Whether you’re a believer or an atheist, you have to see La Charité-sur-Loire with your heart as well as your eyes… Let’s cross the stone bridge, built in 1520 and renovated in 2018. From the bridge, take a look at the quay on the left: there’s an opening, the “ticket window” that collected the tolls relating to river transport.
Let’s enter the city now – it’s easier for us than Joan of Arc … she had to give up her attempts to take this fortified place in 1429, faced with the fearsome mercenary Perinnet-Gressard, who has his own tower among the city walls. Rue du Pont, Rue des Chapelains, Place des Pêcheurs … the lower town hasn’t really changed, with its old houses and alleys where it’s so much fun to lose yourself. A district full of mysteries and surprises you simply have to discover… In any case, don’t miss the 84 steps, the Sailors’ Chapel or Rue du Grenier à Sel, all of them well worth a visit.
After your adventures, it’s time to meet up at Notre Dame Church (the Church of Our Lady). From the Bertranges bell tower, there’s 900 years of history to contemplate! Look up at the sky and admire the pink-brown serrations of the portal, restored in 2012. In Place Sainte-Croix, you’re in church, or at least what’s left of it. You can see that people live in this special “neighbourhood”, just like the tourist office. For your information, under your feet was probably the old parish chapel and its cemetery, as bones have been found during recent archaeological digs. It’s worth saying that, despite being martyred and burned, the priory has always risen back up, adapting to the changing times.
It almost disappeared in 1840 to make way for the Paris-Nevers Royal Route that would have passed through the nave… But Prosper Mérimée intervened and saved it from destruction by classifying it as a “Historic Monument”.
Since 1998, Notre Dame Church has been listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO as a major milestone on the routes to Santiago de Compostela through France.
Besides the two remarkable tympanums, linger a while at the capitals of the choir, where the Easter Lamb rubs shoulders with extraordinary, not to say demonic creatures in this edifice raised to the glory of God, which stands 150 metres long. Then go out to the right, by the Passage de la Magdeleine, and immediately turn left. Walk along the apse and there – what a surprise – wedged between two radiant chapels, stands the dwarf’s house. Don’t miss it. Enjoy a breath of fresh air in the Benedictine garden where you’ll find the ruins of the Church of St Laurent.
The priory has been rising from the ashes since 2001. During the great Cluniac era, no less than 200 monks lived there. The Hundred Years’ War, Religious Wars and a massive fire in 1559 would speed up its decline until the Revolution, when it was sold as a National Asset. Civilians replaced the clerics. It was restored to its former splendour in the 21st century, thanks to a series of works where old embraces new in beautiful harmony. Gradually, the priory is spreading its wings again, reopening its halls and cloister to the public. This resurrection saw La Charité awarded the City of Art and History label in 2012, and the title of Cultural Meeting Centre the following year.
This journey through time cannot come to an end without climbing up onto the City’s northern ramparts, from where the view is stunning. In these towers, stories great and small of the people of La Charité, those of the soldiers who valiantly defended the walls of the compound, as well as those who preferred to keep themselves out of sight to write their own story, were often mixed together.