Thursday, January 22, 2009

We visit some famous Parish Closes

We all met on Wednesday morning at the church of St-Thegonnec, south west of Morlaix, for an educational day, visiting three of Brittany’s famous Parish Closes. These were built mainly in the 16th and 17th centuries and reflect the wealth, particularly in the region of Léon, resulting mainly from the linen trade with England. At that time, personal wealth was used for the benefit of the community, particularly as an expression of faith and local pride. The wealthy peasants, because it was the peasants who benefited from the economic wellbeing of the period, paid for these Closes and competition arose between communities to see who could build the biggest and the best.
A Parish Close consisted of, on the exterior, the triumphal arch entry gateway, modelled on the Roman triumphal arch, the Ossuary (a funeral chapel where bones were kept, often with a scene of sculpted figures showing the ‘Mise en Tombeau’ (Christ being placed in his tomb)), the Calvaire depicting the life, death and resurrection of Christ, the porch with statues of the Apostles and the Sacristry. The interior would contain the Baptistry, Pulpit, Altarpieces, statues of the Saints, the ‘Poutre de Gloire’ (beam of glory), and processional banners for the pardons (celebration of Saints’ Days).
We visited three parish closes – those of St-Thegonnec, Guimiliau, and Lampaul-Guimiliau. They are all similar in their constituent parts, but very different in the way in which these are presented. Apart from the coffee at the Salon de Thé at Guimiliau, which was very welcome as the day was quite cold, what was it that struck me most?
The Calvaries were so different. At St-Thegonnec, the Calvary has nine scenes on the main frieze. The one at Guimiliau, by contrast, depicts 200 people in the scenes of Christ’s life, death and resurrection and the carving is spectacular. However, at Lampaul-Guimiliau there was far less decoration, it was a much plainer piece of work. The interior of the church at St-Thegonnec was badly damaged by fire in 1998, but has been wonderfully restored. The door to the ossuary at Lampaul-Guimiliau is quite lovely, depicting the tree of life, but over the door is the usual reminder that we will all die. Inside the church at Guimiliau, the beautifully carved organ was made by Thomas Dallam, an Englishman who fled Cromwell’s England to produce such tremendous pieces of work for the Catholic church abroad. The baptistery at Lampaul-Guimiliau was colourful, as indeed were the altarpieces; the Poutre de Gloire was magnificent. All three Closes were lovely in their own particular ways.
Oh, and you may be asking what has this got to do with walking? Well we did do a walk, albeit short, between eating our picnic lunches and visiting Lampaul-Guimiliau, taking in the Fontaine de Ste Anasthasie, killed by her father because she wouldn’t marry the man he wanted her to! And we had just one canine friend with us today, Merlin.
What did Alan & I take away from today? The desire to see the rest of the Breton Closes – a project perhaps for the coming Spring and Summer.
Liz (and photos by Alan) Quantrell

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