Friday, October 19, 2012

Apocalypse at Angers

Much to my distress, I only have ten days left before my beloved and useful under-30 discount card for the train expires, and I won't be able to get another one since it was a one-off promotion. (Of course now they've gone and extended the normal discount card up to the age of 28, grumble grumble.) With that in mind, I've thought about taking some grand escapade, but I don't really have the money, so instead I took advantage of Monday's sunny weather to take a day-trip to Angers. As it happened, no-one checked my ticket either way, so I could have gone for free, but oh well.

The main draw of Angers was its château, and the main draw of its château is the Apocalypse Tapestry. Created between 1377 and 1382, the Apocalypse Tapestry is notable not only for its age (the oldest surviving French medieval tapestry, apparently - which seems an odd wording... Are there earlier, non-medieval tapestries? Fun fact: the Bayeux "Tapestry" is actually an embroidery), but also its size. It's fricking massive - 71 scenes still exist, out of an original 90, each measuring 78 feet by 20 feet. That's a lot of tapestry.

The tapestry was produced during the 100 Years War, and a notable feature is that it draws on the uncertainty and troubles of the time both to reflect the mood of the people (war, famine, and pestilence were probably not too unfamiliar) and to spread propaganda on behalf of the regime (it was commissioned by Louis I, Duke of Anjou, a member of the ruling Valois dynasty). Our guide pointed out several panels where various beasts and other baddies were subtly identified with the English enemy. (I kept my mouth shut.)

For obvious reasons, the lights in the gallery are low and flash photography is not allowed, so my photos in no way do justice to the true colours of the tapestry (despite this, I'm going to put up far too many of them). I don't know that the colours matter too much though - I found them interesting more for what they were depicting and how, rather than the details of the colours used. That said, they were wonderful to look at. After our guided tour, I had about 15 minutes all by myself in the quiet of the empty gallery to look at them. I could have stayed longer, but they shut the gallery about 15 minutes before the rest of the castle closed. I had just enough time to scamper up onto the battlements and take a few pictures of the view before running for the exit. 

It's a very old-school château, built between the 9th-early 13th centuries

The entrance to the château
Gatehouse into an inner courtyard of the castle

View from the ramparts of the courtyard gardens and chapel buildings

They have a small vineyard up on the terraces as well. Sans vines at the mo. The guide said they tried making wine from the grapes, but it wasn't very nice

View of the Maine river and a suburb of Angers (the city centre is on the other side of the château)

View of the old town and cathedral

The Apocalypse Tapestry stretching out into the darkness. This is only one side of the L-shaped gallery

Angels attacking one of the beasts

People try to attack the beast, but it won't die

At the end of the story, Jesus (?) finally does manage to defeat the various beasts

This was an interesting one - the first beast, who I think is the Beast of the Land, but maybe the Beast of the Air, hands his sceptre over to the Beast of the Sea. The guide pointed out that the sceptre is topped by a fleur-de-lys. There is a theory that the Beast of the Sea is the English, coming across the Channel and taking control of France.

People worshipping the second and third beasts

More beast worship

The guide said the central figure on the horse has been identified with the Black Prince, father of Richard II, who fought in various battles in France, including at Crécy. In Henry V, Shakespeare refers to him 'forag[ing] in blood of French nobility'

Death, one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse

The apostle John eating a book. According to the guide, this signified something like John ingesting the meaning of the vision. The book was sweet and easy to eat, but bitter in the stomach.

The elect, dreaming of being saved. Apparently the elect like to share a bed, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-style

The horseman of Famine. It seems strange to represent famine with lots of trees and plants, but the guide said this was to show it wasn't a natural famine, which could be blamed on God, but a man-made famine triggered by war and human actions. The French peasantry would be used to destruction wrought by soldiers passing through and taking or destroying their crops.

To give you an idea of how the panels look hanging together

The Whore of Babylon combing her hair and admiring herself in the mirror


I think this is right at the beginning, but it could be the vision of the celestial Jerusalem at the end. Either way, I think it's an angel and St. John

An angel blowing a trumpet and opening one of the Seven Seals of the Apocalypse. This leads to a shipwreck

The Whore of Babylon on the beast's back

After the château, I had just enough time to duck into the cobblestone streets of the old town and find the cathedral. Conveniently enough, it started to rain just as I went in, and had stopped and gone back to blue skies again when I came out (quite a short time thereafter - I was a bit worried about possibly getting lost on the way back to the station for the last train of the evening, and the cathedral wasn't all that impressive, although I probably could have looked some of the stained-glass windows in a bit more detail).

