Guimiliau Things to Do

  • Things to Do
    by CatherineReichardt
  • Things to Do
    by CatherineReichardt
  • Things to Do
    by CatherineReichardt

Most Recent Things to Do in Guimiliau

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    The gorgeous retable of St Miliau

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Aug 21, 2012

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    Guimiliau ('Gwimilio' in Breton) means the 'settlement of St Miliau', the local patron saint. Celts does a good line in homegrown saints - virtually none of which are recognised by Rome - many of them local nobility who were subsequently elevated to sainthood. St Miliau is no exception, being a prince who was apparently killed by his evil brother Rivod (who's just got to be a 'baddie' with a name like that) in some dynastic infighting, who was canonised on account of his generosity to the poor.

    This splendid, brightly coloured retable (framed altarpiece) in Guimiliau's parish church celebrates several episodes in St Miliau's life and death. The lower panels depict him in his more common 'cephalophore' state (walking with his decapitated head under his arm) which seems to have been a particularly popular party trick for Celtic saints.

    If you're intrigued by the torrid life and times of saints of this period, then I would also suggest that you make a detour a little further north to the lovely village of Plouézoc'h to visit St Miliau's sainted son, St Melar, who ended up in even more pieces than his dad!

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    The understated ossuary

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Aug 12, 2012

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    By comparison with Saint-Thégonnec's flamboyant ossuary - complete with technicolou tableau of Jesus being laid out for burial - the ossuary at Guimiliau is a smaller and much more restrained structure.

    It was locked when we visited and I'm not sure whether this is the usual state of affairs or not. Regardless of that, a peek through the windows confirmed that it is no longer used for the purpose for which it was designed, and that the disinterred bones which it would previously have accommodated have been moved elsewhere.

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    The curious architecture of Guimiliau's church

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Aug 12, 2012

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    Guimiliau's parish church is an odd architectural hybrid, which seems one part European and one part Hobbit.

    The church was built in the 16th century and has a solid granite block construction, topped by an eclectic collection of slate roofs. It is further distinguished by its truly monumental parish close, which contains an ossuary and the largest Calvary in Bretagne. This part of Bretagne is justly renowned for its astonishing parish closes which have become a firmly entrenched element of Breton Catholicism, but whose roots can be traced back much earlier to the pre-Christian Druid tradition of 'sacred enclosures'.

    The parish close would have been - and still is - the focus of the annual 'pardon', a procession which takes place on the saint's day of the local patron saint to petition for forgiveness (see my Lohuec page for more details of a 'pardon' that we stumbled across on our travels).

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    St Guimiliau's massive Calvary

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Aug 12, 2012

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    It's difficult to know where to begin to describe the colossal Calvary that dominates the parish close at Guimiliau.

    To start with, it comprises more than 200 figures that depict different scenes from the Passion (trial and crucifixion) of Christ: to put this number into context, that's more than one carved figure for each five members of Guimiliau's current population!

    The quality of the carving is absolutely extraordinary, especially when you consider that it has been undertaken using the local granite. Granite is not a forgiving medium for sculpture, as it is both hard and coarse grained, making it difficult to execute fine detail. Nonetheless, the sculptors who created the Guimiliau Calvary have effortlessly overcome this challenge, and the figures are beautifully crafted.

    For me, the great charm of the Calvary is that it appeals on several levels. My initial impression was to be overwhelmed by the sheer bulk and complexity of the sculpture, and then to be drawn into the finer detail of each tableau. It must have been a very effective way of depicting the most important events of the New Testament for a largely illiterate congregation, with the gravity of the subject matter offset by certain whimsical details.

    With time, the rough surface of the granite provides an ideal medium for lichen growth (which would struggle to attach itself to smoother stone such as marble). This gives the sculptures an attractive weatherbeaten appearance and adds an extra dimension to these extraordinary sculptures.

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    The beautifully tranquil churchyard

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Aug 12, 2012

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    The grounds of Guimiliau's parish close are rather crowded, since they contain both the enormous Calvary and the splendid ossuary in a fairly small churchyard. Nonetheless, it somehow contrives to be a remarkably tranquil spot, although in high summer, I suspect that it is unlikely to retain quite the same peaceful atmosphere.

    We visited at the beginning of July, during a brief sunny spell on a very changeable day. The juxtaposition of the dark grey granite buildings and the bright blue sky was beautiful, and highlighted by the striking contrast of the white hydrangeas. Quite lovely.

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    An unusual vaulted wooden ceiling

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Aug 12, 2012

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    A notable characteristic of the interior of many Breton churches is that they have vaulted wooden ceilings which are often painted.

    The ceiling of the parish church at St Guimiliau is a particularly striking example, and its attractiveness is enhanced by the fact that it has been painted a vibrant shade of blueish green.

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    A town with more to offer than just a parish close

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Aug 12, 2012

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    There are several wonderful parish closes in the eastern portion of Bretagne's Finistére region, but many visitors may only have the time - or interest - in visiting one.

    For what it's worth, my vote goes to Guimiliau, which - in addition to its stupendous church close - is a very pretty little town. With a population of about 950, it's smaller than nearby St-Thégonnec and looks as though it may attract slightly fewer tourists (although I'm open to correction on this point).

    Guimiliau's main street leads straight up a hill to the parish close, whose commanding position reinforces its dominance influence on the village. There are several cafés and bars along this street, which would be a pleasant place to watch the world go by, and there's also reasonable parking further down the hill (although I would imagine that in high summer, this would fill up pretty quickly).

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    Columns bowed by antiquity

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Aug 12, 2012

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    The church at Guimiliau may only be 16th century, but one of the reasons why it feels older is that there are signs of structural failure.

