Within the formidable Château d'Angers (Castle of Angers) in Angers, you'll discover the most powerful tapestry you'll ever see. It rivals the Bayeux Tapestry for its impact, but the story is very different.
The 100-meter (328-feet) long tapestry is housed in the castle in a dimly lit gallery, which takes your eyes some minutes to get used to. The low lighting protects the vegetable dyes of the red, blue, and gold woolen threads, and they are amazingly vivid. It also sets the atmosphere for what will be a visit you will remember for the glorious richness, and frightening, grotesque scenes of the Apocalypse.
The story is divided into six ‘chapters,’ following the last chapter of the New Testament of St. John about the Apocalypse. In a series of prophetic visions, it tells of the return of Christ, his victory over evil, and the end of the world with its various signs in the sky, horrors, and persecutions. Each of the six chapters has a figure seated on a dais reading the ‘Revelations’ that are depicted in the scenes which follow.
It’s an extraordinary piece of art, quite chilling in some scenes, like those depicting the monster with seven heads. But while it was meant to convey the power of God, it was also a political statement. The tapestry was designed and woven during the Hundred Years War between the English and the French, which took place intermittently between 1337 and 1453.
So throughout, there are indications of that long series of wars. For the citizens of the time, the allusions were obvious. For instance, in the chapter where the dragon acknowledges the supremacy of the monster, he hands over a French fleur-de-lys, the symbol of France to the old and dreaded enemy. It comes from Revelations 12:1-2—
“And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with 10 horns and seven heads, with 10 diadems upon its horns and a blasphemous name upon its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it, the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.” It's worth reading for this is stirring stuff.
Tip: If you can, either read Revelations before you go so you’re familiar with the story or find a shortened version and take it with you. It gives you a far greater understanding of the bloody warfare you see in this extraordinary work.
A Bit of History
The tapestry was woven in Paris between 1373 and 1382 for Louis I of Anjou. Originally 133 meters (436 feet) long and six meters (20 feet) high, it was designed by Hennequin de Bruges. He was the foremost painter of the Bruges School who lived in France from 1368 as an employee of the French King Charles V (1364 to 1380). As his inspiration for the images, he took one of the King’s own illuminated manuscripts. Those designs were then woven into 100 separate tapestries by Nicolas Bataille and Robert Poincon over seven years.
At first, it was hung in the cathedral of Angers on major festival days. But during the French Revolution, the tapestry was cut into pieces for its protection and given to different people. After the Revolution, a Canon of the cathedral gathered the pieces back (all apart from 16 which have never been recovered and were probably destroyed), and the tapestry was restored between 1843 and 1870.
Angers Castle, 2 Promenade du Bout du Monde, 49100 Angers, France
- May 2 to September 4: 9.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m.
- September 5 to April 30: 10 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.
- Last entrance 45 minutes before closing time
January 1, May 1, November 1, November 11, and December 25
Adult 8.50 euros; 18 to 25 years old free for citizens of an EU country; under 18 free
Where to Stay
There are plenty of good hotels in this vibrant city. Try the charming Hotel du Mail at 8, rue des Ursules.
Or go for the rather grand 19th-century atmosphere of the Best Western Hotel d'Anjou, 1 Boulevard Marechal Foch.
The 4-Star Mercure Centre (1 place Pierre Mendes France) is easy to find as it's above the Convention Centre. Ask for a room overlooking the pretty public gardens at the back. Breakfast here is very good.
Getting to Angers from London.
Nearby Terra Botanica, one of the best theme parks in France.