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Spurgeon at Menton (2)

September 2003 | by Nigel Faithfull

Spurgeon’s friend and host, Dr Bennet, is buried at Menton in the higher of the two cemeteries above the old town, apparently in the same grave as his sister’s family.

Some of the best sea views are from up here, and it is enjoyable finding one’s way up to this spot through the maze of alleys and steps that abound in the old town.

It is also touching to see the many graves of fairly young people from all over Europe, including Wales, who failed to recover from their illnesses and chose to be buried here.

One gravestone was covered with gospel texts. Other stones commemorate notable people, including the inventor of rugby football, William Webb Ellis (1807-1872). He became a Church of England minister at St Clement Dane in the Strand, London, and travelled to Menton to convalesce.

His grave was rediscovered in 1969, and the road to Menton-Garavan station is named after him. We didn’t know of it until reading an article in the Daily Mail (31.11.02) shortly after returning home.

Best view

Spurgeon reckoned the best view of the old town was from the breakwater — now called the Quai Napoléon III — which adjoins the old harbour and from where excursions to Monte Carlo depart.

It is certainly spectacular to see the shiny white boats in the blue waters of the harbour, and beyond them the mellow yellow houses nestling on the hillside, with a panorama of the Alpes-Maritimes mountains as a backdrop.

Spurgeon stayed at several different hotels (Hôtel de la Paix, Hôtel d’Anglais) but mainly at the Hôtel Beau Rivage, at No. 1, Avenue Blasco Ibanez.

This was situated on the sea front about a mile to the east of old Menton, in the Garavan district. It has now been demolished, and a block of flats with two restaurants has been built in its place.

Olive grove

On the hillside behind the site there is the large olive grove of Pian which is centuries old. Spurgeon loved these olive trees because they reminded him of the Lord and of Gethsemane.

In fact, he preached a sermon entitled ‘The beauty of the olive tree’(17 April 1879) and sent his secretary to the Natural History Department of the British Museum with questions about its growth characteristics.

Spurgeon would also walk through cypress trees up the hillside which led to quiet nooks for reading or writing. The distant mountains and north-facing cliffs provided shelter from any mistral or cold winds.

The 10-acre garden of cypresses, yews and quicksett hedges is called the Domaine des Colombières, and affords a panoramic view over the bay and Old Menton.

It was later developed by the artist Ferdinand Bac (1859-1952) who is buried here. But now the villa offers bed and breakfast, and the grounds are only occasionally open to the public in summer.

The hotel was just a mile from the Italian border, and Spurgeon would often cross over to visit his friend Thomas Hanbury, who lived in La Mortola, just a couple of miles past the border.

The area to the east of his hotel came to be known as the Hanbury district, and the frontier fountain dated 1882 stands where the two roads to Italy diverge.

Lessons

So what lessons can we learn from Spurgeon in Menton?

Firstly, it is proper for Christians to take a holiday in order to refresh their bodies and minds, especially if ill health is hindering their service to the Lord.

Spurgeon said to his students: ‘It is wisdom to take occasional furlough. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.

‘On, on, on for ever, without recreation, may suit spirits emancipated from this “heavy clay”, but while we are in this tabernacle, we must every now and then cry halt, and serve the Lord by holy inaction and consecrated leisure.

‘Let no tender conscience doubt the lawfulness of going out of harness for a while.’

Spurgeon recommends that we breathe country air and let the beauty of nature do its appointed work. He confesses that ‘sedentary habits have tendency to create despondency … especially in the months of fog’.

Then he counsels: ‘A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best’.

Communication

Secondly, we need to value much more, and seek to profit from, conversations with fellow Christians.

We need to keep up our letter (or e-mail!) writing. Spurgeon corresponded with his wife at least once every day. He once wrote to her: ‘I can get to my dear work of communing with my darling by the pen’.

Thirdly, we should expand our minds. Spurgeon exercised his mind when away, not only by reading, but also by exploring the region around Menton — for example, delved into the history of the cathedral at Ventimiglia just over the border into Italy.

Having stored such information in his mind, he would then seek to make use of it in his writings or sermons to illustrate some spiritual teaching.

Our Lord did the same, of course, using a house built on sand, a fig tree, or the harvest fields to illuminate his message.

Final visit

On 16 October 1891, Spurgeon left for Menton accompanied for the first time by his wife Susannah. His brother James and his wife, and his personal assistant Joseph Harrald, also travelled with them.

He was able to take a short drive along the Boulevard Victoria (now the Porte de France) and show Susannah his favourite view from the breakwater.

Susannah soon put a woman’s touch to the hotel rooms, especially the sitting room where Spurgeon led morning devotions and the Lord’s Supper on Sunday afternoons.

This was, however, to be his last journey to Menton. The last hymn he ever announced on earth was Rutherford’s ‘The sands of time are sinking’. He died a fortnight later on 31 January 1892 at the age of 57.

He had passed from ‘the sunny shore’, as he referred to Menton, to ‘the summer morn I’ve sighed for’. He was ready to meet his Lord and Saviour.

Further reading

1. Travel with C. H. Spurgeon, Day One Publications, 2002.

2. ‘Sunlight for cloudy days’, a sermon preached at Menton by C. H. Spurgeon, Sword and Trowel, 2002 No.4, pp. 10-15.

Editor’s note:

An interested correspondent has just written to ET saying he has traced the location of Dr Bennet’s villa to a village called Grimaldi Inferiore, just over the border in Italy. The villa is known as Chateau Grimaldi, although in Dr Bennet’s time it was called Torre di Grimaldi

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Historical