There is a respectful observation of religious heritage in Brittany which is to be admired. I'm not a religious person so, to be honest I don't go scouting too far off the beaten track in the UK... but I've certainly developed a curiosity about the spiritual experiences I've had over the last 15 or 20 years... and I've always been respectful about the religious followings of others... You have to admit there was definitely something going on when these chapels and churches were built with such passion, belief and dedication and back then journeymen; masons, carpenters, heraldic artists, stained glass artists and others...travelled far and wide over their careers as indentured apprentices and adult artisans working on ecclesiastical buildings for the glory of God...and probably, if money ever changed hands, it was far less than the minimum wage!
We took to exploring churches and chapels quite a few years ago. It began when Micki was undertaking a project to explore the heritage of her mum's side of the family... My Mother in Law's cousin, Basil, had been a partner in what became one of the biggest stained glass companies in the UK - Heaton Butler and Bayne...supplying religious glass not just to the UK but also to the English speaking world... 'the Dominions'... Canada, New Zealand and Australia (we restricted our own tour to Sussex, Hampshire and Kent) and Micki 'got' her certificate and practices as a stained glass artist.
So... the pastime of visiting churches, cathedrals and chapels is a given and we tend to do much more of it in France than in the UK... In fact, when we are cruising the lanes and by-ways of Brittany, if we see a sign that points to a chapel... it's a detour that's guaranteed to add an extra hour to the journey - but time well spent. A few weekends ago was no exception... We had planned just to park by the banks of the Nantes Brest Canal south of Lake Geurledan - have a picnic and walk the dog along the tow-path. That's always great but we decided to turn off the main road a little further south after our walk and found a hamlet called Carmes... A weekend to encourage visits and support for the local chapels had been the weekend before. Somehow this one seems to have enjoyed its special weekend of Patrimony (where every church, chapel and remotely religious building is open for locals and tourists to have a closer look at these preserved treasures)... and Carmes it seems was enjoying a second 'Open House'... an extra opportunity for a chosen few. So we were very lucky to come across a group of people taking a glass of wine outside the church... It was a beautiful autumn day with no hint of the cold snap that would remind us that winter was just around the corner. We knew nothing more than what presented itself and, as we were walking with Rudy down the lane we were doing the 'Bonjour... Ille fait beau' routine, I drew the short straw and hung on to the dog whilst Micki went into the church to have a shufty and to take some photo's. I wandered further down the lane beaking into farmyards and the front gardens of enchanting cottages... I turned around as the ancient houses gave way to open countryside and walked back toward the disbanding group of visitors. The stalwarts were left folding up the trestles and chairs... Just as I arrived at the church door Micki emerged and said... "You've just got to have a look in here. It's just amazing!" Obviously I did and it was... An amazing experience...
Having passed through the building being amazed by the stained glass and ornate ceilings I stumbled squinting out into the light... there were by then just 2 or 3 of the organisers of this small event packing up the hardware... So, when you are of a limited vocabulary you offer "C'est magnifique... tres beau, merci pour le opportunité... etcetera... "Would you like to follow me and have a look at our piéce de resistance?"... offered our emerging new host - a silver haired man in his 70s. "Of course" we both said... "et la chiene?"... Rudy looked worried he might miss out... The keeper of the keys said it was no problem... so off we all went. We'd marvelled over the church interior... now for the extra revelation that lay treat behind the altar
A winding staircase entered via a small gothic stone arched doorway to the rear of the building revealed, after about thirty stone steps, was a 10m x 6m room with wide planked flooring and soaring walls lined with wooden panels which must have come originally from the main body of the church... The wall paintings are from the 15th Century... and the removal of these from the naive enabled the existing church interior to be emblazoned with illuminations for the glory of God. The whole place is quite sensational... How lucky we were to take the decision to turn down this lane and take a look... I've no doubt we will return the next time we wander along the tow path toward Pontivy.
|• The Church of Notre Dame de Carmes... Wall and Ceiling paintings from the 15th Century •|
When lunch has settled it is a live version of 'It's a Knockout' - with all manner of féte style fun and games and drinks at the bar... Some pardons extend into the evening with music and dancing... All in a very good cause.
Witnessing the wonders of this particular chapel and the enthusiasm of our host on this particular visit... It's money well raised and very well spent!