Tag Archives: History

Château de Menthon St. Bernard

Green- it’s everywhere, surrounding the harsh stone cliffs and lapping at the castle’s feet. Red roofed towers point their sharp skulls through the fog and break the rolling air, cascading across rocked edges. 

It is easy to see why this Chateau was the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Red paneled windows and painted roofs send me instantly to my childhood and the joyous promenade of flags and families at the start of the film.

As if the castle’s appearance wasn’t impressive enough, the structure dates back through 23 generations of the Menthon family. Originally built in the 11th century, the family of Counts continued to expand their construction into the 20th century. 

Now operating with plumbing and electricity, part of the Chateau remains the residence of the same family. The other part exists as an exhibit for tourists and locals to travel through time. 

To the left of the castle, a little garden of medicinal herbs and spices is cultivated by the grounds keepers. Labeled and manicured just as they would have been through the middle ages. 

Animals rest next to the garden, a lamb, some roaming donkeys outside, a pair of chickens, and multiple peacocks occupying the land just before the sprawling vineyard. To this day, the castle’s vineyard produces local wine, though another family oversees the process. 

Briar Roses

What would have happened if he forgot to kiss me?

And the vines overtook stone with their binding arms,

thorns prickling my hem through the open window

Would I be overgrown?

Would my nails grow long beside my idle limbs,

my hair cascading in knots across the bed and onto the floor?

Would I spill over the edge, and would we be buried, 

living but not quite alive?

Would you take me now, as your prize?

Mount my flower on your wall of corpses,

I’ll stay pinned and pretty, I promise. 

Forget my string of lovers and 

I’ll forget yours, I promise.

Before you call me yours, I will be,

placing your lips on mine, you claim me.

This is how the story goes, 

you marry me with silver inlays

and introduce me to pearl’s mother.

Prick your finger on my poison

and it tastes so sweet. 

You have me, but we will never have

Absolute serenity, only this hovering peace.

Love close enough to touch but not to grasp; 

compelled affection cannot hold with closed fist.

This freedom lies just out of privileged reach.

With a small group, we made our way through the Chateau’s most historic rooms. Starting with a small courtyard, the open air was lined with passageways and balconies above. 

The small doorways and petite hallways stood out, reminiscent of the smaller figures that occupied these halls centuries prior. As such, our modern size made it difficult to shuffle from room to room but ultimately allowed us to slow down and appreciate the antique details of the castle.

Reaching the Menthon family’s personal chapel, I took in the intricate medley of stone, wood, and gold. A site of tranquil devotion, the small room holds artifacts and art through multiple centuries. The ornate robes of religious officials are kept behind glass alongside golden chalices and open ancient texts.

Next, we entered the kitchen. Slightly larger than the previous room, it resembled the courtyard with wooden passages forming a triangle of open air. 

One oven and one table took most of the kitchen space, with two cavities carved into the floor and covered by thick glass. Filled with ash, the cavities operated as pseudo fridges in the early centuries. Kept cool within the building’s stone, the compartments remain close to freezing year-round. 

Though the kitchen’s limited appliances and layout were thoughtfully constructed, its location within the castle was not. Placed on the opposite side of the family’s dining room, the designers remedied this problem by burrowing a service tunnel that allowed servants to propel meals through the walls with a system of pulleys and tracks. I’ve never seen anything like it. 

As we ascended the tight, circled stairway, we were led into my favorite room. The library.

Over 12,000 books lined the floor-to-ceiling bookcases, all dating back to before the French Revolution in 1789. I was in complete awe. On a table rested a book of law documents, open to a page signed by King Louis XIV.

Three walls bursting with books were completed by the fourth wall’s wooden mantle, telling the story of St. Bernard of Menthon in eight parts. Thought to be one of the first residents of the Chateau, born in 1008 and passing in 1081, St. Bernard boasts a life of incredible charity and religious devotion.

The legend goes, St. Bernard was engaged to a rich heiress, but knowing that he desired a religious life, his father locked him in his room before the wedding. There, St. Nicholas appeared and instructed him to jump from the window. 

Heeding his advice, St. Bernard lept from the open window and was immediately caught and carried to Aosta, Italy, by an angel. There he helped build hospice structures for pilgrims and anachronistically healed patients of the black plague. (The black plague occurred in 1348, 267 years after St. Bernard’s death). 

At last, he returned to the family castle, where he was forgiven by all.  After, St. Bernard rose to the rank of king in heavenly paradise. 

