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Report 1981: Megaliths, Parish Closes and Cider - Part 2 Morbihan

By Eleanor from UK, Fall 2011

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Page 18 of 27: St-Gildas-de-Rhuys

photo by MAW

Abbey Church of St-Gildas-de-Rhuys

St-Gildas-De-Rhuys is a small town on the southern coast of Presqu’île de Rhuys reached by narrow white roads. Even though I had printed off a Google map, we got lost several times as there are many one way, narrow streets with poor signing.

It is a delightful town with fewer shops but a lot more character and old buildings than Sarzeau.

The main reason to visit is Eglise Abbaticale which still has a working convent attached to it. St Gildas was a celtic missionary who arrived here in the 6thC and built a small wooden monastery on the site. It was completely rebuilt in the 11thC (possibly after being destroyed by Vikings) by St Felix, at the request of the Duke of Brittany. The choir and transept survive from this time. The nave collapsed in the 17thC but was rebuilt in the original style. In 1796 the monastery lands were sold off and the abbey church became the parish church. In 1824 the Sisters of Charity of St Louis built a school and orphanage attached to the abbey. Later they added a guest house. This is still open as a guest house and for spiritual retreats.

The Abbey Church is a huge stone building with a slate roof. The square tower above the west door doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the Romanesque architecture.

The nave has massive square pillars supporting rounded arches with round topped windows above and a vaulted ceiling. The two side aisles are very narrow. There is no pulpit. There are several old carved stone fonts scattered around, some now acting as flower containers. There is a modern font to the north of the west door, surrounded by decorative wrought iron railings. A stone staircase leads to the tower.

There is a massive 17thC carved reredos in the south transept with a painting of the crucifixion and statues. The north transept has a large model boat hanging from the ceiling. There is the carved tomb of St Goustan, a 10thC saint and his bones are in a reliquary box on the altar. The tombs of St Felix and St Roic are in niches on the north wall of the north transept.

The east end has a large apse with a large round arch with smaller round arches on either side. Behind is a semicircle of round pillars with highly carved tops supporting smaller round arches. Behind is a smaller apse with small round topped stained glass windows. This contains a small stone altar, a modern statue of St Gildas and his plain stone tomb. On the walls behind the main altar are old tombstones from the 13thC onwards of abbots and members of the family of the Dukes of Brittany that had died at Château de Suscinio. These include Jeanne de Bretagne, the daughter of Joan of Navarre.

The high altar is a white and green painted table with a small box for the host and candlesticks. In front is a modern mass altar with modern furniture. The old wooden pews have been replaced and can be seen by the north wall of the nave.

Stained glass windows are modern, predominantly in shades of blue with some white and deep red.

This was a good visit.

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