Every summer the town of Le Mans creates its own outdoor cinema with the wondrous "Nuits des Chimeres". A feast for the eyes, every evening at nightfall the old "Cité Plantagenet" comes to life with this free light show. Different parts of the town including the cathedral, the ramparts and the Jacobin fountain are painted with colour. The cathedral is not to be missed, spectacular. Photographers, don't forget your tripods.
This year (2013) the show starts on the 2nd July until the 1st of September, every evening except Mondays at nightfall and it is FREE.
For those that cannot stand the constant noise of the "normal" Le Mans 24 hours race, there is always this "classic" where Bugatti, Packhard, Ford GT40 still mean something and the circuit is littered with ols Lotus 7's, Morgans, Jaguar E-types and other beauties from a few years back. There is of course racing going on, but not with the same frenzy. With a simple ticket you're able to walk all the way round (without access to the stands and paddocks) but there are some exceptionnal cars to look at.
This year (2012) the public is admitted from the 6th July.
Every year around the same period La Mans stages its circus carnival along the Sarthe river, through some of the old streets and around the cathedral. With a circus theme there are acts from around France plus differents associations have floats. For the kids this is a great evening starting around 20h30 on Saturday 30th June 2012 (this years date).
The choir stalls are covered by a series of 16C tapestries on thelives of Sts. Gervase and Protase. in a vivid style. I know nothing about them except that a church in their honor looks at the back (east side) of the Hotel de Ville in Paris. There are tapstries in other parts of the church to St. Julian and banners of bishop's of similar type hanging on the walls.
The two tombs at the North Transept are fine examples of funerary sculpture. The classical looking one is of Charles d'Anjou (died 1472) and is by Francesco Laurana a very famous Florentine from Croatia. The second showing a man reclining on his bent arm is of Guillaume de Bellay (died 1573), a powerful deputy of Francois I (also of Italian origin). Over South in the chapel before the Sacristy is a terracotta Entombment (17C) and in another chapel a marble one (of which I do not know the provenance).
The transepts were the last addition to the church (14-15C) and a graceful addition. The North Rose has 15C glass while the South transept is filled by a large 16C organ loft. The stonework of the North end is particularly elaborate. In the East arm of the North transept is the Baptismal Chapel and at its entrance are two exceptional tombs.
The Choir and a double ambulatory were started in 1217 along witha raising of the height of the nave roof.This was designed to be as tall (actually taller) as Notre Dame de Paris. The ambulatory has a megical 7-segment partition with 7 radiating chapels, the largest being the apsidial Lady Chapel with a 17C wrought-iron grill. The inner ambulatory is lined with very tallcolumns which eliminate a second (triforium ) level , which only appears in the outer ambulatory as an extension of the rest of the church design. It is homogeneous and quite spectacular in spite of the fact that 3 architects in succession were in charge of the construction. ( The supportive famous flying buttresses must have dictated the form). The many windows are filled with 13C stained glass, and this is true for some of the chapels.
The interior of the Cathedral reflects its long building period. The nave is pure Romanesque with 11C (!) round arches. later raised to points within elevated Angevine vaulting. This is supported upon the alternating thick and thin pillars making for two-arched segments. The capitals are decorated and support atlantoid grotesques are added. The aisle walls at the lower level have a blind rounded arcade, that is echoed in the apsidial chapels. The nave was used all through the 12C and the Gothic chancel was started in 1217(described as a separate Tip) with lots of 13C glass. The 16C choir stall are draped with 16C tapestries of Sts. Gervase and Protase. The large West front window has remnants of very old glass (restored heavily), but the adjacent windows over the nave have some of the oldest glass in place in a church anywhere. To see the glass you need binoculars and to photo them (I tried) you need good technic and camera. The oldest is an Assumption with figures looking skyward.
The western part of the cathedral rests high up in the old town. The apse and flying buttresses sit above a wall that is part of the old ramparts and look far down on the Place des Jacobins. The south porch, the west facade, and the menhir are in the open high ground in the old town, as are the south side of the nave and the S. transept as far as the sacristy, but not beyond. Access to the Cathedral is by the South Porch or through a gate through the wall from below the apse which leads up a path to an entrance next to one of the apsidial chapels, which opens into the ambulatory. The interior may be seen from each of these approaches.
There are many fine old buildings around the church. Beyond the West Facade ther are a Renaissance Turret House and a 16C mansion nxt to it. Interesting buildings jut out in every direction and down each street and alley. The r. Berengere is a good example--look ahead and around.
Just beyond the south end of the West Facade of the cathedral. on its south side is a tall red stone with curved parallel ridges carved into its surface. This is a menhir (Breton for tall stone). We were to subsequently see numerous others in Brittany (and one much larger). It is customary to touch it as a mystic symbol that you will return here (we have 3 times). On one trip, it motivated our 10 yr old grandson to become familiar with the French cartoon character Asterix and from there ancient history. No one knows what they or their carving symbolize (certainly not missiles to use against the Romans as Asterix and company did).
The Tympanum shows Christ in Majesty and the four symbols of the Evangelists. The lintel below contains the apostles. The voussoirs (archivolt) figures are lively and clear with an inner circle of censing angels.
Do not miss the famous South Portal which is under the Porch on the south outer side, half-way down the nave. The 10 column statues on the jambs and embrasures were created at the same time as those at Chartres (12C; by the same artisans?) as well as the tympanum and the rest. A similar iconography was used here. On each jamb are Sts. Peter and Paul. Then on the left King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The others are prophets and a sybil.(It may be the wear of centuries, but to me these figures look less rigid than those at Chartres). They all stand on decorated pedestals. The archivolts are carefully sculpted with the inner ring containing censing angels and the outer ones scenes from the lives of Christ or the Virgin. The Visitation is easy to recognize on your right.
Unless you know about it in advance, the West Facade is a surprise. You expect something else having seen the apsidial flying buttresses from afar. Instead what you see is pure archaic Romanesque, unadorned, with a large central door and two small lateral doors, all rather plainly set. The most prominent feature is a large upper window (which has some very old glass, much repaired). The Cathedral was started in the 11C and services were held in the Nave as work progressed. In the 12C a South Porch with a Great Portal improved matters as the nave was Gothicized and revaulted in Plantagenet style. If you look closely at the upper part of the facade, you can see where the extra stonework depicts the upward growth of the church.
At the end of r. Beregere it opens into an area with a deep bridge-access road which serves as a traffic release for the center of town. On the far side pf this, we see another group of old houses including one with the name of the Red Pillar House. Pat more old houses we turn right down a steep set of stairs that lead through a passage in the Gallo-Roman walls. Built upon the wall remains are more old houses. Just above the river roadway we turn right and admire more of the wall until an access stair on the right allows us to climb back up to the Place desJacobins behind the Cathedral apse.