AskDefine | Define arras

Dictionary Definition

arras n : a wall hanging of heavy handwoven fabric with pictorial designs [syn: tapestry]

User Contributed Dictionary



from the French city of Arras, which was a major source for tapestries in the 16th century




Extensive Definition

Arras (lang-nl Atrecht) is a town and commune in northern France, préfecture (capital) of the Pas-de-Calais département. The historic centre of the Artois region, its local speech is nonetheless characterized as a Picard dialect. Unlike many French words, the final "s" in the name should be pronounced.


Arras was founded on the hill of Baudimont by the Celtic tribe of the Atrebates, who named it Nemetacum or Nemetocenna in reference to a nemeton (sacred grove) that probably existed there. It was later renamed Atrebatum by the Romans, under whom it became an important garrison town.
The townspeople were converted to Christianity in the late 4th century by Saint Diogenes, who was killed in 410 during a barbarian attack on the town. Around 130 years later, St. Vedast (also known as St. Vaast) established an episcopal see in the town and a monastic community, which developed during the Carolingian period into the immensely wealthy Benedictine Abbey of St. Vaast). The modern town of Arras initially grew up around the abbey as a grain market. Both town and abbey suffered during the 9th century from the attacks of the Vikings, who later settled to the west in Normandy. The abbey revived its strength in the 11th century and played an important role in the development of medieval painting, successfully synthesising the artistic styles of Carolingian, Ottonian and English art.
Although the woollen industry of Arras had been established in the 4th century, it only really came into its own during the Middle Ages. The town was granted a commercial charter by the French crown in 1180 and became an internationally important location for banking and trade. By the 14th century it had gained renown and considerable wealth from the cloth and wool industry, and was particularly well known for its production of fine tapestries - so much so that in English and Italian the word "arras" (in Italian, "arrazzi") was adopted to refer to tapestries in general.
The Union of Atrecht (the Dutch name for Arras) was signed here in January 1579 by the Catholic principalities of the Low Countries that remained loyal to king Philip II of Habsburg; it provoked the declaration of the Union of Utrecht later the same month.
During the First World War, Arras was near the front and a long series of battles fought nearby are known as the Battle of Arras in which a series of medieval tunnels beneath the city, unknown to the Germans, became a decisive factor in the British forces holding the city. The city, however, was heavily damaged and had to be rebuilt after the war. In the Second World War, during the invasion of France in March 1940, the town was the focus of a major British counter attack. The town was occupied by the Germans and 240 suspected French Resistance members were executed in the Arras citadel.

Ecclesiastical history

Councils of Arras

In 1025 a council was held at Arras against certain Manichaean (dualistic) heretics who rejected the sacraments of the Church. The Catholic Faith in the Blessed Eucharist was proclaimed with special insistence. In 1097, two councils, presided over by Lambert of Arras, dealt with questions concerning monasteries and persons consecrated to God.


The centre of the town is marked by three large squares, the Grande Place, the Place des Héros, and the Petite Place. These are surrounded by buildings largely restored to their pre-war World War I conditions. Most notable are the Gothic town hall (rebuilt in a slightly less grandiose style after the war) and the 19th-century cathedral.
The original cathedral of Arras, constructed between 1030 and 1396, was one of the most beautiful Gothic structures in northern France. It was destroyed in the French Revolution.
Many of Arras's most notable structures, including the museum and several government buildings, occupy the site of the old Abbaye de Saint-Vaast. The abbey's church was demolished and rebuilt in fashionable classical style in 1833, and now serves as the town's cathedral. The design was chosen by the one-time Abbot of St Vaast, the Cardinal de Rohan, and is stark in its simplicity, employing a vast number of perpendicular angles. There is a fine collection of statuary within the church and it houses a number of religious relics.
Vimy Memorial is a memorial just north of the town honouring a major World War I battle, the Battle of Vimy Ridge, which marked the first time Canada fielded an entire army of its own. Four Canadian divisions fought there on Easter weekend 1917. The Battle of Vimy Ridge was part of the broader Allied offensive in April known as the Battle of Arras. Vimy was the only victory the Allies would enjoy during their 1917 spring offensive. The Basilica of Notre Dame de Lorette, overlooking the nearby village of Ablain-Saint-Nazaire, likewise stands before one of France's largest World War I necropolises. Part of an extensive network of tunnels dug in World War I by British Empire and Commonwealth soldiers can be visited at the Carrière Wellington museum in the suburbs.


Arras is served by the LGV Nord high speed railway.


In literature

Arras is a setting in several famous works of French literature:
Arras is also mentioned in the novel Generals Die in Bed by Charles Yale Harrison, Canadian soldiers are depicted looting the town during World War I.


Arras was the birthplace of:

See also


External links

arras in Afrikaans: Arras
arras in Catalan: Arràs
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arras in Hebrew: אראס
arras in Latin: Nemetacum
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arras in Japanese: アラス
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arras in Norwegian Nynorsk: Arras
arras in Occitan (post 1500): Arràs
arras in Polish: Arras (Pas-de-Calais)
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