Rose window in the cathedral

Window with Stars of David in the cathedral

Fountain outside the train station

30 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting lots of photos of the tapestry! I particularly like the one with the elect sharing a bed "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" style and the one of the beasts with all the heads.

    Since you've still got a couple of days left before your discount card expires, you should think about coming to Paris. You're always more than welcome to stay "chez moi".

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    1. That's very sweet of you, thank you! I'll certainly have a look at train fares.

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  2. That post was a lot less terrible then the title implied!

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    1. I know, when the actual apocalypse happens, no-one will believe me.

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  3. Thanks for the tour - it was fascinating. M x

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  4. Aww, good ol' Angers. I drive by that château so often that I almost feel like it is mine now. (I wish!)

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  5. those gardens are just immaculate!

    ill admit i dont know much about france outside of paris...so learning more about it is building my fascination up and doing it hard. i really would like to give different parts of the country a chance someday :) great photos!

    hope you have a wonderful weekend!

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    1. There is so much more to France than just Paris, I hope you get the chance sometime! It's quite frustrating at times, in the blogosphere everything seems to happen in Paris, and if I ever say to people outside France that I live here, they just start talking about Paris... Not that Paris doesn't have its good points, but can feel a bit lonely out in the sticks!

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  6. Is it just me or does death on horseback look like david beckham?

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  7. Possibly but does that make the whore of babylon Posh?

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  8. Pretty pictures! I went to Angers on my very first trip to France years ago!

    And I feel you on the Carte 12-30. Mine expires at the end of November. We'll just always have to plan our trips super far in advance The worst will be going to see my boyfriend. He lives on a local line so tickets will always cost me 20 a/r. This is going to suck! I mean, he comes to see me too, but Lille is far more interesting than Valenciennes!

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    1. Yeah, I'm not good at planning in advance for these things. Your twitter feed on the weekend does usually look like you get up to some interesting things up in Lille!

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    2. Yep! I do! But that's also because this is going on until January: http://www.fantastic2012.com/

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    3. Oh fun, I did wonder what was going on!

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    4. You should try to come up if you can find cheap tickets!

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    5. Would love to, I'm pretty poor though!

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  9. Angers looks like a great place to visit - I need to add it to my list.

    My carte 12-30 has just expired too but I'm not regretting it too much. The only time it ever got me a really good discount, we got the time of the train wrong, turned up at the station 5 minutes too late and had to pay for a full price ticket anyway :-( The best deal I've ever found for train tickets is the Prems mini-group on an iDTGV- Paris to Grenoble for 4 people for about 70 euros. So my advice is, travel with all your friends!

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    1. Yeah, I didn't have too much time to see the rest of the city, but I love medieval stuff, so the tapestry alone was worth it (and I didn't have to pay to see it either). The card was definitely worthwhile for me, I think I paid off the initial 50€ just with a couple of trips to Paris, and though I haven't really done any big trips with it, definitely got my money's worth I think. That is a good deal though, I haven't come across the mini-group thing I don't think.

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  10. Pray tell. O expert weaver woman - what is the difference between a tapestry and embroidery?

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    1. Without looking it up, pretty sure it's that with tapestries the design is woven into the fabric and with embroideries it's sewn on to the cloth.

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  11. I love your captions. "The Whore of Babylon on the beast's back", "More beast worship", and "Angels attacking one of the beasts". I know that they were meant to be informative (and really they are) but I couldn't help but get a good chuckle out of them. Something about beast worship just makes me laugh. I know, I'm immature.

    I'm glad you ventured out! It looks like you enjoyed yourself, although you do look rather stoic and mysterious in your picture. : )

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    1. Ha ha, just telling it like it is! The Whore of Babylon on the Beast with One Back... But Lots of Heads!

      Ooh, stoic and mysterious... I think I was thinking "they rang a bell to say the castle was closing 5 minutes ago and I don't see anyone around, let's make this quick before I get locked in".

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  12. There is a whole lot going on in that tapestry. Seriously crazy stuff. I'd love to have been a fly on the wall during the planning of it... we need beasts, lots of them, with lots of heads, and a whore, the whore of Babylon, yes her, she'd be perfect for it.

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    1. Even better, all of the cray cray is straight from the Bible!

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  13. At the other end of the spectrum I have a senior railcard and buspass and would be mortified if they took it away from me, so I feel your pain!....Still I am glad you made the most of your last days and took this trip with the lovely pictures.

    I love history!

    Love Denise

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  14. I'm the beast with Lamb horns...

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