Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Saints and stone boats

The earliest saints are said to have arrived on the shores of western Brittany in stone boats. A simple confusion of Latin cumba (coracle type boat) and old Breton koumm (a valley and therefore, trough)? Above, St Budoc rides the waves near Porspoder in his trough. It occurs to me that this rich vein has not yet been exploited by garden gnome manufacturers.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I am increasingly fascintated by the iconography of Catholicism in Basse Bretagne. Tomorrow I'm taking a group to some of the best of the parish closes in northern Finistere. Above is a scene from the extraordinary calvaire at Guimiliau. It shows the naked figure of Katel Gollet (Katherine the Witless) ensnared by demons and drawn into the gaping monster mouth of Hell for her sins. Which were? An over fondness for dancing.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Enclos paroissial

The parish close is a phenomenon mostly concentrated in northern Finistere, and largely the result of an influx of wealth from the linen trade with England. The elaborate, often theatrical, architectural form also became a kind of competitive sport as villages vied with one another for the most flamboyant display. The essential elements of church, sacristy, triumphal arch, calvary and ossuary (some still containing bones) were contained within a precinct wall to keep out wandering animals and mark the territory of the dead. Most extraordinary element was the calvaire, artistically educational, designed to teach the story of life, death and resurrection in a sophisticated granite cartoon strip often containing dozens of scenes and hundreds of finely drawn figures.