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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 10 of 32: Parish Closes - Guimiliau

photo by MAW

Carving of the last supper on the Calvary

Guimiliau is a small village a couple of miles from St-Thégonnec whose wealth from the linen trade is reflected in the Parish Close, especially the calvary. It is on the ‘must see’ list.

A low wall surrounds the Close with a fairly plain Triumphal Arch with two figures on horseback and Mary with the Christ Child on the top. On either side are stiles used by the faithful to enter the Close.

The most notable feature of the Close is the calvary carved between 1581-8. It has a simple crucifix on a thorny stem with Christ and the two robbers. The base has about 200 carved figures all in 16thC costume. They show different scenes in the life of Christ from his birth, adoration of the magi and flight into Egypt to the last supper, his arrest and trial, carrying the cross, crucifixion, entombment and resurrection. There is a carving of St Veronica holding her handkerchief with its image of Christ’s face. There are carvings of the four evangelists on the buttresses which join the main body of the calvary by an arch.

The calvary was used as a teaching aid and the preacher could climb on the platform to comment on the different scenes. At the base was a table for the villagers to leave offerings to finance the church.

The Chapelle Funéraire has a central doorway and small spire. There is an outdoor pulpit reached by a door.

The church is 17thC. An external circular tower contains the spiral staircase. At the east end is a round sacristy with pointed roof.

The ornate south porch dated 1606 has a small Ossuary on one side with open pillars supporting the roof. There are carved arches with figures and angels around the outside entrance. It has supporting towers at the sides and an open tower above. Inside are carvings of the twelve apostles, separated by columns and still showing the remains of their original paint. Below sits a carved stone frieze with animal heads and a scene from the creation with God pulling Eve from Adam’s rib.

The nave has cylindrical pillars supporting the pointed arches. The walls are painted white. The ceiling is blue wood with natural wood ribs and a carved wooden frieze. There is a crucifix on the south wall and carvings of saints including St Herbot with a cow, St Margaret with the dragon who tried to swallow her and Joan of Arc.

A carved wood altar rail separates the choir from the nave. On the pillars at the entrance to the choir are statues of St Yves and St Hervé with his wolf. The high altar is carved wood with paneling around the stained glass windows. There are more statues on the arches between the windows including Archangel Michael killing the dragon. There are five carved choir seats on each side and a highly carved Bishop’s Chair from 1677. There is a wooden eagle lectern and two others with cherubs.

In the side aisles are altars which have large, splendidly carved and with painted retables which stretch from floor to ceiling. They have twisted columns with vines and lots of gilt as well as statues.

To the north is the Retable of the Rosary with the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child as she gives the rosary to St Dominic and the scapular to St Catherine. On either side are St Nicolas and St Zachary. Above is God the Father holding the body of the crucified Christ. There are cherub heads supporting swirl designs with leaves.

To the south is the altar of St Miliau with a small window separating it from the altar of St Joseph. The retable of St Miliau has a large central carving of St Miliau surrounded by scenes from his life, including his beheading by his brother.

The retable of St Joseph has Joseph with a small child. At the top is St Lawrence with cherubs holding the tree of Knowledge with the serpent on a branch.

The pulpit has carved wooden panels showing ‘theological and moral values’ and a painted back.

There are display cases holding the 17thC processional banners embroidered in gold and silver thread. One has the Virgin and Child on one side and angels with a sunburst on the other. Another banner shows St Miliau on the front and the crucifixion on the reverse.

At the back is a massive carved wood organ with carved panels. These have David playing a harp and St Cecilia an organ as well as cherubim.

A rail of slender carved pillars surrounds the granite font. Above this eight twisted columns support the carved wood canopy with carved figures and a lantern arch above with the baptism of Christ.

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