Quirky architectural ingredients
A delicate openwork steeple signals a Breton country church from afar. Most are set apart from the rest of the village behind low stone walls, marking the hallowed ground, keeping the cattle out. Beyond the grandiose entrance arch, the church’s main porch is commonly lined with statues of the apostles, greeting you as you enter. Inside, the carvings on beams, screens or baptismal fonts are highly decorative, if not always that sophisticated; the stained glass is often more accomplished. Back outside, little ossuaries were built away from the main building. Charming at first sight, symbols of the Grim Reaper indicate that these were where the bones of the dead were kept.
Christ’s Passion on the calvaries
The most original aspect to the Breton church closes is their elaborately carved outdoor calvaries. Relating the story of Jesus’s life in gritty stone figures, they focus mainly on the Easter story, or Christ’s Passion. Occasionally, a local saint puts in a surprise appearance too, or a local sinner, like irreverent Katell Gollet. Most of the calvaries date from the 15th to the 17th centuries, their carvings weathered by the elements.
Best closes in show
While you can find enchanting church closes around Brittany, Finistère boasts the greatest number and the most celebrated line-up either side of the Monts d’Arrée. The most ostentatious stand out north of these hills, up the Elorn Valley, going east from Plougastel-Daoulas. The successful cloth merchants of places like Saint-Thégonnec and Guimiliau really went to town, ordering extravagant features. On the south side of the Monts d’Arrée, the closes are generally more discreet but enchanting, for example at Saint-Herbot or Lannédern, although Pleyben’s proves exceptionally grand.