Historically and romantically, Angers, the former capital of Anjou, is possessed of a past (which may be said to have actively commenced in 989) that cannot fail to arrest and hold one’s attention. Capital of the Dukes of Anjou, and the home of Margaret of Anjou, daughter of Rene, who married Henry VI. of England; likewise the cradle of the first Plantagenets; and immortalized by Shakespeare’s King John, who soliloquizes anent ” The flinty ribs of this contemptuous town.” With all this, Angers has perhaps a supreme claim for English consideration. In spite of all this, and the added attraction of a ” real castle,” such as is seldom found outside the children’s fairy-tale books, not to mention the Cathedral of St. Maurice, – of which more anon, – Angers leaves one with the impression that very much is wanting in order to merit preeminence in the classification of those memories which a traveller is wont to store up as a result of his travels and observations. Perhaps it is the city’s pitiful attempt to be gay, to be modern, to undertake pretentious improvements, -all of which appear to fail utterly in their purpose. These things cannot be unless they are of a spontaneous growth, which here they apparently are not. Not that the city still merits the opprobrious (sic) term of ” Black Angers ” with which most writers and all makers of guide-books are pleased to refer to it, – it hardly does. In fact it is doubtful as to just what the term originally meant. Perhaps it was merely a reference to the gloom caused by the extensive use in the construction of its buildings of the black slate in which the neighbourhood abounds; – at any rate the expression is one of undoubted antiquity.
The two chief attractions are the cathedral and the castle, both ” historical monuments.” The latter, as before noted, is the ideal military stronghold of our early imagination; and if age, magnitude, and the general air of good preservation, count for anything, it must be one of the most impressive monuments of its class still to be seen. Originally its wall, now minus battlements, fronted close upon the river. It is surrounded by a dry yawning fosse, formerly a moat, and possesses no less than seventeen enormous and perfectly formed towers, each perhaps eighty feet in height, banded near the top in white and black stripes. Hardly more than a circling wall today, it has stood well the test of time since it was erected by Philip Augustus and completed under St. Louis in 1 r 80. Little remains of the Renaissance portion originally occupied by the Counts of Anjou. Its charm lies rather in its exterior, the interior confines resembling more a lumber-yard than anything else, – not worth spending one’s time upon, under the present facilities which are offered for its inspection. One small structure within the walls is notable as being that in which King Rene was born. It is recorded that Wellington received a part of his military education in Angers. If so, it is probable that he studied this military defence with some care and minuteness. To us, at least, who have not been educated with respect to military fortification, it seems to fill all demands that are likely to be made upon a building of its class. Doubtless it could have been besieged successfully, and even battered through to the extent of allowing the outside foe to enter, but it would probably have been at a fearful cost, and it is possible that the attempt would be given up before any surrender took place. Such would appear to an outsider to be the lines on which these magnificent works of feudal times were built.
One should not speak slightingly of the Cathedral of St. Maurice, though it comes upon one who journeys from the north, as a thing apart from anything he has met before; so much so that he is hardly likely to be able to judge it dispassionately until he has turned his imp_ressions of it many times over in his mind.
The Angevine style, seen here, is representative of but a very restricted area.. The Societe des Monuments Historiques defined it as ” a small district on both sides of the Loire between Normandy and Acquitaine.” It is suggestive of the Roman manner, far more than the Gothic; though the primitiveness shown in the long, upright lines of the west front of this cathedral marks it at once as something different from either Romanesque or Transition, – though Transition it must be, unless we delimit the confines of that useful term. In any case, it points unto heaven in a truly devout manner, is not debased in any particular, and, if not a consistent style, has many of the good qualities of both. The Cathedral of St. Maurice is best seen from a point of view which will exaggerate its height, its slimness, and its straight and upright lines; but even this does not appear to work out to its disadvantage, in spite of the new note it strikes. It is an interesting work when viewed from any distance sufficient to throw its outline well into the air. From across the Maine, it is charming; from the foot of the stairwayed street which runs downwards from its western portal, it is picturesque and irresistible, while from any other view-point in the town, it is grand.
The easterly end is dwarfed by close-lying houses, picturesque enough in themselves; but the gracefulness of the buttress is wanting. The south side is, here and there, broken into by additions and interpolations, none apparently of a contemporary era. It offers a grand effect for an artist who would study gray walls and crumbling roofs, but the lack of uniformity will offend most people.
