Brittany’s Parish Close Dedicated to St. Thegonnec
Mise au Tombea – The Entombment – 16th century
Lifesize polychrome figures carved from oak by Jacques Lespagnol over a three year period from 1699 – 1702 sit in the Ossuary (bone house) of the Saint-Thégonnec Parish Close in Brittany. The work is called mise au tombeau or The Entombment.
The Breton region of Finistere is known for its enclose paroissials – or Parish Closes. The Parish Close is an area enclosed by a wall that surrounds a church and other architectural elements that could include a monumental gateway, porch sanctuary, ossuary (place where bones are stored and revered), relic chapel, fountain, and a high cross known in Brittany as a Calvary.
The Parish Close is a repository of some of the most exquisite religious art in Europe. I visited several of these under the guidance of Brittany expert and author, Wendy Mews in 2016.
Mise au Tombeau in the Notre Dame Ossuary
Video below has series of photo images from the Ossuary at Saint Thegonnec’s Notre Dame Ossuary.
The ossuary at Saint-Thégonnec is named for Notre Dame after the Virgin Mary. The ossuary is a separate building within the Parish Close and serves as a crypt for notables. One end of the building is completely occupied by a collection of eleven lifesized figures carved out of oak by Jacques Lespagnol in 1702. Ten figures are gathered around the figure of the dead Jesus Christ. Each figure has a unique expression showing their grief at the death including three angels.
The figures are Mary Salome and Mary Magdalene – kneeling in front, standing L-R are Nicodemus, St. Veronica (with the veil), Virgin Mary mother of Jesus, St. John the Evangelist, an Angel with chalice, Joseph of Arimathea. seated on either side in the shadow are two smaller angels – one has the spikes from the cross in his hands.
St Thegonnec and the Wolf
The legend of St. Thegonnec is associated with a wolf. Evidently, the local saint – said to be from Wales – was so strong that he learned to tame a stag. He trained the stag to pull a cart to carry stones to the building site of the church. One day a wolf came into the town and attacked the stag and ate it. St. Thegonnec, instead of retaliating against the wolf, befriended it and trained it to pull the cart. Some traditions say the St. Thegonnec later left Brittany and traveled to Ireland where he became a bishop of Armagh.
Brittany Parish Close Trail
There are many parish closes in Brittany:
- Guimiliau Parish Close
According to Ty Her Gite website – Lost in Finistére …
There are three marked driving tours between Brest, the Monts d’Arrée and the Bay of Morlaix. You can pick up leaflets detailing the tours in local tourist offices. Follow the brown tourist road signs which indicate the routes tours or, you can download audio tours in English from the Ze Visit website. You will need to register on the Ze Visit site.
Brittany is magical.