Moving on to the great saloon, one can see St. Bernard’s supposed room and the fateful window just to the left of the room’s grand fireplace. 

The center of entertainment and relaxation for the Menthons, this room also charts the family history through portraits and paintings of its members and their various coat of arms. Aside from St. Bernard’s chamber, the great saloon also hosts the room occupied by the Counts of the 19th century and a smaller saloon where many objects of the last century rest. 

Moving toward the Countesses’ bedroom, we observed a slightly grander chamber with wall-to-wall tapestries and a rather petite bed. Redecorated in 1820, this room was home to the Countesses of Menthon over the last few centuries.

The bed, slightly arched and small, was built in this way due to superstition at the time. It was thought that lying in a flat position was reserved for the dead and was therefore avoided by the living. Negligibly creepy bed aside, I was impressed by the attention to detail that stuck to every part of the room.

Wooden cabinets were inlaid with gold and mother of pearl, carved intricately with delicate strokes. The tapestries depict scenes of the surrounding nature, and in the corner lies a dress ruffle owned by none other than Marie Antoinette. 

The grand finale came with the pilgrim’s room. An expansive said to house those who journeyed far to see the site of St. Bernard. 

Equipped with a small oven, religious paintings, a long table set, and ancient arms, this room maintains a communal feel that has no doubt extended through the ages. Helmets above the mantel date back to before the 9th century and the construction of the castle itself.

Exiting the Chateau, I remained in awe. The sheer beauty and integrity of the castle rival anything I could possibly imagine in America. 

Chateau

Guarded & Silent.

Stone cage & Gold chain.

This is how you find me. 

Make me home.

Clean my bones & Paint me pretty again.

Carve your crest into my arms.

Cover me in quilts & Stamp my hands with new ink.

This way, I’ll never really change.

You will

Grow gray & Sag skin.

But all I need is polish.

Bury yourself & I’ll take care of the rest.

Your body a bulb 

I will surround with water.

What a beautiful history

you can have with me.

My limbs may fall

but what do I care?

They’ll be mended in next bulb’s bloom.

More parties & calamities will ricochet inside me,

but I will always love your blood

run through any veins

I will hold your tired body with mine.

€1 Sundays pt. 3: Bayerisches National Museum

Of my triad of €1 museums, the Bayerisches National Museum holds the greatest amount of intrigue and history by far. At 167 years old, not only does this composite collection’s own history supersede that of its current colleagues, but stands as one of the sole representations of Bavarian history from its own perspective. 

Its story begins in 1825 with the death of King Maximillian I Joseph of Bavaria and his kingdom’s transfer into the hands of his grandson, King Maximillian II. 

Driven by his promise to fulfill his grandfather’s wishes of establishing a collection of the Wittelsbach dynasty’s artifacts and preserving the royal family’s history, Maximilian II began exploring the developing world of national museums.

In 1851 he attended London’s World Fair, where he was instantly inspired by the emerging trend of nations showcasing timelines of their technological and historical achievements to the public through collections housed in museum galleries. Taking this notion to his own dominion, Maximilian II committed to collecting an extensive record of Bavaria’s royal achievements and history. 

Of course, as an 1800s Bavarian King, Maximilian II left the cultivation of his ambitious project to the charge of the Royal Bavarian Director of Archives, Karl Maria Von Aretin. Realizing his vision, Von Aretin succeeded in identifying and preserving the cultural record of Bavaria. 

With an initial focus on art and artifacts of the Middle Ages, Von Aretin set out to represent all of Bavaria’s recorded eras up to 1800. This required the king to pull pieces from his Residenz Palace in Munich as well as from other Wittelsbach palaces around the country. 

Opening in the year 1855, the Bayerisches National Museum found its first home at the Maxiburg in Munich’s Kreuzviertel. For 45 years, the collection lived at this late 16th-century residence for Bavarian Dukes.

Just a few decades after its 1900 transfer to its current occupation of a wing in Munich’s Pinzregentenstrasse, the museum underwent reacquisition under the aspirations of Hitler. 

With a plan to transform Munich under his authority, many pieces were taken from Maximillian II’s collection to serve Hitler’s personal preference and to bolster the emerging museum branches such as the Bavarian Army Museum and the Achaologische Staatssammlung. 

As WWII raged on, the museum was forced to evacuate its walls, preserving its pieces while great halls of the building were bombed and dissolved into rubble. At the end of the war, the museum’s directors began restoration. 

