Fecamp and the Legend of the Fig tree Camp

Fecamp is located about 35km north of Le Havre along the beautiful Alabaster Coast – Côte d’Albâtre in the department of Seine-Maritime.

Fecamp marina

Fecamp developed in a valley surrounded by the highest cliffs of Normandy.

Documents from the late 10th century already referred to the village of Fiscannum.

The monks who evangelised the region told rural folks that Fiscannum evolved from Fici Campus – Fig Tree Camp in order to give rise to a fabulous legend.

Joseph of Arimathea collected the Holy Blood of Christ in the trunk of a fig tree and sailed the seas in order to bring the precious relic to safety.

The monks said that Jospeh’s boat was washed ashore the beach of Fecamp and that a fountain of blood sprang out where the trunk hit the ground.

The place obviously was a major pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages.

Fecamp, the castle of William the Conqueror

That said, Fecamp’s name is most likely of Germanic origin; its stem Fisc evolved from the word Fisch meaning Fish.

Let’s not forget that in 911 the king of France gave the land of Normandy to the Vikings, a nation composed of unparalleled seamen!

William of Normandy founded the castle of Fecamp, where in 1067 he celebrated his victory over the King of England at Hastings!

The fortress remained the castle of the Dukes of Normandy until 1204, when the duchy was integrated to the kingdom of France.

All that is left of the ducal palace are two towers and a section of wall, which are listed Historical Monuments.

These imposing vestiges, however, give a good idea of the influence of Fecamp during the Middle Ages.

A major fishing port

Fecamp’s economy has always been entirely centered on fishing.

The city also has a long tradition of herring and cod-fishing.

Fecamp became indeed renowned as early as the 10th century for its salted herrings and the 13th for its kippers!

Boats returning to Fecamp harbour
Boats returning to the harbour

It then became the French leading cod-fishing harbour during the 16th century.

It thrived during the 19th and the first part of the 20th century, before being successfully converted into a marina in the 1970s.

You’ll therefore find ancient fishermen dwellings and boat owners villas side by side along the seafront.

These extend as far as the foot of the Cap Fagnet, a cliff that rises to 110m above sea level.

The fishermen built the Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Salut atop the cliff.

Generations of them placed votive boats in the chapel, where a statue of the Virgin watches over them and those who perished at sea.

The cliff is also home to a semaphore built on the site of an ancient lighthouse.

Finally, you’ll also find a blockhouse that was part of the Atlantic Wall, the defense line set up by the Germans along the coasts of Western Europe.

Fecamp has another church dedicated to the salvation of the fishermen.

The Eglise Saint-Etienne is a superb illustration of Gothic and Renaissance architectures, and overlooks the harbour.

However, the port of Fecamp is not only famous for its ties to the Dukes of Normandy, but also for its production of liqueur!

Palais and Liqueur Benedictine

Fecamp is indeed where the Liqueur Benedictine comes from!

The Benedictine monks of the Abbaye de Fecamp invented this delicious herbal liquor centuries ago.

Palais Benedictine in Fecamp
Palais Benedictine

Production stopped, however, at the Revolution when the abbey was demolished.

A local wine merchant, Alexandre Le Grand, recovered and commercialised the recipe during the 19th century.

However, this recipe has since been a guarded secret.

Indeed, it appears that no more than three people at a time know the proportions of the ingredients that compose it!

A visit to the lavish Palais Benedictine will take you to the discovery of the distillery…but not the recipe’s secret!

The palace contains also a Museum of Sacred Art exhibiting extensive collections of paintings, sculptures and various manuscripts gathered by Alexandre Le Grand.

Finally, sea lovers must visit the Musée des Terre-Neuva.

This fascinating museum chronicles the history and lives of the fishermen who left for months to fish for cod in the waters of Newfoundland.

Department of Seine-Maritime
Coordinates: Lat 49.755601 – Long 0.380774

Photos via Wikimedia: Marina – Palais Benedictine – Fishing boats

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