Visiting the stone Church of Saint-Hilaire, Givet, France: a presence by the Meuse since the 17th century
Destroyed by de Créquy, rebuilt by Vauban, mocked by Victor Hugo
A previous structure having been destroyed in 1675, this church building in Givet, France, basically dates from 1683. Some further work was carried out between 1685 and 1702. The church of Saint-Hilaire is thus mainly a 17th century structure.
Interestingly, the history of the church building is tied up with local, territorial developments. The border between France and what is now Belgium fluctuated for hundreds of years. The border locally was finally settled along a line running a short walking distance from Downtown Givet, with Belgian territory surrounding this French town by at least 270 degrees (1).
Significantly, two leading military figures were associated with both the destruction of the previous building and its replacement with the present structure. The French military leader, François, Marshall de Créquy (1629-1687) was responsible for its war-driven destruction in 1675. Subsequently, Sébastien Le Prestre, Marshall de Vauban (1633-1707), more often thought of as a military engineer than as an ecclesiastical master mason, produced the building which still stands today.
The stone building is basically executed in Classical style, particularly evidenced by its pediment at the main frontage and its clean lines. The interior of the building has some fine and valuable woodworking. One of the building's crowing features is its tower with a conspicuous, bulbous spire (2). This bulbous spire has even been on record as having been duly mocked by Victor Hugo — an inveterate traveller —, who famously compared it with an upturned salad bowl! (Most citizens of small French towns, however, would probably regard one of its prominent features being gently mocked by Victor Hugo as almost a compliment, helps put their town 'on the map', so to speak.)
March 12, 2014
(1) The military and strategic importance of Givet is underlined by the presence of Charlemont Fort, built upon a rock overlooking the town.
(2) The Meuse Valley — over the border into Belgium — has an even more striking example of a church building with a bulbous spire in the form of the Collegiate Church of Dinant (French: Eglise collégale de Dinant).
Some sourcing: Wikipedia
Also worth seeing: In Givet itself, Fort Charlemont overlooks the town from its striking situation; the Town Hall is an impressive structure; the Tour Victoire is a centuries' old, former Meuse River customs post
Dinant, Belgium (distance: 20 kilometres): Also situated on the Meuse River, Dinant has some truly amazing church architecture, an ancient fort and the Bayard Rock (French: Rocher Bayard).
How to get there: The nearest large international airport to Givet is Brussels Airport (Brussel-Nationaal / Bruxelles-National), Belgium, to which Brussels Airlines flies from New York. Car rental is available from Brussels Airport. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Consular sources should be consulted for any special border crossing visa arrangements which may apply to travellers of certain nationalities.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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