The Enclos Paroissiaux – A Religious Competition

Between the 16th and 18th centuries a competition amongst the religious communities of Brittany ensued with each village building walled churchyards incorporating a cemetery, calvary and ossuary. This led to some of the most impressive religious structures in France.

I based myself at St Thegonnec, not far from the city of Morlaix. The centrepiece of the village is the church, carefully enclosed by a tall stone wall which includes a large memorial to those lost in the First and Second World Wars. The calvary is simple and the large square ossuary (house for the bones) dominates one corner. Not far away, in the village of Guimiliau is a much more detailed calvary featuring more than 200 figures, carved into the granite rock. It tells the story of Christ from his birth to his death, including the last supper. Inside the church, it is wood that is beautifully carved to feature the organ, the font and the pulpit. Finally, within the church at Lampaul-Guimiliau there is a 17th Century entombment carved in tuffeau and the 16th century ‘Beam of Glory’ depicting the crucifixion.

My final destination is the hilltop village of Locronan. It too has a walled churchyard, but more interestingly, it is a fine example of original medieval architecture. Originally the town was a centre for linen production, making sails for the French, English and Spanish Navies. Now it is a tourist destination and occasional film set. Most notably, Roman Polanski used it to recreate a Dorset village from a Thomas Hardy novel in his film ‘Tess’.

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