    If you look closely at this line of columns - which should be vertical and parallel to one another - you will see that they are wildly out of kilter, and there's some evidence to suggest that at least two have already been partially rebuilt. Roof sagging because the columns that should support it have started to lean may also be the reason why the spire of the massive baptistry is now slightly too tall for the interior space and has been forced sideways by the ceiling.

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    Baroque baptistry that's too big for the building

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Aug 12, 2012

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    My intense dislike of Baroque architecture is well documented in my pages, so it's safe to say that this exceedingly ornate wooden baptistry which stands over the baptismal font at Guimiliau was never going to excite me - the best that I can say for it is that at least the temptation to cover the exposed oak in gilt was resisted!

    Nonetheless, it's a very impressive bit of craftsmanship, even if it's not to my personal taste and the strong Baroque influence also serves as a reminder that the parish closes in this region are not always old as you might assume. The church itself is 16th century, but was later remodelled and the baptistry dates back to 1675.

    For me, perhaps the most interesting aspect of this font is its colossal size: if you look closely, you'll see that the 'spire' is too tall for the ceiling, and has been bent sideways to fit in!

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    St Sebastian sans arrows

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Aug 7, 2012

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    This statue to the right hand side of the entrance to the church made me smile, although given the subject matter, it probably shouldn't have.

    This is clearly St Sebastian, who was martyred around 288 A.D. He was a Captain in the Emperor Diocletian's Praetorian Guard who was found guilty of encouraging two prisoners in their Christian beliefs and was used used as 'target practice' for archers as a punishment. However, the arrows have been a casualty of time, and so all that is left are the arrow wounds.

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    Look at the Calvary (pt.1)

    by hquittner Written Sep 27, 2007

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    The Calvary at Guimiliau is what you have come here for. It is similarto most of the others in the area in that it has an arch with supporting angled arms that form its base. On the platform above is a single knobby post with a crucifix with Jesus at the top. Lower down there is a beam with a large figure standing at each end (Mary and St. John?). The arch is sealed leaving a niche on the front where the statue of a Bishop stands (St. Miliau?). The Calvary has the most carved figures of any in Brittany with scenes related to the Crucifixion on the platform and others off the life of Jesus on the frieze, but not in chronological order. An unusual Breton cautionary tale is also on the platform to the right. It concerns the sad fate of a young flirtatious girl (Catell-Gollet or Catherine the Lost) who eyed-up a young handsome stranger, who was the Devil in disguise, who led her astray and to her ultimate illustrated downfall. The ends of the support arms have upon their faces the four Evangelists (see pt.2). We have also selected scenes that we can identify from the platform and base as a Travelog.

    Calvary (Front face) Calvery (Back face) Detail of Cavary and Arch with Bishop The Fate of Catell-Gollet
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    Details of the Interior (Pt.2)

    by hquittner Written Sep 26, 2007

    There is another important Altar, that of the Rosary. This must be a particular manifestation of Breton religious worship as we do not remeber seeing these altars elswhere and we haven seen them in almost every Breton church, All are framed in circular medallions with scenes to enhance the sequence of the recitation, The centers illustrate the magnificence of the sacred object. In this one the Trinity is pictured at the top. The organ case has delicately carved panelsand the top of the Baptistry cover has figures of the Baptism of Jesus.

    Font Cover Top: Baptism of Jesus Rosary Altar Rosary Detail-Scenes Organ Case Panel Organ Case Panel
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    There are Interior Attractions to See (Pt.1)

    by hquittner Written Sep 26, 2007

    The interior has many furnishings and altars that feature fine examples of Breton woodcarving skill. There are the organ case, the pulpit and a large number of wooden altarpieces. (Church woodworking art during the 16-17C appears in enormous amounts all over Europe along side of plaster work as part of the Baroque and then sublimates itself into furniture and other outlets as the patronage shifts to royalty and the rich). Along the North wall is a pair of altars, the left one featuring St.Miliau and his exploits. Nearby is a large carved covered Baptistry font. Behind the main altar is a large stained glass window of 1600 with a Calvary scene. (There is so much that we have created another Tip to finish and show a few fine details)

    The Baptismal Font and Cover The Organ The Pulpit Two Altars (St.Miliau to lt) Detail of Calvary Window
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    Examine the Church's South Porch (Pt.1)

    by hquittner Updated Sep 25, 2007

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    Itis surprising tifjnd such an elaborate entry to a church in a small poor town (pop. 700), even more with such a fine Calvary next to it. The first thing that strikes you is the large rounded recessed entry arches and their well carved voussoirs, like a Gothic cathedral. Then on the buttresses there is a series of saintly statues culminating with one of St. Miliau above the pediment (which we did not photograph as closeups). Inside the porch under elaborately carved canopies stand the 12 Apostles each bearing an identifying attribute (note St. James with his Pilgrim Hat and cockle shell). Entry to the church is through a pair of double-arched doors with a primitive Jesus and others above. Before entering go around to the west and immediately see an old ossuary (looking like a laundry pool)and then on to the west front where there is a door remaining from the original church.(There are so many nice details of the porch that it requires a second Tip)

    South Porch Entry The Apostles (second left-James) The Second Ossuary An Original Door Double Entry Door to Church
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    Look At the South Portal Details (Pt.2)

    by hquittner Written Sep 25, 2007

    The Carving skills range from crude to fine.Much of the work on the voussoirs is as good as that on the Calvary and the Apostles are as fine. A cruder and earlier phase is seen in the freize below the Apostles (dated1606) where the Birth of Eve from Adam's side is depicted or on the freize below the outside ossuary.

    Voussoir Detail: The Meeting Porch Freize Detail: Birth of Eve Porch Freize Detail: Date Jesus & Others Above Entry Door Freize below Ossuary
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