Guimiliau Things to Do

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

Best Rated Things to Do in Guimiliau

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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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    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 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 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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    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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    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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    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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    Enter the Parish Close

    by hquittner Written Sep 25, 2007

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    We entered the Close through a gate to reveal a 16C church with a tall tower and a prominent South Porch that had a rounded doorway with recessed arches. These and 4 gabled bays with large windows forming a nave were evidences of a 17C Flamboyant Renaissance remodelling. Nearer to us was the famous Calvary. To our right beyond the east end of the church was an ossuary of 1647 of similar style and beyond that the cemetery.

    The Church and Calvary Before It South Porch & Three of Nave Bays West View Up at Tower Ossuary Cemetery
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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 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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    Eglise de Saint-Miliau - inside: overview

    by Mikebond Written Nov 19, 2005

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    The inside of the church is Baroque and, as you can already see, it is much richer than that of Saint-Thégonnec. Worth seeing are the organ, the wooden pulpit (1677) and the baptistry (1675), but I think the most beautiful part is the choir with its decorated altar-pieces that will come in the next tip.

    the nave the organ the pulpit the baptistry arches
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    Eglise de Saint-Miliau - the altar-pieces and more

    by Mikebond Written Nov 19, 2005

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    The three altar-pieces of the choir are certainly the most important art works of the church. The first represents Saint-Miliau, while the other two show Christ, the Madonna and saints.
    The last two pictures depict a cross and the statue of a saint with two decorated columns.

    Saint-Miliau altar-piece Virgin with Jesus and saints a cross saint with columns
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    Eglise de Saint-Miliau - the nake woman

    by Mikebond Written Nov 19, 2005

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    When you come out of the church, ask the guide where you can see the woman with the naked breast. Here she is! It's a very curious sculpture for a church, isn't it?
    The second pic show other decorations that must be inside the church.

    the naked woman decorations
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    Enclos paroissial

    by Mikebond Updated Nov 19, 2005

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    The main reason to go to Guimiliau is to visit its enclos paroissial, with the richest calvaire of the whole Bretagne: more than 200 statues! It is formed by:
    1) the église de Saint-Miliau;
    2) the calvaire (see more photos in the travelogue;
    3) the sacristy;
    4) the charnel house.

    the enclos the calvaire the church
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