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Five things to know about churchyards – Churchyard candidates for Unesco World Heritage


  • 1 What is a parish close?
  • A parish enclosure (a name which would have been preferred to that of Breton enclosure by the Michelin guide) is an enclosed architectural ensemble, made up of at least five elements, including the church, the large porch, the ossuary, the calvary and the triumphal gate, but sometimes also a reliquary chapel, a cemetery or a fountain. It is delimited by a stone wall.

    There are mainly parish enclosures in Lower Brittany, and particularly in North Finistère, where there are about 70. Among the most famous, we must mention those of Saint-Thégonnec, Guimiliau, Lampaul-Guimiliau, Plougonven, Plougastel-Daoulas or Pleyben. There are also, in more limited numbers, a few examples in Upper Brittany.

  • 2 When were they built?
  • Most of them were built between the middle of the 16th and the end of the 17th century, at the time of the French Renaissance, during a period of peace brought by the Council of Trent, which had contributed to a real Britain’s economic prosperity. The importance of the Renaissance movement can be seen in the work of Italian and Spanish artists, influenced by the Baroque of their country, in the ornaments of the enclosures.

    The parish enclosure of Plougonven (29). (Photo Lionel Le Saux)
  • 3 Why are there so many in Lower Brittany?
  • The parish enclosures testify both to the fervor of Brittany, which has always been characterized by a large number of religious buildings, to the economic wealth of the time of their construction, and to the rivalry that existed between the villages and parishes seeking to distinguish themselves through the beauty and quality of their artistic and religious heritage.

    Lower Brittany had benefited, at the beginning of the modern era, from its ideally located ports, at the crossroads of commercial exchanges between Spain and Northern Europe, from the cultivation and weaving of flax, sold in England and Holland, and its many fairs, which particularly attracted foreign traders.

    The agents, often members of the local nobility, and the builders wanted, with these parish enclosures, to magnify the Church of the Counter-Reformation and to display, in an ostentatious way, the pride of their parish, eager to possess the religious monuments. the most beautiful and imposing.

    They also testify to the cult of local saints and the cult of the dead, still alive among the rural populations of Brittany.

  • 4 How can we discover them?
  • It is possible to do this by following the discovery circuit of the parish enclosures.

    Three circuits criss-cross North Finistère, drawn between the harbor of Brest, the Arrée mountains and the bay of Morlaix.

    The Landerneau circuit, 48 km long (excluding options), winds through the Élorn valley, where the gray stone of Kersanton marries the yellow stone of Logonna.

    The Landivisiau circuit, with a distance of 85 km (excluding options), stretches on a north-south axis, from the Monts d’Arrée to the heart of Léon.

    The Morlaix circuit, with an initial distance of 63 km (excluding options), will take you to Plougonven, where one of the largest and oldest Calvaries in Brittany is located.

  • 5 What is the benefit of being listed as a World Heritage Site?
  • According to Unesco, when a country signs the World Heritage Convention and sees some of its properties inscribed on the World Heritage List, there is added prestige that often helps citizens and governments realize the importance preservation of this heritage. Greater awareness generally leads to an increase in the level of protection and conservation of the properties in question. The country may also receive financial and technical assistance from the World Heritage Committee to support preservation activities.



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