Back in the Saddle Again (Dennis Aubrey)


I often write about PJ’s adventures in the high galleries of the cathedrals and churches that we shoot because I am unable to climb to those areas. Well, that may change next year (fingers-crossed) because I just underwent surgery for a complete knee replacement. I am finally back home from the hospital and can start posting again.

Our post today will be about one of the most eccentric churches we have ever photographed, Notre Dame-de-Bon-Secours in Guingamp. Guingamp is a town in the Côtes-d’Armor in the extreme west of Brittany.

Nave, Notre Dame-du-Bon-Secours, Guingamp (Côtes-d’Armor) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave, Notre Dame-du-Bon-Secours, Guingamp (Côtes-d’Armor) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The basilica is a strange amalgam of Romanesque, Gothic and even Baroque elements all piled atop one another but somehow maintaining a sense of proportion and balance. Part of the reason is, of course, the repairs of the inevitable damage done over the years – a transept tower collapsed in the 16th Century and required rebuilding, the French Revolution took its toll after the church was decommissioned, and the American army severely damaged the south transept with artillery when there were false reports of German soldiers in the church tower.

Transept, Notre Dame-du-Bon-Secours, Guingamp (Côtes-d’Armor) Photo by PJ McKey

Transept, Notre Dame-du-Bon-Secours, Guingamp (Côtes-d’Armor) Photo by PJ McKey

The most interesting thing about the church, however, is that it preserves the medieval tendency for builders to “wrap” the new around the old. In this case, the old Romanesque church was enlarged to make a new Gothic church, but several of the Romanesque elements are completely preserved.

In this shot of the crossing, it is possible to see the Romanesque columns topped with double ogive Gothic arches. In the distance we can see the interesting tribune level in the nave.

Romanesque crossing, Notre Dame-du-Bon-Secours, Guingamp (Côtes-d’Armor) Photo by PJ McKey

Romanesque crossing, Notre Dame-du-Bon-Secours, Guingamp (Côtes-d’Armor) Photo by PJ McKey

Flying buttresses span the interior space from the newer outer walls into the nave arches.

North side aisle, Notre Dame-du-Bon-Secours, Guingamp (Côtes-d’Armor) Photo by PJ McKey

North side aisle, Notre Dame-du-Bon-Secours, Guingamp (Côtes-d’Armor) Photo by PJ McKey

The original Romanesque crossing can be seen from the Gothic nave. The chevet was modified in the second half of the fifteenth century. The apse was substantially enlarged and the chevet is now a flat wall with an altar at the far eastern end.

North side aisle, Notre Dame-du-Bon-Secours, Guingamp (Côtes-d’Armor) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

North side aisle, Notre Dame-du-Bon-Secours, Guingamp (Côtes-d’Armor) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In this next shot it is possible to see the warren of columns, spanning arches, and connecting walls that make up this eccentric space.

Notre Dame-du-Bon-Secours, Guingamp (Côtes-d’Armor) Photo by PJ McKey

Notre Dame-du-Bon-Secours, Guingamp (Côtes-d’Armor) Photo by PJ McKey

The church features a well-known vierge noire, Notre Dame de Bon Secours (“Our Lady of Good Help”) that has protected mariners in the region for centuries.

Notre Dame-du-Bon-Secours, Guingamp (Côtes-d'Armor)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Notre Dame-de-Bon-Secours, Guingamp (Côtes-d’Armor) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

We were fascinated by the strange beauty of Notre Dame-de-Bon-Secours. It is still very much a living church with a congregation of the faithful who appreciate the charms of this basilica.

34 responses to “Back in the Saddle Again (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. This is such a beautiful church and I really love the lighting on the second photo. Again, I am so jealous that you are able to explore these treasures. Good luck with your knee recovery, do plenty of Physical therapy. It really helps.

    • Bella, it is a beautiful church, and we are lucky to be able to explore and photograph these marvelous structures. It is one of the reasons that I had the surgery, because it was so hard for me to keep up with PJ on this last trip. It makes me very motivated to work hard with the therapy!

  2. The springing of the arches on the right hand side of the nave is very elegant. I like the way the arch merges across about 3 courses of stone without a more conventional capital.

  3. Glad you are back in the saddle, D. One quick question: have you noticed in the first picture how the ceiling looks like a face…sort of the face of Oz…or Don Quixote?

  4. Great piece Denis and picture PJ. What an extraordinary place. I am trying to remember if I have even seen flying buttresses before in the interior of a church, and I don’t think I have. Very unusual surely? Hope your knee heals up well Denis. I’m sure the operation will a complete success. Take it easy at first, you probably need to build up strength again gradually in that knee, so no bell tower climbing please for a few weeks or months!

    • Arran, Guingamp is an original, no question. It is so interesting to see a Gothic church nesting around a Romanesque. Thanks for the good wishes on the knee – things are going well and I’m seeing progress on a daily basis. BTW, did you get to visit any of the churches on your sailing trip in September?

      • hi Denis, delighted knee is progressing so well. As for churches in Brittany, yes indeed, I saw a good cross section, from some lovely old ruins in the Celtic-Breton tradition at L’Aberwrach and near Carnac, to little mariners chapels and the great cathedrals at Quimper and Nantes. I wrote some posts on of them in my little blog travelogue, have a glance if you get time. Back in Dublin now I am posting on our own Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, heavily restored in the Victorian era, but still full of wonderful things, and a place close to my heart. Have a look at that too if you get time. I write about churches differently to you, I write less about the architecture per se and try to use them more as sort of vehicle to talk about history, (especially the Irish ones of course) Anyway, if you visit, I’d be delighted to get your thoughts. very best regards- Arran.

  5. Lovely set of images – I can see that investing in a T/S lens for architecture is the way to go…it’s just a pity they are so expensive. Hope the recovery from the knee surgery goes well.

    • Mark, thanks for the encouragement, I’m doing well in rehab. As far as the tilt-shift lenses, it is an important and big investment, but definitely the way to go. The 17mm and the 24mm are superb pieces of glass and worth the money.

  6. Eccentric is the right word for it, but I have a penchant for the quirky.

    So glad your knee op is over and done with – I hope not too painfully. I’m just home from hospital myself this afternoon after another heart attack and surgery to repair coronary arteries. I spent some of my incarceration writing haiga on some of your photos, some in French. I will email today’s to you if I can find it.
    Bon rétablissement.

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