Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Cathedral, and Circling the Lac

In the morning we found a wonderful bargain for breakfast: the typical juice/baguette/croissant/coffee combo €4 total for both of us. We were astonished. Typical cost up to now has been about €13 and more in hotels. David hesitated to pay as he thought he had misunderstood. The waitress thought he was complaining and hurriedly pointed out signs posted on the wall about the price. Our French, under stress, was not up to explaining our surprise that it was so cheap, but Marian finally managed, "C'est tres économique!" and we left with smiles all around.

Then we spoke to the hotel desk clerk about changing rooms. The only ventilation in the room was by opening a window. (This is in common with every other room we've stayed in this trip. The heat is from a radiator of some sort, and AC doesn't exist, or anyway hasn't existed. Maybe if we paid more than €80 a night...?)

Problem was, this room fronted on a very busy street near a university, so there was engine noise and people noise most of the night. Somebody was singing loudly at 6am, in fact. So we politely asked if we could change to one on the other side of the building. This took some saying, as the amount of English people know has gone down quite a bit as we've gotten farther from Paris. Anyway we got it all communicated and the answer was maybe, come back á dix heure and we'll see. So we took a short walk to check out the cathedral.

Gothic back-end pretty much as usual.

This cathedral had a serious fire in 1972, after which it was extensively cleaned and rebuilt. As a result, it is whiter and brighter than any we've been in this trip (or ever).

Makes N.D. de Paris look like a broom closet.

There is very little of the usual decoration. For example the pulpit is of wood but all but one of the panels are plain. Only one is carved. There are some medallions wayyyy up in the ceiling (37 meters high, they say)

The cathedral's prize artistic asset is a tomb. When Anne of Brittany became Queen of France in 1492, she commissioned a tomb for the bodies of her parents (d. 1486 and 1488) by Michel Colombe, a famous sculptor of the day who was 75 years old at the time. The tomb comprises six major figures: the two main honorees, recumbent on the top, and four guardian virtues at the corners. They are all quite beautiful.

Overview of the tomb.

Head of Francis II, Duke of Brittany

Head of his second wife, Marguerite of Foix

Temperance, with a bridle and a clock.

Justice, with sword and scale.

Moral Fortitude, controlling the dragon within the gates.

Prudence, with a draftsman's compass and a mirror.

On return to the hotel the clerk was happy to give us the key to the room directly across the hall from ours. It took about ten minutes to move everything across. The new room is slightly smaller but its window opens on an inner courtyard, and sleeping should be much easier the next few nights.

So we set off to see what we could of Lac de Grand Lieu, a large fresh-water lake that is known mostly to fishermen and to birds. Like the Sacrmento Delta, it attracts thousands of ducks in the winter, but not many in June.

The lake (blue/green patch in the above map) is quite large but shallow and varies widely with the seasons. It is surrounded by small villages and new suburbs. We noted quite a bit of construction; Nantes seems to be expanding in this direction.

Intrepid birder approaches possible birding site.

We saw a few birds and, chatting with an English birder we learned that the big gray heron we'd been calling a great blue is in fact, the gray heron. The great blue is North American only. There were egrets here also, and horned grebes, some kind of tern, wag-tails, some kind of kestrel. They were all too far away to photograph.

Last stop was Saint-Philbert-de-Grand-Lieu, a church that was first built in 815. It was constructed to house the relics of one Saint Philibert, a chap who roamed around founding abbeys in the late 600s, including the one at Jumieges that we visited a few weeks ago. Philibert had been entombed at a nearby town that was vulnerable to Viking raids, so they built this church and moved him. The church was a pilgrimage center (miraculous healings were said to occur near Philibert's sarcophagus) but the Vikings got to it in 845, after which the monks moved Philibert on to Tournus, hundreds of kilometers deep in Burgundy. But the abby remained for centuries.

Goodly parts of those walls are 1400 years old.

The abbey was shut down in the Revolution, after which it was a poultry market and a storage barn until the late 1800s when it was cleaned up and restored. Some portions of Philibert's body were returned here in 1936 when the building was re-consecrated, and he still partially occupies the original stone sarcophagus. (Which we didn't fully grasp when we were there, or we'd have taken a picture of the plain stone box.)

Anyway to compare the construction of a stone church built in 815, versus the parish enclosure churches that were being made 800 years later, is quite interesting.

Overview of the nave from the altar area (the folding chairs are for a concert).

Arch details.

Simple, undecorated ceiling beam.

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