Orchard Dump
Webmatters : The town of St Omer

St Omer

Visiting St Omer

You can get a street map from the staff at the Office de Tourisme.

The main square of the town is now known as the Place du Maréchal Foch and on it stands the Hôtel de Ville built from stones taken from the Abbey St Bertin in 1834. The funeral took place here in November 1914 of Field Marshal Lord Roberts VC KG. He had caught a chill whilst visiting the Indian Corps and this had turned to pneumonia.

The Bailiwick residence funded by Louis XVI

The Bailiwick residence funded by Louis XVI
is to the left of the Place Foch

If you take one of the side roads to the right of the Hôtel de Ville you will come to the Rue Carnot. If you walk down it you can see on the wall of No 50 a blue plaque which mentions that it was here that the Field Marshal had died on 14th November 1914.

St Omer's unusual war memorial
The rather unusual war memorial

If you continue right the way down Rue Carnot and then Rue Faidherbe you will come to the town war memorial on the roundabout.

A most unusual monument with France looking towards the future, a dove in her hand and her foot resting (hunter style) on, what I thought was a two headed crocodile, but is in fact the monster of human carnage.

Opposite is the former barracks of the 21e Dragons — now the Employment Exchange.

Retrace your steps towards the ruins of the Abbey St Bertin which is visible about 200 metres away. Although it was once one of the most powerful abbeys in the north of France it was closed by order of the Revolution.

In 1830 the inhabitants asked for the church to be knocked down and the town subsequently used the stone to create the Hôtel de Ville. The tower was spared but this was badly damaged during air raids in the Second World War and eventually collapsed in 1947.

From the ruins walk back up towards the centre of the town along Rue Saint Bertin.

At No 49 you will come to the former English Jesuits’ College. Established in 1593 as a result of the Protestant Reformation in England (which forbade a Catholic education) it served to teach English Catholics. It remained open until 1762 when the college moved location (Eventually back to England).

The premises became a military hospital in 1793 remaining in service until after the Second World War. It is now part of the Lycée Ribot.

Along the Rue St Bertin

Along the Rue St Bertin

Almost immediately after this building at No 37 is the house where both Field Marshal Sir John French and later Sir Douglas Haig had their residence.

Further up the street turn to the left following the signs for the Cathédrale Notre-Dame. Constructed in the 13th and 14th centuries the cathedral owes some of its importance and splendour to the complete destruction of Thérouanne by the troops of Charles Quint in 1553.

Charles had the Bishopric moved from Thérouanne to St Omer but also donated some of the statues from the former’s cathedral.

Within you will find the cenotaph to Saint Audomar (he died in approximately 670 AD but the location of his burial is lost), as well as the rather curious sarcophagus of Saint Erkembode which has children’s shoes placed on it.

The story goes that the Irish monk had come to France in 723. He was appointed Abbot of St Bertin and later Bishop of Thérouanne. As the diocese was spread between the valley of the Somme and modern day Ieper, Erkembode spent much of his time on foot visiting the far flung reaches of his domain. By the end of his life his continual travels had rendered him almost unable to walk.

Having constantly prayed himself, the tomb of the Saint who Walks has become a focus for prayer; in particular for crippled children.

On the wall nearby you will see the plaque honouring the soldiers of the British Empire who died during the Great War (similar plaques can be found in other cathedrals) whilst one of the side chapels displays the Standard of 16 Squadron Royal Air Force which was disbanded at RAF Coltishall on 11th March 2005.

The Standard of 16 Squadron Royal Air Force
The Standard of 16 Squadron RAF

Having been one of those squadrons formed at St Omer, tradition required for the Squadron Standard to be returned to St Omer for safe keeping which it was on the 20th March 2005.

From the Cathedral walk back towards the main square and then down past the cinema and Tourist Office. On your right hand side you will see a large car park and the bright yellow buildings of the former Caserne de la Barre : which formed the barracks for the 8e Régiment d’infanterie.

The regiment has long since been disbanded (a story not limited to the French armed services) but apart from its long and distinguished service during the First World War there are two connections to the British Army.

It was the 8e RI that provided the Guard of Honour for Britain’s Unknown Soldier during his last night on French soil at the Château of Boulogne sur Mer.

It was their predecessors who lost their Imperial Eagle to the 87th Foot at the Battle of Barossa in 1811.

The Standard of the Royal Irish Fusiliers has since been surmounted by a Napoleonic Eagle commemorating the fact that they were the first British regiment to capture one.

Some photos from around the town

Click on the thumbnail for a larger version

There are numerous cafés and restaurants around the main square and the pedestrianised area behind it. Alternatively you could take a picnic lunch into the Public Gardens. These can be found by walking through the subway (or across the road) near the cinema. A second subway leads under the main road from just below the cathedral. From the latter walk into the wooded area to your right.

The public gardens are well laid out with a number of the trees categorised and labelled. The rose garden sits at the foot of Vauban’s fortifications and there is a small area of enclosures for animals and birds.