I Love Normandy!
by Diane Boutier
Tom and Cheryl in front of St. Clair's shrine
On most tours of the D-Day beaches, I take a left at the village hall of Colleville and head down a winding path to the Fox sector of Omaha Beach. Part way down, alongside the road is a stone thing with a tourism "point of interest" sign. Ususally there's a steady stream of vehicles driven by intrepid tour guides like myself, trying to squeeze in one more thing before the day's over. Yesterday, no one was around and we had no deadline to meet, no train to catch. So, I hit the brakes, while asking indulgence from my guests: Tom and Cheryl. They hopped from the car and what to our wondering eyes did appear but a completely un-related to D-Day bit of historia...the St Clair fountain. Who is St Clair? Up until yesterday I'd have to reply: 'ya got me!'
A sculpted stone shrine covers a miniscule spring. People have left offerings. There was a Lourdes momento, a tiny posy of flowers and another trinket. The sign explained that St Clair was born in England in the year 845 and fled the country once he'd decided to become a monk. His parents had arranged a marriage for him in which he was evidently not interested. Voilà, he arrives in France, in Normandy, intending to live the life of a hermit.
It would appear that he was a rather attractive fellow, because he caught the fancy of a local nobleman's unhappily-married wife. She pursued, he refused. She pursued more, he fled his hermit's lair. She pursued more, he ran faster. She sent out two assasins to stop him. They did.
one swung an axe and severed the top part of Clair's head straight off. (think: super severe scalping job.)
Clair, probably astounded, bent and picked up the top third of his head and tossed it into the spring. Then he did the obvious thing. He layed down and died.
From then on, the monk's tonsure: the hair-do involving a big bald spot on the top and a two inch ring of hair beneath it, is a wink to Clair's sacrifice to his calling.
Pilgrims have traveled, and seemingly still do, to the spring to drink the water hoping to cure 'eye diseases and blindness'. Why eye problems I cannot guess unless it was because Clair was a real looker. Sorry, bad pun.
Still, the shrine perfectly underscores why I love Normandy so much. The road is named "Big Red One lane" referring to the First American Army Division, whose job it was to push up the gully along the lane once they'd taken the beach at Fox sector. Yet along it, they would have seen St Clair's shrine and spring. I wonder if they had time to stop and ponder. I'm doubting it, but maaaaaybe some of them snatched a cupful of the fresh, cool water. And just maybe, they could see the road ahead of them with a clearer vision of what needed to be done.
At any rate, thanks to the Mayor of Colleville-sur-Mer for putting up the signpost and to Cheryl and Tom (pictured here in front of St Clair's shrine and spring), I now have another obscure piece of historical trivia to add to my repertoire.
Gotta love Normandy!