THE CLIFFTOP CHURCHYARD

The churchyard is no more immortal than the humans buried there. Despite many attempts at consolidation, erosion continues to gnaw at the churchyard. Along this part of the coastline, the cliffs recede by almost a metre a year. Fear of continuing ground movement means it is forbidden to dig new tombs in the churchyard.

In French the churchyard is called “le cimetière marin “: “marin” meaning both “marine” and “sailor”. It could therefore be supposed that the churchyard contains some sailors’ or fishermen’s graves. However this is not the case as the cliffs make any port impossible and there have been few fishermen in the village. The churchyard is “marine” by its position, perched on an eighty-metre-high cliff overlooking the sea. The name comes above all from texts written in the Figaro newspaper in 1948 by two members of the French Academy, the brothers Jerome and Jean Tharaud who lived in Varengeville. Some artists compared these texts to a poem, written in 1920 by Paul Valéry called “Le Cimetiere Marin”, which described the charm of a similar churchyard at Sète in southern France and so the analogy was made between the two churchyards.


The clifftop sanctuary


Rising sheer above the sea, in a place where the eye discovers a long stretch of coast shaped like a sickle, pebble beaches, grassy plateaux dominating the waves, distant shores, which on certain evenings appear like mirages, immense stretches of water where the light paints realms of changing colours, the Varengeville churchyard is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Surrounded by graves, the ancient church seems to bend its back under wind and storm. The sea’s angry assaults and the rain’s insidious infiltration undermine and gnaw at the fields and woodland that form its natural foundation. Concern is felt for the church, concern for the graves gathered under its protection, modest or imposing, equally cradled by the endless murmur of the sea which simultaneously destroys and enchants.

Under the huge, restless sky and the dense clouds, this instinctive concern adds to the splendour of the surroundings, just as the feeling of frailty and threat increases its beauty.”

Jérome and Jean Tharaud.

 

Jean-Francis Auburtin (1866-1930)

Born on the 2nd December 1866, Auburtin studied at the Paris Art School and married Marthe in 1892. From 1904 onwards he lived in Varengeville. He tirelessly painted the cliffs and the ever-changing light effects on the sea. He was a friend of Guillaume Mallet and painted a portrait of his daughter Pascaline Mallet as a child.

Auburtin was a symbolist painter, loving the twilight and pink colours of the sky. He died at Dieppe on the 22nd May 1930 and rests in the churchyard dominating for eternity the seascapes he loved so much.

Georges Braque (1882-1963)

The bird with outstretched wings is often represented in Braque’s paintings and it is this bird in mosaic that watches over his grave.

Georges Braque spent the last forty years of his life in Varengeville and was buried there on the 4th September 1963 in the presence of André Malraux and Jean Paulhan.

Jacques-Antoine Danois

Danois was born in the village and was one of Napoleon’s foot soldiers. Having fought in the Emperor’s army at Wagram, Austerlitz, Jena and Eylau, he was given the job of tax collector in Varengeville and died here in August 1857.

Paul Nelson ( 1895-1979)

Nelson was a student at Princeton University when he volunteered for the La Fayette air squadron and then the US Air Force.
He qualified as an architect in Paris in 1927. Throughout his life he worked to establish close cultural links between the United States and France. He spent his holidays at his home on the road leading to the church, surrounded by his family and close friends such as Joan Miro and Calder. He is buried in the cemetery not far from his friend Braque.

Georges de Porto-Riche ( 1849-1930)

Originally from Bordeaux, Georges de Porto-Riche studied law in Paris. He was only twenty when his first historical plays were put on stage. His later plays depicted the sentimental and psychological relations within couples and he was compared to a “bourgeois Racine” A high-ranking officer of the Legion of Honour, he was elected to the French Academy in May 1923. He is buried with his son Marcel, overlooking the sea under a granite tombstone.

Albert Roussel (1869-1937)

The composer has a most imposing carved tomb overlooking the sea. It is perhaps his naval career before he became a musician that made Roussel choose the clifftop churchyard as his last resting place. Influenced by Debussy’s music, Roussel composed melodies and symphonies as well as an opera-ballet inspired by a voyage to India.

Francis Yard

The pink granite tombstone of the Yard family erected opposite the sea is most striking. Writer and poet, Francis Yard never lived in Varengeville but no doubt through love of this place swept by sea-spray he wanted his family, Madeleine, Marthe and Réné to be buried here.

Translation : Alison Dufour

 

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