Pointe St Mathieu is a headland in north west Brittany, overlooking the Atlantic sea and the Rade de Brest. We hadn’t been to this part of Brittany before and the views were amazing!
The headland’s strategic position has been recognised in many ways over the centuries. Belonging to our town times is the Memorial to those who died at sea, the Monument National aux Morts en Mer, which was built after WWI. France lost 37 naval ships during WWI and countless lives, as well as merchant shipping.
The Cenotaph, erected in 1927, was created by a Breton artist, René Quillivic, whose mother was the model for the mourning woman. He created many memorials in Brittany, but I particularly like his beautiful woodcuts, and many are displayed here.
The isolation of the site was ideal for religious contemplation and in the 6C St Tanguy, from the Abbey of Le Releq, founded an Abbey here. The original building has gone, replaced by a Benedictine Monastery in the 11C and 12C. In the Middle Ages the Abbaye de St Mathieu stood alongside a prosperous town but this did not survive a raid by the English and Dutch in the 16C, and today there are only a few village houses outside the walls of the ruined Abbey. The buildings include the Chapel of Notre Dame de Grâce (on the right below), and a lighthouse which was built in 1835 inside the Abbey grounds, necessitating the destruction of part of the Abbey.
The Chapel of Notre Dame de Grace is outside the walls of the Abbey and was the parish church. This 14C gateway used to open into a nave which lead to the main nave – the site of the current Chapel.
The Abbaye de St Mathieu witnessed war, raids, and destruction during its lifetime, and generated its income from trading and other rights accorded by the King, as well as donations from pilgrims. But finally in 1791 the last four monks left the Abbey. The Abbey also had a lighthouse, a tall tower on which the monks burned a fire as a beacon. Today the tower remains, although diminished in height, and the lighthouse function continues in modern form.