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Report 1982: Megaliths, Parish Closes and Cider - Part 3 Northern Finistère
By Eleanor from UK, Fall 2011
Page 7 of 32: St-Thégonnec and the Surrounding Area
Kanndi du Fers
St-Thégonnec is a thriving small settlement in the heart of the Parish Closes area in Northern Finistère. It is surrounded by rolling wooded countryside with fields of maize and pasture with cows. It was one of the richest parishes in the area with wealth based on the linen trade. The Parish Close reflects this wealth (page 9).
Flax thrived in the temperate moist climate and was used for making paper, twine, ropes, sail cloth as well as towels, damask and fine linen. The ripe flax was harvested by hand and once the seed heads were removed, it was ‘retted’ by soaking in ponds for one to two weeks. This began to break down the pectins holding the fibres together. The flax was then beaten to remove the woody bits and drawn through a comb. This produced long strands of flax fibres. In their natural state these are a pale golden colour. To produce white linen, the flax had to be bleached before spinning. This was done in a Kanndi and every settlement would have had one.
Kanndi Du Fers is one of the few kanndi to have been restored. It is ignored by the guide books and there is little information on the web. I had read about it in information sent by Morlaix tourist information which said it was near Chapelle St-Brigitte, 4km south of St-Thégonnec. We got lost, so these are directions to find it. Turn left at the chapel and take the first right at the wayside cross. The kanndi is below the road at the corner of the next cross roads.
It is a small stone building with a slate roof set in the trees by a stream. Inside is a single chimney, fire place, big iron pot and slate rinsing sink. In the 16-17thC linen fibres were brought to the kanndi between February to July. They were suspended in the vat with beech ash and washed in warm water. The potash in the ash helped to whiten the fibres. Rinsing was done in the large slate sink fed by a water supply from the stream. The skeins were left in the sun to dry and bleach. This process had to be repeated six to nine times until the flax was white enough to weave. This could take several months.
Pen-Ar-Vern is a short distance beyond. It is a small hamlet of a few 16&17thC houses which would have housed linen weavers. The Kanndi is at the bottom of the village along a grass lane. This is larger and has two fire places. A scrubbing brush and bar of soap suggests it is still used for laundry. There is an information board in French which said the kanndi processed lin et cambre which was used for towels and linen.
Pleyber-Christ, about 5km to the south east of St-Thégonnec, is rather a work-a-day, scruffy place. It is ignored by the guide books but the church is worth a quick look. The church is 16thC and was enlarged in the 18thC to meet a growth in the population. It lost its graveyard, calvary and archway in the 19thC to make space for an enlarged town square.
It is a large church with a double aisle on the north side. The porch has carvings of the twelve apostles. Round pillars support round arches and there is a carved wooden frieze round the top of the walls. Above the west door is a massive dark wood carved balcony supported on wooden pillars and reached by a spiral stairway. On the wall above the balcony is a picture of Christ with the twelve disciples and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.
The highly carved altar has a scene of the last supper underneath. There are sculptures of saints on either side and large paintings on the side walls. There are two massive side altars. One has Mary and cherubs. The other has St Pierre with the Christ Child and two saints. There is a picture of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead underneath. The processional banner shows St Pierre.
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