Lady of the keys | Poitiers, France

According to local legend, when the city of Poitiers was besieged by the English in 1202, the mayor’s clerk promised to bring the keys to the city to them in exchange for a lot of money. But when he tried to steal the keys in the night, the clerk found that they had disappeared from the mayor’s office. In the morning, upon discovering that the keys were missing and that treason had been committed, the mayor went to pray and request a miracle at the church of Notre Dame la Grande, where he discovered the keys in the hands of a Virgin Mary statue. In the meantime, according to the legend, the English armies – disconcerted by the appearance of both Mary and the local saints Hilary and Radegund fell into disarray, started to fight among themselves and eventually fled the city.

Unfortunately for Poitiers’ pride, this is only a legend. According to historical fact, in 1202, Poitou formed part of the English duchy of Aquitaine, under the reigns of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. During the actual battle for the city in 1356, the English beat the French, captured their king and only released him for an enormous ransom.

Oh well.

Red, blue and yellow | Poitiers, France

To make things easier for tourists, the city of Poitiers has designed three possible walking tours and marked their routes along the pavement in the central part of the town. The self-guided tours, marked by red, blue and yellow lines all start at the Notre Dame la Grande church – they split up and occasionally come back together, taking the visitor around the city’s central districts and main landmarks. It was way too cold to follow them systematically, but seeing them on the ground definitely made me look up and try to consciously look around at the churches, buildings and parks by which they passed.