Needlepoint on Steroids

With our trip to London postponed until Friday due to inclement weather (a once/twice–in-a-century snowstorm), John and I figured it made sense to head south. So yesterday we went to Angers, a lovely city about 200 miles southwest of Paris in the Loire region. It’s a 90-minute-hop-skip-and-a-jump by bullet train. I’m talking 184 MPH — and why, oh why, don’t we have one of these running between Atlanta and Chicago/NY/Boston? It’s an incredibly comfortable, fast, economical and easy way to travel! As I mentioned in a previous post, Angers is home to a cathedral and a mighty fortress constructed by Blanche of Castile in the 13th century to protect her son, Louis, until he could come of age and assume the throne. The site overlooks the river Maine and has been occupied by man since the Neolithic period. In the 9th century, the threat from Normans (my ancestors) led the Count of Anjou to set up a lookout post and then Blanche came along four hundred years later and built much of what you can see today.

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It is an intimidating structure to say the least. It consists of 17 towers about 90 feet high with three or four rows of loopholes (holes through which to fire weapons) like this one.

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Blanche had the chateau surrounded by a moat that was around 20 feet deep. Where there’s a moat, there’s a drawbridge. Here’s the one John and I crossed along with the mechanism to open and close it…

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The tops of the towers were cut off and the ramparts were leveled in the 16th century at the height of the Wars of Religion to make way for artillery. The towers had been capped by conical tops made with slate. Slate is also used, incidentally, in the area as stakes for grape vines. The ramparts have been reconstructed and offer an amazing view of the river Maine and Angers.

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There are some lovely gardens at the chateau…

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but the piece-de-resistance is the Apocalypse tapestry…the oldest known tapestry in the world. It was commissioned between 1373 and 1377 by Louis I, the Duke of Anjou whose residence was the chateau, after his brother, King Charles V, lent him a manuscript of the Book of Revelation to make “his beautiful hanging.” Beautiful is an understatement…

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It took seven years to make. It’s huge, about 300 feet long and almost 14 feet high. It was a masterpiece from the get-go and was handled with great care until the end of the 18th century when it was damaged, abandoned and split up. Then in the mid-19th century, it came to the attention of Canon Joubert of Angers Cathedral who had it reassembled and restored. In 1954, it returned to the chateau for public exhibition. Amazing, amazing piece of work.

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A bird’s eye-view of Angers Cathedral reveals that it’s built in the shape of the cross. It resides on a hill near the chateau with, of course, a stairway-to-heaven to climb to get to it!

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I’m running out of adjectives to adequately describe these cathedrals. A picture, it seems, is worth a 1000 words.

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