The facade of the west is the most effective feature, so far as genuineness is concerned. It towers to the sky, its needle-pointed spires overtopping a crooked street which rises sharply from the river. There is but one portal, and that is centred with a curious Romanesque arch half-way across its height, above which is a bas-relief of great size. The sculpture of this portal, while not as excellent as that seen in the Isle of France, is of an unusual richness and execution. The next range is unique among west fronts, being a large central window, but slightly pointed and little removed from the Romanesque. It is bare of coloured glass, and is decidedly not an attractive feature. On each side of this great window are a series of blunt pointed lancets, which form a sort of arcade which otherwise relieves the bareness which would exist. Immediately above is a row of niches which hold eight armour-clad knights of the fifteenth century, inferior perhaps, in execution, to the sculpture of the portal, but producing an effect, when viewed from the ground, undenia bly fine. It is a detail as interesting, in its way, as the long ” Gallery of the Kings ” at Reims. Above rise the slim spires, with an octagonal cupola superimposed over a central structure, which looks to this day as though it were originally intended as one of a battery of three uniform spires. The general plan of this facade is the masterpiece of design of the building, and, except for the ludicrously diminutive clock-face, could withstand nobly the cavil of the most exacting pedant who ever read or studied architectural forms, solely out of books. In the immediate foreground falls the before mentioned street of steps. Many old tumble-down houses have recently been cleared away, and, at the present writing, the view from this point is one which has apparently not previously existed, and one which it is to be hoped will not be marred by the erection of any so-called modern improvements.
The interior fills no accepted formula of architectural expression, save that it is of the manner common to Anjou, the borderland be tween the Gothic aisled and the great and aisleless southern naves, but it holds one’s interest none the less. Perhaps, after all, it is the quality to interest, quite as much as that to please, which is the standard by which one makes estimates and forms opinions. There is a not very long nor very wide nave and choir, neither with aisles, and both with a vaulting which gives the appearance of being much lower than it really is, quite the contrary impression to that received from contemplation of the exterior. The bishop’s throne sets midway on the right of the nave. Each bay of the side walls of the nave is composed of a wide pointed arch resting immediately upon the ground and filled with stone instead of glass; reminiscent of a similar effect in the Church of Notre Dame de la Cloture at Le Mans. The true windows of the nave rise in pairs above this arch, and contain rich, though somewhat fragmentary; glass of the thirteenth century. As characteristic of the Angevine style, there is no triforium or clerestory, and hence, it is claimed, no necessity for flying buttresses, the support being accomplished by less graceful, if as effective, heavy square piers built into the outer wall.
The transepts are not pronounced as to length or breadth, their chief beauty being their rose windows.
The choir, of the twelfth century, shows an interpolated and elaborately flamboyant doorway of a much later period.
An ornate oaken pulpit of none too good Renaissance carving is in the nave, and the organ case over the western doorway is supported on the shoulders of a series of huge, grotesque, but monstrously human, wooden caryatides. This, with the gigantic, high canopied carven wood pulpit, one of the most extraordinary in the country, forms a relief to coldly chiselled stone, certainly;-but few will consider their charms such as would warrant counting them amongst ecclesiastical treasures.
The fourteenth-century tapestries from Arras (or Paris) were made for King Rene and by him given to the cathedral. They represent scenes from the Apocalypse, and, though having suffered somewhat from the depredations of the Revolution, still exhibit evidences of rare qualities of workmanship in their design and colouring.
The benitier of verd-antico marble supported by figures of lions is a Byzantine work of the eastern empire, given to the cathedral by King Rene.
The Dukes of Anjou and Margaret of Anjou were buried here, but the tomb of the latter was desecrated and destroyed during the Revolution. Aside from these, no other monuments of note are to be seen.
The Bishop’s Palace, of the twelfth century, standing high beside the cathedral, was restored by Viollet-le-Duc and reflects a mediaeval splendour unseen elsewhere in the city, with respect to any great or small domestic establishment.
The Maison Barrault in the Logis Barrault, built by a former mayor of the city, one time Chancellor of Brittany, was the scene of the magnificent entertainment offered Caesar Borgia in 1497. Afterwards it became the residence of Marie de Medicis; later, a monastic establishment, then a seminary, and lately simply an ordinary private school. Says one writer, ” No wonder its remains should be so scanty and ill preserved.”