Fighting over a very pretty hilltop
Atop its hill surveying two valleys south of St-Brieuc, the little historic town of Moncontour looks perfectly picturesque now, crowned by its highly decorative church, but its strategic location made it the focus for many battles, until business won out. Today, tourism is the victor.
From warring to weaving
In medieval times, Moncontour became an important defensive position for the powerful north Breton lords of Penthièvre. As such, the place proved a magnet for fighting down the centuries: in the 14th-century Breton War of Succession, in the 15th-century final conflict between Breton duchy and French state, and in the 16th-century Wars of Religion. When the ruling lord in the early 17th century sided against Louis XIII, the king ordered the dismantling of his fortified holdings. However, some of Moncontour’s ramparts have survived to this day. Then came the time of mercantile prosperity, as linen merchants from here managed to sell their wares far and wide, even to the Spanish. They were able to build fine town houses, and to embellish the church.
A church standing above the fray
The Eglise St-Mathurin stands above the crowd at the heart of Moncontour. It mainly dates from the 16th century, but the grandiose Baroque façade was added in the 18th and the ornate, almost oriental-looking bell tower was placed on top in the 20th. Inside, the splendid original stained-glass windows reflect the parish’s pride and wealth. They are of exceptional finesse for Brittany, one series telling the story of the greatly revered medieval Breton saint, Yves.
Bringing history back to life
The locals like to recall their history and the main museum focuses on the drama in these parts during the Revolution. While Moncontour’s inhabitants mainly sided with the new Republic, many in the outlying districts, including the charismatic leader Boishardy, remained staunchly pro-royalist and pro-Catholic, prepared to fight a bitter guerrilla war, known as the Chouannerie. On a lighter note, there’s also an amusing costumes museum set up by a woman devoted to theatrical creations.
Did you know?
Moncontour regularly hosts a major medieval festival, which includes spectacular street entertainments.