Friday, 1 February 2013

Angers - Cathedrals and Courtship

A short train trip from the Gare Montparnasse brought us to Angers, the delightful Mediaeval town in the Loire valley. Its castle houses The Apocalypse, one of the wonders of surviving 14th century craftsmanship - the enormous, poetic tapestry illustrating the book of Revelations in seventy panels.

As we came out of the station in search of taxis several young people in very fancy dress greeted us noisily - there was a lot of whooping and cheering and the distinct evidence of flour bomb debris all over the pavement. We made a hasty escape, but the University "rag" would catch up with us later in the day, fortunately in a very benign way!

After settling into the Hotel du Mail, a charming country hotel built in the style of a manor that occupies two sides of a cobbled courtyard, we walked across the lovely old town to the Cathedrale St. Maurice that contains eleven Gothic tapestries, an imposing Romanesque/Gothic landmark at its centre. The west portal is crowned by two tall towers and a smaller central one that sits on a figured base. Inside, the spare, grey stone walls sweep upwards in true pointed arch manifestations of the Gothic style, yet the high altar shines in showy excess. Designed in the Baroque style in 1758, six marble columns support an intricately gilded canopy.

The tapestries form one of the most famous and precious collections in Europe, and were woven between 1376-81 for the cathedral. However, they are not all on regular view. The illustrations were drawn by Jean Bondol, based on an illuminated manuscript, and the weaving was overseen by Nicolas Bataille whose workshop also produced the acclaimed Apocalypse. More overwhelming was the display of stained glass windows crafted between the 12th and 16th C. with some 20th C. replacements made after the second world war. There is a distinctly reverential atmosphere within the vast space, and the amalgam of styles takes nothing away from the quiet serenity within.

The west front with 15th C. twin towers, 70 and 77 m. high

Sculptures of St. Maurice and his companions

Gothic interior with Baroque altar on the right.

The front of the cathedral faces a sweep of shallow cobbled steps that descend to a pretty fountain in an open square. We sat along the rim of water in gentle Autumn afternoon sunlight, enjoying a view of a shaded park and listening to the high hilarity of a few dozen young people cavorting around.

 The steps and fountain

With absolutely no warning, ten handsome young men descended on our sixty something group, kneeling in front of each of us and singing, in unison, a pledge of undying love with great gusto and feigned emotion. At the finish they demanded our telephone numbers!

The serenade

After being courted we ambled slowly back through the main square, stopping at shops that sold interesting handmade toys and embroidery wools, and indulged in generously scooped cones of delicious ice cream. We dined at a tiny Greek cafe that I had visited previously, the owner apologising that he had no staff that evening and that the menu would be limited. He turned out great plates of souvlaki lamb and salad, as authentic as you could wish, served with homely hospitality and a warm smile!


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