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  • The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
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See the Ruins of the Jumiège Abbey

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Of all the ruins in France, this historic abbey in a lazy loop of the lower Seine might be the most impressive. In the river oxbows of Normandy, between the towns of Rouen and Le Havre, the village of Jumiège is home to an old monastery, left wide open to the sky since the days of the French Revolution.

The Benedictine monastery at Jumiège was first established in the year 654 by an abbot (later saint) named Philibert. It was a pretty spiffy place, well-appointed and well-staffed, which meant just about everyone from the Vikings to the Huguenots wanted a piece of them (mostly the Vikings, who sacked it with some regularity).

In the middle of all the invasions and rebuilding, in 1067 coming home from his victory across the Channel, William the Conqueror stopped by for a re-consecration. With his protection, things started off again on a long course of (mostly) smooth sailing. The order was able to rebuild—spiritually, financially, scholarly, and artistically—although with some setbacks during the Huguenot Wars of the 16th century.

Cut to the French Revolution, which dealt the monastery its final blow. The brothers were all dispersed, the abbey fell apart, and it was eventually sold off for scrap and stone. Over the next 60 years it was a ghost of its former self, until 1852 when it was recognized for its value as a landscape of exquisite ruins. It was maintained in private hands for some time, and finally fully protected by the State in 1946 for its unparalleled historical and architectural power.