The Betania Monastery of the Nativity of the Mother of God is a remarkable piece of architecture of the 'Golden Age' of the Kingdom of Georgia, at the turn of the 11th and 12th centuries, and is notable for its wall paintings which include a group portrait of the contemporary Georgian monarchs.
The history of the monastery is poorly recorded in Georgian historical tradition. It was a familial abbey of the House of Orbeli. A series of conflicts and foreign invasions that fill the history of Georgia left the monastery depopulated and half-ruined. It was restored, in the latter half of the 19th century. Betania remained the only operating Georgian monastery, though unofficially, until 1963 when it also became defunct for the next 15 years. In 1978, the energetic Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II succeeded in obtaining permission from the Soviet authorities to reopen a monastery at Betania. In the 1990s, the cloister was refurnished and the local monastic community grew in size and influence.
The monastery’s territory seems to have been surrounded by a massive wall, but only dismembered stones scattered in the adjacent forest have survived of it. The extant edifices are a principal domed church of the Nativity of the Mother of God (constructed at the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries), a smaller hall church of St. George (1196), and a ruined tower.
The church of the Nativity of the Mother of God is a cross-in-square design with a dome and built of stone, with some external carved decoration in the eastern façade where traditional niches have multifoil or scalloped tops connected to the frame of the middle window. Its high dome, slightly shifted to the east, rests upon the two westerly located freely standing pillars and ledges of the altar. The southern entrance portal is fronted by the gate roofed with a star-shaped vault. Modern scholars have surmised that the church is actually an expanded, domed and decorated version of an earlier basilica probably dating from the 10th century.
The interior is adorned with significantly damaged murals which mark one of the high points of medieval Georgian wall painting. The conch of the altar contains a scene of Supplication of which only the fragments of the figure of an enthroned Christ have survived. The walls of the apses behind the altar are decorated with the frescos of Prophets holding scrolls with Georgian inscriptions. The northern wall is occupied by a cycle of the Passion of the Christ while the southern wall contains the scenes from the Old Testament and the western – those of the Last Judgment.
The north transept of the monastery is notable for the depiction of the Georgian monarchs dating from c. 1207. These are the portraits of George III (r. 1156–1184), his daughter Queen Tamar (r. 1184–1213), and the son of the latter George IV (r. 1213–1223). The Russian prince Grigory Gagarin discovered and cleaned the image of Tamar in 1851, and published his drawings and reports the same year. George IV is shown as a beardless young man in Georgian court robes, but he wears a crown and sword. These attributes suggest that George is depicted as a young king after his co-coronation with his mother, which took place after the death of his father, David Soslan, in 1207. The painting, therefore, helps to determine the approximate date of the Betania church. An important irregularity observed by modern scholars is that none of the secular figures at Betania has a halo, an attribute that was normally used in Georgian imagery to distinguish a royal person from the rest of society.References:
The Château de Fougères is an impressive castle with curtain wall and 13 towers. It had three different enclosures, first for defensive purposes, second for day to day usages in peacetime and for safety of the surrounding populations in times of siege, the last enclosure was where the keep was situated.
The first wooden fort was built by the House of Amboise in the 11th century. It was destroyed in 1166 after it was besieged and taken by King Henry II of England. It was immediately rebuilt by Raoul II Baron de Fougères. Fougères was not involved in the Hundred Years' War until 1449 when the castle was taken by surprise by an English mercenary. In 1488 the French troops won the castle back after a siege and the castle lost its military role.
In the late 18th century the castle was turned into a prison. The owner in this period was the Baron Pommereul. In the 19th century the outer ward became an immense landscaped garden. A museum was established in the Mélusine Tower. During the Industrial Revolution, a shoe factory set up shop in the castle grounds.
The City of Fougères took ownership of the Château in 1892. It had been a listed Historical Monument since 1862. A major campaign was launched to clean up the castle walls. While the castle had retained many of its original features, some of the curtain walls needed to be cleared and certain sections required major repairs. The changes made in the 18th century were "reversed," and the castle was finally open to visitors. The first campaign of archaeological excavations, conducted in 1925, unearthed the ruins of the manor house.
Since then, the Château de Fougères has welcomed tens of thousands of visitors every year. The castle's excellent state of conservation, and the historical interest of its architecture, make Fougères an invaluable window onto the Middle Ages. From great lords to simple builders, generations of inhabitants have left their mark on these walls.