult to see why the Église Saint-Valéry in Varengeville-sur-Mer has attracted so many painters. Claude Monet painted it dozens of times (the one above is simply called ‘The Church at Varengeville’); Pissarro, Corot and Isabey are among others who have depicted it too. Apparently when the church was first built in the eleventh century by the monks of Conches Abbey, it was a kilometre from the sea. But cliff erosion has brought to the edge of the precipice.
Dramatic though the setting is, the real treasure is inside. This millennium-old church is garlanded with stunning modernist stained glass windows. The most famous, L’arbre de Jessé, is by Georges Braque (who is also buried in the churchyard). But the best is a series by Raoul Ubac, and a pair made at the famous glass workshop of Atelier Simon-Marq.
The churches of Normandy and Britanny are, in fact, full of modernist stained glass treasures, often in the most unexpected of places, and I may return to this another time.
Georges Braque, L’arbre de Jessé
Stained glass by Raoul Ubac
Stained glass made at the Atelier Simon-Marq