06 June 2011

Le Tortoir, a priory in Picardy

I'll start this trip report with the last place we saw on Sunday. It's called Le Tortoir, and I don't know why. The term « tortoir » seems to have something to do with a kind of stick that was used to wind up and tighten down a cord or rope holding a load on a wagon. (The Robert dictionary says: Bâton qui sert à tordre et à serrer une corde (pour assujettir une charge sur une voiture, un bât, etc.). Tortoir or tordoir is also an old term for a press used to extract oil from seeds or grains.

Le Tortoir that I'm talking about, located near the big towns of Laon and Saint-Quentin in Picardy, is an old priory, or prieuré in French. A priory is a monastery run by a prior, who doesn't rank quite as high in the Catholic hierarchy as an abbot, who presides over an abbey. The priory was home to a religious community. This one is in the northern French region called Picardy.

Le Tortoir is privately owned and not open to the public

The priory called Le Tortoir dates from the 14th century, and it was a leper colony or hospital at one point in its history, according the what I've read. The fact is, Le Tortoir is in a valley and deep in the woods, kind of isolated even today, near the village called Saint-Nicolas-aux-Bois. It is privately owned and no tours are given. All you can do is admire it from the road.

The long view of Le Tortoir...

We went there this afternoon after have a look at the town of Senlis, which is impressively picturesque in a medieval way. It's not far north of Paris, and very close to Chantilly. Then we drove through Villers-Cotterêts, an old town where the Renaissance French king François Ier liked to spent time, hunting in the surrounding forest. It was at Villers-Cotterêts in 1539 that King François signed a decree making French, not Latin, the official language of his kingdom for administrative purposes.

...and another view through the front gate.
That might be the owner; he was out walking a dog.

Then we drove on to Soissons, which has a beautiful cathedral that had to be nearly completely rebuilt after the Great War of 1914-18. We had lunch in a crêperie. Soissons, a much bigger town (pop. 30,000 or so) than the others we visited, seemed almost strangely quiet and deserted on a hot, muggy Sunday afternoon. Maybe all the inhabitants went out into the countryside or to the coast for the long holiday weekend that just ended.

The historical monuments sign

Finally, late in the afternoon, we left the main road, visiting the ruins of the old fortified Château de Coucy and seeking out two — yes, two — priories at Saint-Nicolas-aux-Bois (Saint-Nicholas-in-the-Woods), in a surprisingly thickly wooded valley. The valley landscape has a lot of little lakes all around, which makes it and even the most modern house look picturesque — reflections and all, you know. Greenery.

From this angle, the old place looks a little overgrown.

I was exhausted by the end of the day, after getting very little sleep the night before because of meterological mugginess and the buzzing, biting mosquito(es) of Paris. But I did okay driving, enjoyed my day with CHM, and I'll be ready for another busy day today. It was raining when I went to bed last night, but it just cloudy this morning.


  1. Didn't you get anything explained about the famous "vase" in Soissons? Here it is on Wikipedia: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vase_de_Soissons

  2. Sue and I made Senlis our first port of call on our 2010 trip then off to Chantilly before we caught up with Walt.
    I think the back seat does feel a little cramped already, well cosy really.
    Nadege, please put your feet down and Ladybird, will you stop leaving crumbs all over the place?

  3. We did a lot in one day, didn't we? I had a little trouble seeing over Leon's head sometimes but Ladybird shared her croissants with me so that was nice.

    Thanks for taking us along, Ken.


  4. We are all enjoying the ride and it is not too cramped; actually it is a refreshing trip.

  5. Ooh, nothing like a 14th c prieuré to start off my day :) Safe and fun travels to you and CHM :)


  6. Sorry Leon. I'll be more careful tomorrow.

    BettyAnn, You're welcome! I bought too many anyway. I'm glad you enjoyed them.

    Ken, very interesting post. Although I'm familiar with the area, I had never heard of this Priory. Please say hello to chm for me!

  7. Sounds like Le Tortoir may have a bit of the Latin for twist, or torment, in its roots (same as torture). A valley hidden deep in the woods. I wonder if the priory has a dungeon. Perhaps you were lucky not to get any closer than the road.

  8. "All you can do is admire it from the road." Or from a computer screen in Pennsylvania. You're finding some fascinating places. Did chm plan this trip using the website he told us about?

    Oh, I wish I could join all of you. Now, you kids in the back seat behave!

  9. Looks very Romanesque. Looking forward to more pics from your trip.

  10. Great pictures. I love old architecture.


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