We have just spent a few days in Burgundy with the Lincolnshire branch. The ultimate destination was Dijon, Burgundy’s capital, but our first overnight stop was at St. Quentin. Our lunch stop the following day was Troyes. A beautiful town where the medieval buildings are still very much in evidence.
It was here in 1420 that Henry V and Catherine de Valois were married. There are differing opinions as to exactly where this took place. Some accounts give the cathedral, but the older accounts and French sources give the church of Saint-Jean-au-Marché. St. Jean was then the parish church and close to where Henry V was staying.
Our first visit in Dijon was to Le Musée des Beaux–Arts. The museum is housed in what was originally a palace for the Dukes of Burgundy. Since that time it has been changed, renovated and used for many things; to
day it is the City Hall and museum. It still retains the tower Philippe le Hardi commissioned (pictured right) between 1365 and 1370. Philippe’s grandson, Philippe le Bonturned it into a real palace between 1430 and 1460. It was here on the second floor of the tower that René of Anjou (father of Margaret, Henry VI’s queen) was held prisoner between 1431-1436. René was also Duke of Bar and the tower was named Tour de Bar in his honour. His imprisonment was more house arrest than anything and he is said to have passed the time by painting.
It was Philippe le Bon who founded the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1430 to mark his marriage to Isabella of Portugal. In 1432 the Order was placed in the chapel of the palace where a relic of Saint Andrew, the patron saint of Burgundy, is kept. The stalls in the choir bore the coats of arms of the knights, but sadly only two have survived. Edward IV of England was made a knight of the Order in 1468 when his sister Margaret married Charles le Téméraire, son of Philippe le Bon.
The museum has far too many splendid items to mention them all, including suits of armour, paintings jewels and swords, one of which purports to be that of Joan of Arc.
I especially liked a funeral crown of Philip le Hardi, the design being on similar lines to the one used in Richard III’s re-interment.
Something that must not be missed is the Great Hall of Philippe le Bon as it contains two magnificent tombs. The tombs are breath taking and the intricate work that went into the carving of the mourners on the side of the tombs is amazing. The tombs, damaged during the French revolution have been beautifully restored.
Jean sans peur was the son of Philippe le Hardi whose tomb is also displayed.
The mourners around the sides of the tomb are almost lifelike and even more so viewed close up.
The rest of the party spent the afternoon visiting Fontenay Abbey, but Henry and I played hooky and remained in Dijon. We followed the Owl Trail which ends at the 13th C. church of Notre Dame where there is a small carving of an owl on the wall outside. The legend is that if you rub the owl with your left hand (the one closest to your heart) and make a wish, it will come true. (Well, we did make it back through the blockade at Calais)
In the Place Francois Rude, there is a statue of a man treading grapes. The locals refer to it as Place du Bareuzai, which apparently translates as ‘red stockings’. If you tread grapes for long enough it seems that your feet and legs become stained with the juice. (Don’t dwell on that thought when drinking your next glass of red wine!)
On Sunday we visited Beaune, a lovely town, whose most prized building is the Hôtel–Dieu. A former charitable almshouse founded in 1443 by Nicholas Rodin, chancellor of Burgundy and his wife Guigone de Salins. Now a museum, it is considered one of the finest examples of 15th C. architecture.
In November each year an important charity wine auction is held and is still a high point in the local wine calendar.
An order of Nuns established by Rolin looked after the patients. ‘Les sœurs hospitalières de Beaune’. The room of the poor contains two rows of curtained beds and the centre of the room had tables and benches for meals. In later years patients even had a bed to themselves! It is a bit like Browne’s hospital in Stamford, but on a much grander scale.
A cute little boar I noticed trying to hide beneath St Anthony’s robes.
Rogier van der Weyden’s altarpiece is also now housed in the museum.
The final visit of the trip was to Vézelay, a Benedictine Abbey famous as a major pilgrim site in the 15th C. Pilgrims would have visited Vézelay on their way to St James of Compostela. The abbey believes that it has the relics of Mary Magdalene, but another set found in Provence has caused some controversy! The abbey is a very imposing building at the top of quite a steep hill. In 1146 St. Bernard urged Louis VII to lead the French on the Second Crusade from here. It was also the starting point of the Third Crusade in 1190 when Richard I of England and Philippe Auguste of France joined forces. The building suffered damage over the years from revolution, wars and natural disasters. It was sympathetically restored in the 19th C. by Viollet le Duc.