The stone ruins of a 16th-century church stand out amid a cluster of modern, red-roofed houses in the French village of Ablain-Saint-Nazaire. The “Old Church,” as the locals call it, is a somber reminder of the damages and tragedies caused by World War I.
In October of 1914, during the early months of the Great War, German forces seized the village because of its strategic location along the base of Lorette Spur. The French retaliated multiple times with no success.
Allied forces spent about a year trying to reclaim the village and other nearby locations. They shelled Ablain-Saint-Nazaire, eventually leaving almost everything in ruins. Not even the beloved church was spared.
Rather than rebuild the structure, local officials opted to keep it in its ruined state as a testimony to the casualties of war (though a lack of funding may have also influenced their decision). While a new church was being built, the villagers held their services in a hut donated by the Canadians.
Now, it’s a quiet spot near one of France’s largest military cemeteries. The contrast between the maintained lawn and crumbling ruins is sharp. The shell holes and graffiti carved by German, Canadian, British, and French soldiers make it possible to read the history written on the church’s stones. People can wander around the roofless ruins, and even picnic on the grounds on the rare days when the northern French sun dares to show its face.
Know Before You Go
If you're heading there, don't miss the WWI trail. It features Notre Dame de Lorette with its cemetery and 580,000 names on the circular memorial, the (free) museum right down the hill, and the Vimy Ridge Memorial.