Recalling the Churches in Normandy

I was taking a holiday from scruple
when we dallied in the warm waters of belonging,
and in Vieux Pont on Sunday
the dry wood bit my shins
in hard pews
that surely Jansen would have loved.
The crabbed priest
mumbled at a handful of old souls.

in the Summer heat,
we cycled through villages
while the churches became an obsession.
We savoured the smell of long use,
the sense of an old emptiness
hinting at presence,
and cursed the parish priest who changed a jot.

All this, we felt, was home grown here,
rooted as the apple orchards;
not our Victorian pastiche
pulling itself up by it’s own bootstraps,
full of order and amnesia.

The next Sunday
a Corpus Christi procession
trailed through the woods
behind a swaying shrine.
We followed.
Our ravenous video wolfed it down.
God slipped into the geography like an eel.

That evening I kept quiet
swallowing farmhouse ‘calva’
while our stout Welshman with Tridentine views,
poured 'hwyl' on the flames.


‘calva’ = Calvados, a spirit distilled from cider.

‘Tridentine’ = refers to the old rite of Mass in Latin, now rarely used.

‘hwyl’ (say ‘hoo-ill’): a Welsh word in common use among English speakers in Wales. One of its meanings is ‘high spirits’.

: Patrick Egan, from Westmeath.
Formerly based in Cardiff he now lives in Cabinteely, near Bray, County Wicklow.
A fluent Irish speaker and a competent poet in English, he was one of the founders of Comhluadar Caerdydd, the Cardiff Irish Language Group which launched the Wales Famine Forum.

The poem was written following a holiday in Normandy in 1995 with a group of friends.

The ‘stout Welshman’ converted to Catholicism in the 1950s but has found the changes in Catholic forms of worship during the last 30 years or so difficult to accept.

Published in:

The Green Dragon No 7, Summer 1998

Another poem by this author:
Castles of Bones

An article by this author:
James Clarence Mangan

The Poetry of Things

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