Dwight Peck's personal website

Chartres, Le Mans, and the Louvre, 2012 (4)

In mid-April 2012, the snow's disappearing in the Jura.

Too much work anyway. Down tools. We're going to Chartres.

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Le Mans in the rain

Le Mans, historically the chief city of the County of Maine in the Pays de la Loire region, is about an hour southwest of Chartres by the non-TGV train, so here we are.

Beautiful, broad boulevards and a brilliant tram system -- but where's the cathedral? Maybe it's this way.

Market day in front of the Cathédrale St-Julien du Mans, named for the city's first bishop, who's said to have converted the area to Christianity in the early 4th century.

Money-changers near the Temple

The buildings of the mid-9th century were remodelled in the late 11th, and then, after a fire in 1134, there was a major rebuilding project by Bishop Guillaume, financed partly by King Henry II of England (who was born here), including the thickened walls and addition of the flying buttresses.

The Cathedral of Saint Julien of Le Mans

The high-Gothic choir, seen from the Romanesque nave

Above the choir

Little chapels all round the apse

The southern side of the double ambulatory round the back of the altar at the east end

"Bifurcated" flying buttresses from below: out a little side door

Taking a brief cathedral break

The Le Mans cathedral's nearly as well known for its stained glass windows as Chartres is, with some 20 surviving in the nave from Bishop Guillaume's 12th century renovations, and many more from the 13th century in the upper parts of the choir.

The Miracle of Jesus making flying salamanders come out of people's mouths.

The double ambulatory behind the choir and altar. The tomb of Count Geoffrey V, "the Handsome", Plantagenet is here somewhere, but it seems not be known just where. Geoff V became Count of Anjou, Touraine, and Maine from 1129, and at 15 was set up in a dynastic marriage in 1128 (here in the cathedral) with Matilda, William the Conqueror's granddaughter and widow of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V. His nickname 'Plantagenet' is said to derive from the yellow shrub (planta genista) he wore in his hat, or something.

Matilda's efforts from 1135 to get herself recognized as England's monarch led to the period of "the Anarchy" when the barons in England preferred her cousin Stephen of Blois for their king. Indirectly supporting her military efforts in England, Geoffrey succeeded in subduing the Duchy of Normandy, then part of the English crown, and became its Duke in 1144. By a truce of 1153, Stephen remained king of England until his death and was succeeded by Geoffrey and Matilda's son Henry II (Peter O'Toole in The Lion in Winter), the first of the Plantagenet dynasty that provided England's monarchs, including its Lancastrian and Yorkist branches, until the coming of the Tudors in 1485.

Henry II thus became Count of Maine (and was born here in Le Mans in 1133), King of England, Count of Anjou, Duke of Normandy, and Duke of Aquitaine from his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. Among other titles.

Here's another strange St George with his dragon and damsel

Medieval levity

The early Gothic South Portal

The Place Saint-Michel outside the South Portal

More medieval levity

The Bishops' Palace next to the cathedral

Kristin and the Place du Cardinal Grente, outside the nave of the cathedral
(Cardinal Grente's buried in the cathedral. Except his heart. That's somewhere else.)

The Bishops' Palace. Not only was King Henry II born here, he also retreated here near the end of his life, in 1189, pursued by his son Richard Lionheart and the French king Philip II Augustus. There's an wonderful description of the battle that ensued in Thomas Asbridge's new biography of William Marshal, The greatest knight (2015), chap. 7 (including a great scene in which, after the king and close followers have slipped out the back door and made a run for it, the Marshal turns to deter the pursuers and finds Richard the Lionhearted bearing down on him, but without his armor on. Not wanting to kill an unarmored opponent, William charges straight ahead and kills Richard's horse, thus ending the pursuit. The old king died a few weeks later anyway; Richard became king, and appointed the Marshal to a high post in his own administration.)

We're watching the threatening clouds and walking along the Grande Rue, or High Street, from the South Portal through the Cité Plantagenêt, or Vieux Mans, the old town along the ridge above the river Sarthe.

There's always something interesting, and usually funny, to admire on the buildings.

Like these little guys

And these.

A grand collection of half-timbered, jettied buildings throughout the district

Wilbur Wright Street carries on right under the Old City.

Medieval buildings overlooking Rue Wilbur Wright and its tunnel

Scenes of the Gérard Depardieu film Cyrano de Bergerac (1989) were shot here, without the cars.

The Verre Tige bar-café in a street of ateliers and boutiques (we're here at mid-day Sunday and things are quiet)

Carpets, etc.

The old town continues more than 500 meters southwest along the ridge

The bar Le Vaudeville

The House of Jewelry

Exploring the side streets, too

The cathedral from the place in front of the Hotel de Ville

The Bar Saint-Pierre catty-corner to the Hotel de Ville in the Place Saint-Pierre, where is apparently also the headquarters of the "24 Hours of Le Mans" Grand Prix racing classic (first held in 1906).

Back to the Grande Rue

The Bulles toy store

Kristin with a brisk wind coming on

"Bienvenue au Mans"

A rain shower sweeps in as we're passing this Petit Restaurant de Qualité, thus it's time for lunch.

The rain's backed off, the wind hasn't.

We're slanting downhill towards the end of the ridge.

The Red Nose

Getting out of the vicious, and undeserved, rainstorm

Brutal. But brief.

Descending towards the river (This is the only setting I recognized in Cyrano, but surely there were more.)

Kristin in Le Mans

The Rue de la Truie Qui File (the "Spinning Sow", from the widespread folklore motif about the beings that helped desperately overworked women by spinning more wool for them as they slept)

An attractive rental

We're approaching the end of the old town.

On the right, the restaurant Le Baobab, spécialités africaines, next to the pizzeria Le Stromboli

A bright sunny day

The river Sarthe at the Pont Perrin

We're hunting for Saint-Julien's remains. Julian, we're meant to understand, was a Roman nobleman or else a leper in the late 3rd century who converted the Cenomani tribe of Gauls here and became the first Bishop of Le Mans. He brought dead people back to life, etc., and when his remains/relics were miraculously rediscovered, during the 9th century when everybody's relics were being rediscovered, Le Mans prospered as a pilgrimage site.

St Julian's relics were housed here in the Benedictine convent church of Saint-Julien-du-Pré (i.e., in the meadow, i.e., outside the city walls) and rested comfortably, and profitably, until the Huguenots wrecked everything in 1562. His head has been exhibited in the cathedral up the hill since 1254 and we were fortunate to have missed that.

We stood outside St Julian's church in a vile downpour for half an hour waiting for the priest who was promised to arrive at 15:00 to open up for visitors, but at 15:15, soaked through and sniveling in despair, we bolted for the rail station. That's the rainswept cathedral up the hill.

The old town of Le Mans on the ridge above the river

We're bustling back into town along the tram lines on the Rue Gambetta: 16 minutes to go for the train.

Pushing vigorously through the Place de la République: eleven minutes till our train.

The Avenue du Général Leclerc -- a sprint for the train, due in seven minutes, somewhere down there.

We made it.

Back to Chartres for some more rain

Bolting for the Hostellerie Saint-Yves in the rain

Tomorrow: another dose of the Louvre

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 7 May 2012.

Recent Events