Saint Céneri in the Alpes Mancelles
Immediately west of us and south of Alençon is another beautiful region known as the “Alpes Mancelles”.
The main villages of the Alpes Mancelles, running north to south, are St Céneri-le-Gerei, St Léonard-des-Bois and Fresnay-sur-Sarthe.
Saint-Céneri-le-Gerei is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France; for many years it has been a centre and source of inspiration for artists, painters and sculptors and there is an artisits’ exhibition centre there. However, it is the picturesque setting and the attractive stone houses, located deep in a valley cut through hills by the Sarthe, that mainly attract visitors.
There are two car parks – the larger of these is down by the river, and there is a smaller one on the approach to the village from Moulins le Carbonel. I’ll assume you’re parked down by the river – if not – adjust the itinerary!
Itinerary of Saint Céneri-le-Gerei
From the river car park, walk along the riverside to the Little Chapel of Saint Céneri. This marks the spot where the saint made his original abode in the middle of a riverside meadow; the chapel was built on the same spot in the 14th/15th century. On the other side of the river you will see the “miraculous Fontaine” of Saint Céneri.
The riverside walk is now lit up at night and makes for a magical evening stroll after a meal at the local restaurants (NB – try to reserve in advance, as the village can be very busy in summer).
From the chapel walk up the hill to the main church; if you walk around the church you’ll find a lovely view of the valley, village and bridge below. In the wall of the church is a bee hive which is supposed to have saved the village from invasion when the bees drove off the attackers in the middle ages!
Make sure you go in to the church where there are superbly forged modern stations of the cross and ancient frescoes – new art meets old in perfect harmony.
Continuing downhill, in the center of the village is the square where you’ll find a bar, restaurants, creperie and shops; downhill from there to the right is the Auberge des Peintres and an art gallery by the river.
Crossing over the bridge and uphill, you’ll find the second car park.
Uphill from the main square are the last vestiges of the castle and, if you carry on, the gardens of the Mansonière – well worth a visit in their own right (afternoons only). See jardins-de-la-mansoniere for more details.
Les Jardins de la Mansonière are nine separate but linked gardens, each with its own theme. Last Saturday evening each month in summer there is a delightful candlelit walk followed by a musical concert in the gardens.
The Legend of Saint Céneri
St Céneri was born in Spoleto in Umbria between 620 and 625. Very young, and accompanied by his brother Céneré, he went to Rome to serve the Pope and entered the Benedictine order. Five years later, a vision directed him to move west. The two brothers crossed the Alps and, in 659, arrived at Saulges in the diocese of Le Mans.
Céneri left his brother at Saulges and carried on accompanied by a friend called Flavard.
On a summer day in 689, the two arrived at the edge of a river (the Sarthe) near a rocky promontory. They were exhausted and a thirsty Céneri prayed for fresh water. Miraculously, a spring flowed forth from the side of the ravine!
The pair want to cross the river, but it was in spate. Again Céneri prayed and the Sarthe stopped flowing, so Céneri & Flavard could now cross. Unfortunately, Flavard dropped Céneri’s prayer book, the river began to flow again and it was lost. Nevertheless, Céneri decided he liked the look of this spot on the Sarthe, and he built a shelter to live there.
The story has it that his prayer book was found unharmed in the river some years later.
The reputation of Céneri grew, and followers gathered to follow his teachings. A community was established which soon had 140 Benedictine monks. Many pilgrims also flocked to see him.
In 669, Céneri began construction of a wooden church on top of the rocky promontory above his abode. He died on 7 May 670 before the completion of the church but, according to his wish, it was given the name of “Saint Martin du Mont Rocheux”. He is buried there.
In the 15th century little riverside Chapelle du Petit Saint-Céneri was built on the same location as Céneri’s original wooden house.
We’ll be adding more places to visit in Normandy and Pays de la Loire during the year, so keep reading! In the meantime, you’ll find a summary of places you might like to visit on our main B&B website Places to Visit in Lower Normandy and Upper Pays de la Loire.
All sites mentioned are within easy reach of our bed and breakfast accommodation http://normandie-chambres.co.uk
Access to St Céneri from the B&B: