The town of Rue in Nord pas de Calais, Picardy, bears a certain anonymous obscurity with cunning fortitude in the Somme River basin half way between Montreuil and Abbeville. Like so many French settlements, Rue has beauty, sophistication and a special place in the history of France. I stumbled across it when I was writing about the origins of aviation in France. I felt that I had found a new home in a way.
The Famous Flying Caudron Brothers of Rue
I was led there by the brilliance of the French Caudron brothers, Gaston and Rene. They were influenced by the American Wright brothers in 1909, not long before the start of the Great War. The Caudrons were country farm hands working with their father nearby. The commencement of manned powered flight gripped their imagination as they observed a demonstration in France. The Caudrons eventually created over 10,000 aircraft, a military flying school close to their home and a profound contribution to French aviation after 1914. They opened a factory for aircraft construction in Rue. You can see where it used to be to this day, resting along the road exiting the village just past the railway crossing. It’s a Notaire’s office these days and you could easily miss the modern looking building. There is much more than this though to find in Rue.
If you have an interest in aviation, visit the tourist office right in the centre of town. It combines as a permanent museum to the Caudron brothers and entrance is free. There’s a beautiful and precision display describing perfectly the achievements of the brothers. Hand crafted unique aircraft models are displayed with photographs, sculptures, technical articles and written descriptions. The aeronautical accomplishment of the brothers was a remarkable feat for two people coming from such an obscure background. They also created a military flying school based around Le Crotoy, close to Rue. The aerodrome was set up on the flat, broad banks of the Somme River valley.
The Miracle of Rue
Rue is also home to the Saint Esprit chapel. Art lovers and admirers of classic architecture will find this Gothic design, stemming from the 15 and 16th centuries, of great interest. It is at the centre of a mysterious legend. Apparently, on the first day of August in the year 1100, a sailing vessel from the Holy Land was washed up on the beach close to Rue. It had no sail, mast or means of control. It contained what was described as the Crucifix of the Holy Spirit. This was eventually housed in the Esprit chapel and hoards of pilgrims came to visit to pay homage.
Abbeville, a larger town some distance away, tried to capture the religious relic desiring the economic benefits that ownership would bring. The tale goes on to describe the way that the horses that were brought to tow the transporting trailer were unable to move due to a mysterious paralysis. The crucifix remained in Rue and pilgrims believed it was a gift to the town from God. Visitors can still find it in the chapel.
Rue is home also to the Chapel of the Hospice located with a house of sanctuary. It dates back to the 12th century and was built to provide shelter for many penniless pilgrims. It was almost destroyed during the Hundred Years War but was later re-constructed. It retains a fascinating vault inside. This represents an inverted boat hull that connects with the great legend. Within this chapel are many examples of carvings and works of art dating back to the memoirs of Saint Augustine, the bringer of Christianity to Europe.
Rue village is home to a belfry. This is included on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Many people believe that the belfry of Rue is one of the finest monuments in the region. The 75 spiral steps inside provide a route to the top where perfect views of the Somme estuary and coastline can be admired.
Viking History of Rue
Rue sits on a bend of a tributary of the Somme River called the Maye. It was originally a very prosperous port, founded by the Vikings in the 9th century. They came from the Danish town of Ry, hence the name. Fortifications were put in place and a trail now leads visitors around the remains.
Rue is also home to a perfectly preserved medieval and Tudor style house close to the Esprit chapel.
The town architecture originates from many periods dating back more than a thousand years. It has survived war from the Vikings during the 9th century, war with the English during the Hundred Years War period, war with the Germans during the battle of the Somme in 1916 and later again in World War two. The enduring, but generally restored architecture, acts as a permanent record of this history.
Visitors can admire the Eglise Saint Wulphy. This church was originally erected to commemorate the first Priest of Rue. It was badly damaged by a storm in the 18th century and was re-built again in 1833. It had always acted as a beacon for the benefit of vessels navigating the shores of Picardy. It retains many of its original Roman architectural features from the 7th century.
Rue holds a great Saturday market in the centre of town. It’s a little off the beaten track but look out for the signpost if you are heading towards Abbeville from Calais along the D901. Life has settled down in Rue once again but it features virtually all of the monumental European history of Picardy covering more than 1300 years.
Bob Lyons is an ex-pilot turned travel writer with a penchant for visiting France!
Read more about the history of aviation in France