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Report 1982: Megaliths, Parish Closes and Cider - Part 3 Northern Finistère

By Eleanor from UK, Fall 2011

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Page 23 of 32: Lanmeur and the Story of St Mélar

photo by MAW

St Mélar

Lanmeur is a work-a-day place about 12km north east of Morlaix. It has several shops around the main square and a SuperU on the outskirts. The main reason for visiting is the church dedicated to St Mélar with an 11thC crypt.

Prince Mélar was heir to the kingdom of Cornouaille in the 6thC. His wicked uncle had killed his father as he wanted to become king. Although Mélar was only seven he was regarded as a threat. His uncle tried to poison him, but Mélar made the sign of the cross over his food before eating which revealed the poison. His uncle ordered his men to cut off Mélar’s left leg and right arm to prevent him riding his horse and using a sword. He hoped this would incapacitate him so preventing him becoming king. The child was given a silver hand and a bronze leg which he could use as easily as real limbs. They miraculously grew as he did. In desperation the uncle ordered the child to be beheaded. The oxen pulling the body of St Mélar to be buried with his ancestors refused to move further than Lanmeur and the cart collapsed. His body was buried on the site of the present church.

Eglise St-Mélar has an 11thC crypt but the rest of the church was rebuilt in the early 20thC in the Romanesque style. It is a very stylish building. It is a large, light, airy building with round stone pillars supporting round arches. The stations of the cross are on walls. Above are round topped windows between more round pillars and arches. There is a simple vaulted ceiling of plaster with stone ribs. The rounded apse has three long and narrow stained glass windows. Beneath is a carved stone altar with scenes of the last supper. On the low retable behind is a carving of Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac but being stopped by an angel.

There are identical altars in the north and south aisles painted to resemble marble. Each have carved stone altar rails. Above are carvings of Mary and the baby Jesus and another showing Jesus blessing Mary of Magdalene (complete with rolling pin at her feet).

The carved pulpit has scenes from the life of St Mélar and there is also a statue of him holding his severed hand. There are other statues around the church and some sensibly have their names underneath.

Entry to the crypt is down steps at the side of the north altar. There is a meter box asking for 20c donation for the lights. (The money falls straight through into a pot below…)

The crypt is all that is left of the 11thC church. It used to have slit windows for light but these are now blocked. There are two rows of round pillars which support low rounded arches. Two have carvings at the bottom. These look like snakes although the information board in the crypt says they are Adder’s Tongue Ferns. There is a statue of St Mélar at the east end in a round arch. By the door is a small sacred fountain which was dry when we visited.

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