If you’ve been following the blog for any length of time, you’ll know that the chances of having an actual snow day are slim to none. You will also have seen me use the expression back in early December when I had an unexpected Saturday respite from travel to the Paris region.
What do I mean by a “snow day”?
Growing up in the throws of a Canadian winter, snow was just part of the drill. You dressed a little warmer and on a good day, you got a fresh bread bag to slip your feet into before placing them in the snow boot. This wasn’t a “poor” thing, it was a “keep your feet dry despite snow getting into your boot” thing… and very effective.
Getting a snow day was when it had snowed particularly vigorously overnight, snowplows hadn’t reached all of the primary & secondary streets and the school board deemed it precautionary to cancel school for the day.
In other words… you woke up fully prepared and expecting to go to school (or work) and then… surprise, surprise… your day was completely yours… total freedom.
Those days happen less as an adult, but they do happen.
Let me tell you about mine yesterday…
As you know by now, I teach English at a business management school in Angers, ESSCA. The typical Monday morning drill is; drop the kids at the train station then hit the road to arrive and be ready to teach a 9:30am class.
Yesterday, however, a few crossed wires meant that I didn’t have to teach at all… neither morning nor afternoon. So here I was in Angers with time on my hands and a long leash to do what I wanted.
Stop #1… The Cathedral
The spires of Anger’s Saint-Maurice Cathedral are one of the most recognizable elements of the Angers sklyine (see photo above) but though it’s only a short walk from the chateau, I’d never seen it up close.
The bulk of its construction took place between the 11th and 16th centuries (the 1000s – 1500s – well before European settlers came to eastern Canada).
In the choir of the church… a wonderfully ornate structure, crowning a six-pillared arch, represents the glory of the presence of God on the altar. I’d seen these in baroque-style churches in Germany before but it was my first in France.
The cathedral was suggested to me because of the Lectern in fact. A colleague knew that I fiddled with wood & might appreciate it. He was right.
Years ago, while living in Belgium I made a point of photographing lecterns in any church I visited. They always displayed wonderful craftsmanship. This one took the cake though… I’m confident in saying that this is the largest and most ornate I’ve ever seen.
Away from the Old
The detailed work on the left side of the lectern depicts images from the Old Testament. The temple in ruins, lambs cast aside because the O.T. requirement for sacrifices had been done away with and this… a depiction of the high priest, with the twelve stones on his breastplate, representing the twelve tribes of Israel.
When looking at the degree of detail, in comparison to the whole… this priest is barely visible in the bottom, left hand extremity of the lectern.
In the very center of the photo, you’ll see a lighted area where there appear to be two lit / white crosses. This is where the priest would typically stand and read from the Bible (although I’m not sure how much the lecterns are used today… I think that most everything is done on / at the altar area, up front).
Toward the New
In as much as the left side of the lectern was dedicated to the Old Testament, then right side pointed toward the New.
“Ego sum ostium” is latin for “I am the door”… Jesus’ words in John’s gospel, chapter 10:
9 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
As a reference… the sculpted man, pictured below the Latin inscription, can be seen in the first lectern picture, supporting the entire central portion (just above some white signage).
3 Years in the making
I was in awe. It took craftsmen a full three years to complete this lectern in the 1800s (hint… before power tools!).
In terms of Christian teaching and doctrine… I’m on a different page than the Catholic church, but here’s an example of something I can surely respect greatly. They spent 3 years building a piece of furniture with no other purpose than to lift up and be a place from which to proclaim, the words of the Bible.
Let that just sink in for a moment.
Thanks for the suggestion Rory.
Stop #2… Place Sainte Croix
Immediately behind the cathedral is place Sainte Croix.
This was a nice little connection to home as, not too far from Saint John, the St. Croix river winds its way inward from the Bay of Fundy and is a natural border between the United States and Canada.
Dominating this little square is the “Maison d’Adam”, a half-timbered house, built in 1491, that takes us back to Angers’ medieval days when such a building would’ve been quite typical of the local construction.
It was also known as the “Maison d’Adam et Eve” (the Adam & Eve House), but during the revolution, the statues of Adam, Eve and the snake were destroyed and only the “Tree of Life” (also from the Genesis account) was left in tact (seen in the photo: bottom right).
Stop 3… The Château d’Angers
When I arrived downtown, the sun was shining and the sky was blue. There wasn’t a cloud was in sight and the sun was still low enough in the sky to make the castle glow in its warm embrace.
Construction of this massive medieval fortress began in 1232 using a combination of limestone and slate and consists of 17 towers and a dry-moat, protecting a church, a royal residence and an inner courtyard garden.
Although I’m in the city weekly, I’m not a weekly visit or anything. I’m not even sure you could say I’m a regular visitor but this was my third visit. (on the second visit, I got to share it with Liz & the kids).
Why do I keep coming back?
Angers’ are not the elaborate formal gardens of Versailles or the Tuilleries (although there are elements of that in the dry moat – but they can only be viewed from above… you can’t walk through them).
What I love about the gardens here is how they fit in to a fortress castle structure / design.
For example, there are two elevated gardens atop the walls of the castle: one where you can find a collection of medieval herbs and medicinal plants and the other where 141 grapevines are neatly planted out in rows.
Along the inner walls of the fortress are climbing roses that have trunks the size of a man’s fist and I can’t help but wonder what they must look like in full bloom.
I love the Revelation Tapestry room of the Castle and, truth be told, that was the draw for me today.
In the late 1300’s, Louis 1st, the Duke of Anjou commissioned a series of tapestries which, together, would illustrate key moments from the book of Revelation. It originally measured 140m (460 feet) in length and 4.5m (15 feet) in height, but only 100m of length remain.
There were few other visitors, meaning I had the room pretty much all to myself… a bonus! Even at the best of times, I find the revelation room to be almost a place of sacred experience.
Consider for a moment that it was commissioned and woven in the 1300s, essentially as decoration for someone’s home (albeit a very BIG home)… to be spread out from room to room. I imagine that almost no matter where one went in that grand home, their eyes would find themselves contemplating God’s revelation to John… God’s word, the Bible.
In a pre-TV, pre-Internet, pre-printed poster / picture world… those would’ve been strong visual reminders. Imagine… virtually surrounding yourself today with unavoidable reminders of the Bible. Pretty compelling.
Given that I was in a space dedicated to the visual portrayal of God’s word… it was appropriate that that’s what I was reading. Hence the reason I was looking for a quiet spot.
I’ve set myself a goal of reading through the entire Bible this year. So my snow day was a great opportunity to move ahead with that in a very unique location. Oh I know I won’t always be able to read there… but given the opportunity, you’ve got to admit that it’s a pretty cool spot to do so.
Well Worth the Drive!
Several people felt terribly badly for me, for the fact that I’d driven all the way from Châtellerault to Angers (roughly a 2hr drive)… “for nothing”, given that, in the end, I didn’t have to teach.
Oh no… when you can find yourself in places where men & women spent several years and made great effort to emphasize and bring to the fore God’s word (whether through a magnificently handcrafted wooden lectern or a breathtaking 600 year old tapestry), a two hour drive is not at all “for nothing”.
On the contrary, it’s a reminder of my responsibility to act, react & conduct myself in a way that also depicts the word of the Lord and makes it easily visible even understandable, to others.
I’m grateful for a snow day!