Save for an assembly of shattered porcelain crockery, the museum’s great pieces were salvaged; and, with the completion of restoration in 1955, welcomed a new wave of patrons. 

The current gallery spans from Late antiquity to Art Nouveau, leading you through a layout of Bavarian history that covers all aspects of their cultural life. Wooden furniture and halls, silver cutlery and porcelain plates, ivory figures and tusked candleholders, woodwinds and strings and pianos, backgammon and chess sets, weaponry and armor, sculptures and tombs take you through an extensive experience of Bavaria.

With an eerie beauty, the pieces housed by the Bayaerisches National Museum exude a haunting presence; heavy with the history they have seen, the dark wood, pressed metal, and bright ivory emits somber energy that goosebumps your skin as your eyes graze their collection.

Domesticity

To wake every day to a cross over your head, 

the weight of what you can and cannot do 

resting heavy on your bed. 

To hear the creak of wooden voices,

crying with linseed mouths,

a pale orifice drawn across Wittelsbach blue and white. 

Dresser doors swing stories open with their hinges,

obscuring frozen faces with their open arms. 

To break sleep, grateful for this wooden metropolis,

no dirt floors or thatched roofs, 

your feet cross timber grain 

and your blonde hair never sees the sun inside.

You sit prettily, back pressed straight with corset ribs,

elbows resting on that round, splinterless corner.

Eyes locked in contest with the circled portraits,

faces guarding kitchen tables.

The green man sings as he cooks,

pipe kind and warm 

he hangs this tight wooden room with the thick smoke

of breakfast. 

This Emerald before Oz,

he gifts you comfort 

before commercial. 

Porcelain and Ivory Affair

Even dainty fingers,

white as European wet dreams,

take hue from Chinese porcelain-

imitate from African ivory.

These precious, delicate, white fancies taken

and rocked to sleep by foreign ships,

sung lullabies by sirens, and

polished by salty lips.

These fabrics trekked through more culture

than the white-washed figures 

they twist to impersonate. 

Here, they are painted 

with the thin-thistled brushes

of cleaner hands,

unsoiled by the virtue of the world’s dust.

They are looked upon 

by powdered eyes, and 

judged down the noses of those cultured 

by the blood in their veins.

Here, they say:

foreign pieces- how profound!

How remarkably mendable,

how ready and white they glisten-

primed for European salvation.

Duels

Even in stone, our fair eyes are downcast,
subservient to the stare of our chisel-toothed masters.
We are unworthy of our husband’s and son’s silver.

As our children weigh their small bodies down for battle,
the only silver we touch is to our lips.
The only iron linked in the gifted chains around our necks,
hanging like the noose of a dead man.

But we are not dead,
the men and their manly fruit do the dying for us.
Count us lucky in their final moments.
Who are we to complain?

We are the lucky to lie lifeless in wooden cage houses,
where our bodies are used to spawn more militia for death.
The lucky to make no tough choices
just take the brunt of their consequences;
privileged to bear more sons,
to break our bodies into breeding and bleeding life.

We, the lucky to dwell in locked stone towers,
running our hands through the same locks again and again
until the hair catches on our rounded fingernails,
until it is caught in our throats
like a cat hurting herself with grooming.

Nothing to do but look at our reflection in mercury mirrors.
Admire our luck.

Call dark circles our smokey eye,
bruises our blush, and
bless these lips into a smile.

Garments (18th Century)

No iron cast, but we are cast in silk.

Our armor these iron hips that force distance.

A welcome defense, a delay between you

and unguarding our garters. 

Beautiful, in linen and lace, we step

allure with ribbons and 

incite with shapes 

unachievable without tight breath

and even tighter bones that break our own.

Our eyes droop with deficient breath,

so you see our delicate weakness. 

You can take a sword, 

swift and sharp, 

carving through your ribs.

Would you give the same silent grimace

to iron carving your ribs into a new shape?

Could you swig shallow breath

and not drown in silk chainmail?

You say yes with your simple minds,

and your arms catch our feigned falls,

eyes dripping down our bodiced necks.

No doubt you linger on how easy it would be to break,

to snap our pretty bones and 

paint our dyed dresses cherry red.

This isn’t the worst you could do,

though you think it so. 

The worst we do is bruise your pride,

sentencing you to nothing 

but the knowledge of a simple answer

to a question, you will never ask. 

You will separate linen and skin,

worse than skin and bones.

You will ruin tomorrow,

worse than taking it away.

You will hold our hands and necks gently,

and still smell the metallic juice 

of cherries.