Blue as the sweep of Our Lady's skirt," says Passmore, „the broad river threads the abbey gardens, laps the town and whisks into the woods.“ The description is apt.
In the nook between the blue water and the railroad that somehow seems to have been placed there by accident, is le jardin du casino, a fairy garden where crystal fountains sing an untranslatable song and a rainbow of flowers curves under the gnarled beeches. At the point where the Sure makes its abrupt bend is a pavilion erected by the last of Willibrord's successors, — an observationpost whence one can look out upon the alluvial plain rolling out to the embracing hills, or down upon the buildings of the old abbey and the roofs of the little town beyond.
Across the park below the pavilion one may obtain a detailed view of the abbey buildings, including the Basilica of St. Willibrord and the little square-turreted church of Sts. Peter and Paul on the rising ground behind. The parish church has an interesting story if one could go back far enough into the ages to get it. There is plenty of evidence to show that the wooden chapel of which the present peculiar edifice is the successor was erected upon Roman foundations, which in turn were partially formed with the rough altar-stones of a Druid grove. This spot seems to have been consecrated to the worship of deity under one name or another since the adventurous sons of Adam came here out of the cradle of the world.
Of the structures that made up the old abbey, the most important is the basilica, otherwise known as the eglise abbatiale which dates from the eleventh century. Originally it was in the Roman Gothic style, but its architectural purity has been aflPected by additions and improvements. In the thirteenth century its windows were enlarged and its roof replaced by the one which covers it to-day. During the epoch of "the long Grood Friday" it was dismantled by the sansculottes, who, after they had looted it, put it to use as barracks and stables. The other buildings of the great convent suffered a similar fate. Part of them were sold to an earthenware-maker for use as a factory. His kilns were placed in the basilica and it was not until the people of Echternach formed a society and raised funds for the repurchase of the church that its progress toward complete ruin was checked.
Color is lavishly used in the interior decoration of the basilica, reds predominating, but the effect is harmonious and pleasing. Only softened tints find their way to the eye between the long rows of alternating round and square pillars.
At the entrance to the choir is a tomb of Carrara marble, last resting-place of a bit of dust overlooked by the French revolutionaries when they scattered the remains of St. Willibrord. These mortal ashes were found in the desecrated crypt and carefully saved until the Terror had passed. They then were removed to the parish church and remained there until 1906, when they were carried back in a solemn procession to the basilica.
The other abbey buildings have suffered various fates since the monks were driven from their principality of prayer by the revolutionary army in 1794. These structures, which comprise twenty-five per cent, of the town, stand in their gardens as they did when the first rumblings in Paris were heard with no great concern. Today a girls' school occupies one of them. Another serves as a barracks for the gendarmerie. The remainder are tenanted variously by public offices, a dairy, a gymnasium, and an electrical plant.
Not far from the park, where the sixty worn steps of the church of Sts. Peter and Paul start upon their breathtaking ascent, is the famous hospice of St. Willibrord, a queer little group of small stone buildings, odd enough shrine for an age-old idea. Since Irmine decreed that old men should have an asylum here, old men have always found at the hospice a tranquil resting-place in the evening of their years. A dozen of them live here now. More than that taxed the meager accommodations of the place during the period of profiteering that followed the German invasion. (continue reading part 3/3)