Oysters and an Abbey ruin in Bretagne (Dennis Aubrey)


“Whence is it, my friend, that the imagination even of a good-natured man is more enraptured with these rude appearances of Nature, these prospects of the ruinous kind, than with the most smiling views of plenty and prosperity?” A Dialogue on Stowe, William Gilpin (1746)

PJ and I liked the French province of Bretagne quite a lot – it reminds us in many ways of our home in Cape Cod for one thing. We would stop for lunch in any small seaside town and order raw oysters and a bottle of Muscadet-sur-Lie wine from the area near Nantes, the former capital of the province. The oysters were invariably served with a mignonette – good red wine vinegar with chopped shallots – and rye bread with salted butter from the region. What a delight.

Huitres avec mignonette, Photo par PJ McKey

Huitres avec mignonette, Photo par PJ McKey

We stayed in a wonderful gite called the Manoir de Kerledan in the small town of Carhaix-Plouguer, halfway between Guingamp and Quimper. The gite is owned by the charming and gracious hosts, Penny and Peter Dinwiddie. It is believed that the manor house was built for a Breton nobleman around about 1490. The site was abandoned for many years but has been restored and the grounds are magnificent. Our room could not have been more comfortable and charming, the food wonderful, and if we had to pick out strangers as companions, we never could have done better than with the Irish, English, and Belgian couples who shared the Manoir with us. This is an inside joke, but after hearing the Belgian restauranteur and his tale of “Silent Night”, I will never be able to listen to that Christmas song with a straight face again.

About 65 kilometers from Carhaix-Plouguer is the Abbaye Notre Dame de Daoulas, a restored but still interesting complex near the naval town of Brest. Tradition has it that Leon Guyomarch IV , Vicomte de Leon founded the abbey in 1173 in atonement for the murder of his brother Hamon, Bishop of Leon. All we see now are the decayed vestiges of that great community – a 12th century abbey church, the Romanesque cloister, and a couple of chapels.

Abbaye Notre-Dame de Daoulas, Daoulas (Finistère)  Photo by PJ McKey

Abbaye Notre-Dame de Daoulas, Daoulas (Finistère) Photo by PJ McKey

The abbey church itself underwent a great deal of restoration. The nave and north side aisle are 12th century Romanesque while the choir, side chapels, and south side aisle are 19th century neo-Romanesque.

Nave, Abbaye Notre-Dame de Daoulas, Daoulas (Finistère)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave, Abbaye Notre-Dame de Daoulas, Daoulas (Finistère) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In the shot of the nave elevation we can see the round arcade arches supported by heavy piers and above the uncentered clerestory windows. The wooden vaulting is very well done and some of the supports have what appear to be 16th century carved wooden decoration.

Nave elevation, Abbaye Notre-Dame de Daoulas, Daoulas (Finistère)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave elevation, Abbaye Notre-Dame de Daoulas, Daoulas (Finistère) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

This low side aisle on the north side of the church is part of the original 12th century construction. I particularly like the quarter-round buttresses from the wooden vaulting supporting the arcade piers.

North side aisle, Abbaye Notre-Dame de Daoulas, Daoulas (Finistère)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

North side aisle, Abbaye Notre-Dame de Daoulas, Daoulas (Finistère) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The west portal has some of the most ornate stonework in the church, in this case the rounded archivolts and the simple capitals. The heavy flagstones that make up the floor are clearly visible in this shot as well.

West portal, Abbaye Notre-Dame de Daoulas, Daoulas (Finistère)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

West portal, Abbaye Notre-Dame de Daoulas, Daoulas (Finistère) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The abbey has the only Romanesque cloister in the region, built by the Abbot Guérault in the late 14th century. There are 44 remaining columns in the structure as it stands today. The cloister features alternating single and double columns with quadruple columns on the corners. Some of the round arches have elegant carved woven motifs on the face of the voussoirs. I imagine that this decoration was on all of the arches originally, but only a few remain.

Cloister, Abbaye Notre-Dame de Daoulas, Daoulas (Finistère)  Photo by PJ McKey

Cloister, Abbaye Notre-Dame de Daoulas, Daoulas (Finistère) Photo by PJ McKey

The cloister also retains a beautiful octagonal baptismal font from the 12th century. The remains of this lovely cloister bring to mind Rose Macaulay’s “Pleasure of Ruins,” and the melancholy pleasure evoked by such decayed fragments of the past.

Cloister arch, Abbaye Notre-Dame de Daoulas, Daoulas (Finistère)  Photo by PJ McKey

Cloister arch, Abbaye Notre-Dame de Daoulas, Daoulas (Finistère) Photo by PJ McKey

“The ascendancy over men’s minds of the ruins of the stupendous past, the past of history, legend and myth, at once factual and fantastic, stretching back and back into ages that can but be surmised, is half-mystical in basis. The intoxication, at once so heady and so devout, is not the romantic melancholy engendered by broken towers and mouldered stones; it is the soaring of the imagination into the high empyrean where huge episodes are tangled with myths and dreams; it is the stunning impact of world history on its amazed heirs.” ― Rose Macaulay, The Pleasure of Ruins

Location: 48.364020° -4.270758°

11 responses to “Oysters and an Abbey ruin in Bretagne (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. No mignonette for me. One side of my Breton family produces oysters in the gulf of Morbihan (in Brittany).Needless to say when I visit we gorge on the freshest oysters there are. And “au naturel”. My wife who is American likes her Texas oysters with a sauce similar to mignonette, but when we are in Brittany it’s without… You are hit by the salty taste of the ocean when you eat those oysters, like when you dive in those green waters of my youth… Chill and all..

    • Love them au naturel as well. We have a friend near us in Massachusetts who cultivates oysters and we love them so fresh from the water. The salty taste of the ocean, as you say. How lucky we are.

    • PJ never really liked raw oysters very much until last fall in Bretagne, now she is a fanatic. We have a friend who lives in Duxbury (about 45 minutes away) and he has an oyster farm, so we get a regular supply of the finest, freshest oysters around. I might try a casserole sometime, but we can’t stop eating them cru!

  2. Dennis I love the Brittany pictures – this post took me straight back to a very happy holiday in Finistère with my sister-in-law a couple of years ago. But you are very unkind to leave us with the teaser about the Silent Night story!

    • Viv, I wish it were possible to relate the Silent Night story, but it impossible. The poor English of the principal character, his hilarious physical comedy, and the look on the face of his wife as he held court all make it beyond my means of description. He even topped the evening’s performance by coming out the next morning and taking it to a new level. Sorry for the tease:)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s