There Are Places We’ll Remember All Our Lives: Le Mans

Posted on December 15, 2013 by

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Google ‘Le Mans’ and pages of THE RACE come up but we didn’t go to look at cars whizzing round the block, we were there to see the magnificent Cathedral.

Known as Le Cité Plantagenet, Le Mans is where Henry II was born and hoped to die. But for his ghastly son, he would have. This was Henry’s city, a city he loved, a city his son Richard the so called Lion Heart, took with his ailing, ageing, father inside it. When Richard stormed Le Mans, Henry ordered the suburbs be burnt to impede his advance but the wind turned and set the city on fire. A humiliated Henry was forced to accept his son’s terms. Persuaded to give him the kiss of peace, instead Henry hissed in his ear ‘God grant that I die not until I have avenged myself on thee’. A broken man, he was taken from Le Mans to die at Chinon.

Richard died, not as a lion hearted hero in battle, as he would have liked to be remembered, but of greed. Hearing that a treasure trove of Roman gold artefacts had been found in a castle near Limoges he hared over there to grab it. Walking around the perimeter minus chain mail he saw something which made him laugh. A man was standing on the walls with a crossbow in one hand and a frying pan in the other. He was using it as a shield. When he aimed at Richard, the king, still laughing, applauded him. At that very moment, another archer struck the king in the shoulder. Richard tried to pull it out in the privacy of his tent but failed. A ‘surgeon’ also tried but mangled the King’s arm. The wound swiftly became gangrenous. Richard died in his mother’s arms. His heart was buried at Rouen Cathedral. His body is with those of his father and mother in Fontevraud Abbey.

Although, tempus fugit and all that, we could not stay to see the Son et Lumière we were there for La Nuit des Chimères (night of the chimeras – mythical beasts). As we climbed the steep narrow street to the cathedral admiring the half-timbered houses we were astonished to see multi coloured gargoyles and beasts projected on to the cobbles.

Another treat was Le Musée de la Reine Bérengère. Poor Berengaria. We know all about her. In a Templar cave in Royston near us her image is carved on the wall. Her crown is floating above her because, although crowned Queen of England in Cyprus where she married Richard I, she was never crowned in England. Neither did she lose her virginity given that Richard, the same Richard who stormed Le Mans, was homosexual. They got married in Cyprus where Richard stopped off on his way to the Crusade, the Crusade he bankrupted England for.

When Berengaria, with the Pope’s help, managed to claw back part of her dowry from Richard’s brother, the equally vile King John, she retired to Le Mans where she owned property left to her in Richard’s Will.

Wikipedia led us on a wild goose chase when we tried to visit the supposedly nearby L’ Épau, the abbey she founded and where she died. We drove to the village where Wikipedia said it was, only to find it was the wrong one. A local, despairing at our mangled French, insisted on jumping in the back seat to guide us there. Gauche! Droite! Tout Droite! Arretez!! Vous êtes ici! He jumped out ON a roundabout to Gallic screams which did not come from us. Ah memories. The cherry on the Le Mans cake.

Then it was on to Tours, Amboise and Chenonceau

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