Saint-Omer

Saint-Omer is a town in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais reion, 68 km (42 mi) west-northwest of Lille on the railway to Calais. The town is named after Saint Audomar, who brought Christianity to the area. The canalised portion of the river Aa begins at Saint-Omer, reaching the North Sea at Gravelines. Below its walls, the Aa connects with the Neufossé Canal, which ends at the Lys River.

The fortifications (which had been improved by Vauban in the 17th century) were demolished during the last decade of the 19th century, and boulevards and new thoroughfares built in their place. A section of the ramparts remains intact on the western side of the town, converted into a park known as the jardin public (public garden). There are two harbours outside the city and another within its limits. Saint-Omer has wide streets and spacious squares. The old cathedral was constructed almost entirely in the 13th, 14th and centuries. A heavy square tower finished in 1499 surmounts the west portal. The church contains Biblical paintings, a colossal statue of Christ seated between the Virgin Mary and St John (13th century, originally belonging to the cathedral of Thérouanne and presented by the emperor Charles V), the cenotaph of Saint Audomare (Omer) (13th century) and numerous ex-votos. The richly decorated chapel in thetransept contains a wooden figure of the Virgin (12th century), the object of pilgrimages. Of St Bertin church, part of the abbey (built between 1326 and 1520 on the site of previous churches) where Childeric III retired to end his days, there remain some arches and a lofty tower, which serve to adorn a public garden. Several other churches or convent chapels are of interest, among them St Sepulchre (14th century), which has a beautiful stone spire and stained-glass windows. A collection of records, a picture gallery, and a theatre are all situated in the town hall, built of the materials from the abbey of St Bertin. Several houses date from the 16th and 17th centuries. The Hôtel Colbert, once the royal lodging, is now occupied by an archaeological museum. The military hospital occupies the former English College, founded by the English Jesuits in 1593. It is now part of the Lycée Alexandre Ribot. The old episcopal palace adjoining the cathedral is used as a court-house. The chief statue in the town is that of Jacqueline Robin, who in 1711 helped the town resist a siege by Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy.

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