The Church of Guimiliau is named after Miliau, a Breton Prince who was decapitated by his brother in c.542 and later sanctified. (Of course history is not quite so clear – there are several different versions of his tory!)
St Miliau is sometimes represented holding his head and in the Valley of the Saints the statue below may therefore be St Miliau. His decapitated figure is also in the Church at Lampaul-Guimiliau. Such figures are apparently known as cephalophores (!) and there were quite a few in the history of the Church.
The Church in Guimiliau is a classic Enclos Paroissial of the 16C-17C: walled enclosure with a Triumphal Arch (for the dead), Ossuary, Calvary, South Porch, Sacristy, and Church. I have taken photographs over several visits and so you may notice changes in the sky!
The Bell Tower of 1530-50 is the oldest part of the complex The original Ossuary is a columned space dating from the 16C, attached to the Church and decorated with a carved frieze of Kersanton stone. The later Ossuary, the St Anne Chapel, dates from 1648 and has an outside pulpit for open-air sermons, and it was here that bodies were deposited prior to burial. Ossuaries were originally used to stores bones once the graveyard had filled – at Guarec there is an ossuary where you can actually still see bones, piled up.
The Calvary was created between 1581-88 – you can’t really describe something like this as ‘built’, or even ‘made’, can you? There are 27 ‘scenes’, and some 200 figures carved out of granite, or perhaps kersanton stone – I am not sure. The carvings tell the story of Christ’s life, as well as some scenes from the Old Testament. (There is a detailed explanation of the figures here.)
The South Porch dates from 1606-17, created by the Master of Plougastel and including sculptures by Roland Doré, a wonderfully creative and imagine sculptor. The figures carved around the outside archway are delightful, and inside the porch and Apostles line the walls – one can easily imagine the merchants of the day sitting on the stone benches and discussing the latest linen and flax prices, and how to improve business!
And now it is time to open the door and look inside…