West Virginia University in Vendée, France


Fontevraud and Langeais

27 juin 2010

After riding for a couple of hours north-east of Les Sables, having started at 6:30am, we arrive in Anjou and are ready for a snack.  Our group just loves their pompotes, or applesauce in a bag with a screw top.  The ultimate flavor is apple-apricot.  Just so you know...


The main entrance of the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud.


We first visit the abbatial church, built in the Romanesque style.


The side view shows the buttresses, characteristic of the period.


We meet our guide, Hedwig.  Peggy is all smiles, as usual, ready to learn.


The inside of the abbey church is a jewel of the Loire Valley style, with cupolas instead of vaulted ceilings.


Of course, the true jewels of this church are the recumbent statues of some of its most generous patrons: Aliénor of Aquitaine and her second husband, Henry II Plantagenêt. At their feet (but not in the picture) are their famous son, Richard the Lion Hearted and their son John Lackland's wife, Isabelle of Angoulême.


Aliénor is believed to have died near Fontevraud, where she spent the last years of her life, gifting the abbey with numerous parcels of land and sacred objects.

Groupe Aliénor has to pose at such a remarkable sight.


A group picture at the back of the abbey church.  Notice the blue skies, although no words can describe the rising heat.  We will be hot today, with temperatures reaching in the 90's.


Fontevraud is one of the largest restoration sites in Europe, and this cloister was entirely redone a few years ago.  The extensive work helps us imagine what the atmosphere must have been like for the religious people living within these walls during the Renaissance and later.


Another view of the garden.  A singularity of Fontevraud was that it housed two separate orders, one for men, the other one for women.  To prove their humility, the men were governed by the women.  The Abbess was the official head of the whole monastery.  A most unusual situation.

This picture also shows traces of another important function for these walls: between 1804 and 1963, Fontevraud was used as a prison for the most hardened criminals.  The gallery above the cloister was built to allow the prison guards to watch the prisoners.


Jordan takes a moment to check her pictures, but you can see she is ready to jot down any important notes at a moment's notice.  Bon travail, Jordan!


Kevin will not be outdone when it comes to attentiveness.  Notice the hand placement on the hips as to allow the guide to identify him as the brain of the group.  Don't mess with Kevin, Hedwig!


Liz. a geology major, just might faint at the sweet touch of tuffeau, more commonly known in English as limestone.


Louise de Bourbon, one of the most important abbesses at Fontevraud, ordered a series of paintings to decorate the salle capitulaire, the chapter house.  There, the sisters came everyday to hear a chapter of the rule of their order, as well as to make important decisions regarding the management of the community or of their very large estate.

Her humility was not daunted by her desire to be represented at the crucifixion.


We now cross the gardens to visit the unusual kitchen.


The gardens are a very important part of the restoration of Fontevraud.  A large endowment by the Yves Rocher Foundation, a prominent maker of organic skin care products, allows the plants to be cultivated the way they were during the XVIth century.


An interesting feature of this kitchen is that the stones on the roof are sculpted to imitate slates.


Another opportunity for an historic picture for groupe Aliénor.


Waiting for lunch in the shade.


Look where we get to eat!  Right there in the Saint Lazare Cloister...


Obviously, this group is enthusiastically awaiting  their lunch!


This group is all smiles as well!


Lunch begins with a terrine médiévale with a side of mesclun salad.


The main dish is a confit de canard with a side of pan-seared potatoes.


Dessert was a delicious crème brûlée!


After lunch, we continue our excursion with a visit to the Castle of Langeais, nestled within the town.  The main entrance is a drawbridge at the head of the street.


A view of the side from the front shows a castle built in the medieval style to impress travelers to the town that the castle was well fortified.  It turns out, though, that this was mostly for show, because the interior and courtyard facade were built in the new "Renaissance" style.  The castle was originally built as a royal castle, but King Louis XI decided to build a residence closer to Tours and gifted this castle to a seigneur to keep him in his debt.


The large hall used for dining shows a table already set for the seigneur and his guests.


The head cook, Maître Coqenpot, explains all of the rigorous demands required of his skills in running the kitchen. 


He also requires the very important service of his taste testers, Kevin and Emily, to make sure that the food and drink he is about to serve are not poisoned.  Well done, Kevin and Emily--glad you didn't expire--now the lord of the estate can eat in peace!


The life of kings and seigneurs was a nomadic one.  Traveling from one property to the next, they needed furniture that could travel with them.  Tables were often plain boards, set on sawhorses.  To hide the simplicity of the table, a sheet, called nappe, was thrown on top.  As the Renaissance approached, a longière was pleated and sewn to the edge of the table, and became the ancestor of our what we now call napkins (a nappe-kin, or little tablecloth).  Note that a place setting included no plates (a slice ob bread did the job), no forks (they had not been imported from Italy by the Medicis yet), no knife (each guest brought his own).


Next, we visit the chambre of the seigneur.  This room in spite of the large bed, was actually more of a receiving room than a bedroom.  Only the most distinguished of the guests were allowed within.  If worthy, they joined the seigneur on the bed,  actually more of a sofa than a sleeping bed.  There, the last course of the meal was served: dried fruit, cooked fruit, almonds, pine nuts etc.


The room was completely redone (in WVU colors again) in the nineteenth century by the art aficionado who purchased Langeais and bequeathed it to the French State.


These are the remnants of the original castle, built in the Xth century.


An important event took place at Langeais in 1491: the duchess of Brittany, Anne, after many negotiations, agreed to marry Charles VIII of France.  By doing so, Brittany was finally united with France and would never again be a separate state.


Because furnishings often traveled with the seigneurs,  trunks were a critical component of the household.


Another chamber, with a chair-trunk to the right.


After Langeais,  we travel through the city of Tours for a small walk through the middle age part of town.  Here, we admire a tower dedicated to Saint Martin, one of Tours' most beloved inhabitants and its patron saint.


These old houses display the building techniques of the Middle Ages.


This beautiful example of what we call in English "Tudor-style" houses the Leonard de Vinci restaurant on the main floor.  As we will see tomorrow, Leonardo da Vinci spent the last 20 years of his life in this region.


The place du Grand Marché is very busy, even on a Sunday afternoon.


Even the most dedicated Vendéens crack under the heat, put away their notebooks and start licking deliciously cold ice-cream cones during a very, very hot afternoon.

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