The story of Lost Catherine

After breakfast Mirinda went for her usual read and I went for a walk along the beach in the opposite direction from yesterday to see if I could reach the big green thing on the beach across the bay. The drunk woman had gone.

The tide was very low and it was pretty easy walking all the way around to the other side. The beach is very wide for most of the way and though there is no town, a large caravan park lines a long stretch of it. The amazing thing is the number of mussel pickers. It seems that scores of French holiday makers come down to the beach for a free feed. Bags full of them they take home. Quite amazing.

Big green thing round the bay from Locquirec

As I approached the big green thing, I was greeted by the sight of a woman in a wheelchair, reading happily while a couple dug for mussels not far from her. Her wheels were a few inches into the sand. It must have been a right pain to get her there and back and hopefully they returned home long before the tide turned.

Back at the hotel we popped into the patisserie for lunch then set off to see some more parish closes.

Inside Saint Thegonnec's church

There’s a sort of Parish Close Trail not far from the hotel so we headed off towards our first one at St Thegonnec. The church steeple is very impressive and the church, huge and the calvary tremendous. But inside the church is unbelievable. An incredible display of wood carving lines the walls from ceiling to floor. Stories from the Bible, saints painted bright, crucifixions scattered hither and thither. The thing that strikes you most is the colour. The carvings are bright and new. I do not think I’ve ever seen a more ornate pulpit.

St Sebastien in St Thegonnec's church

There was also a rather pained and oddly cross-eyed St Sebastien. It was also odd in that he only had two arrows and three arrow wounds. Generally he looks like a porcupine but this sculptor had spared him the usual excess.

After this incredible experience we stopped in a small park and ate our lunch along with a French family who had arrived first and claimed the picnic table. Halfway through lunch a mad puppy came bounding over and started befriending the kids. We were then treated to the sight of a dressing gown clad local woman calling and whistling for it to come home. She looked a bit rough. It could have been the drunk woman from last night but I couldn’t be sure.

Next on our list was Guimiliau which is very famous for its calvary. The thing itself is massive with almost 200 figures carved around it. It’s made of granite and was carved from 1581 to 1588. The figures are very much of their time with men in codpieces – hardly the height of fashion in 34AD.

Along with all the Biblical scenes is a rather odd depiction of a woman being dragged off by a bunch of demons. After some digging I have discovered that this is a local moral tale for local immoral people. It is based on the story of Lost Catherine (or Katel Golled). She was a pretty young thing who was not satisfied with the strict life and wanted to go out dancing and playing bingo and just being generally naughty. One night she met a dark handsome stranger who promised her everything if she came dancing with him. Naturally she agreed and naturally he turned out to be the devil. After her date he collected and she was hauled down to the fiery depths of hell by snarling, growling demons.

Calvary at St Guimiliau

This stone story served as a warning to people who could not read. Sitting near other more serene scenes of Christ and his followers, Catherine’s tortured face and the grinning demons look very different and something best avoided. So remember, be as naughty as you like but if some dark handsome stranger promises you everything, there is going to be a catch! This scene is only present on two calvaries, Guimiliau being the best. There’s a picture of it in the album here.

Our final close was at Lampaul-Guimiliau. From the outside it isn’t much to look at (apparently it was struck by lightening in 1809 and hasn’t been quite the same since) but the interior of the church is extraordinary. Across the aisle, high above is a beam which contains a massive crucifixion as well as statues of the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist – they all look life size. The beams that stretch from side to side are also carved with faces or Celtic puzzle shapes.

I’ve included a picture of one of the saints (I’m saving you having to look at another St Sebastien, for there was one). This is St Roch. We encountered him in a number of the churches and he always had this little dog with him. The dog always appeared to be returning something; a frisbee or, as in this one, a ball. At the same time the saint is lifting his robe to show a wound on his leg. We thought it all a bit odd until I discovered that St Roch was a hermit who hurt himself, crawled into a cave and was fed by a dog who regularly brought him bread.

St Roch at Lampaul-Guimiliau

Similar carvings around the walls depict other saints with small panels of stories beneath them. There is one rather modest set of Adam and Eve and the serpent and even Salome gets in with John’s head on a platter as she dances for Herod. Not usually shown with this story is the headless body of John with blood gushing out the neck. Truly graphic and equally gross.

We then drove back to the hotel for a lovely last supper. During our short stay at the Hotel des Baines we have been joined by an interesting assortment of fellow guests. Among the most interesting…

There was an English pair with two small children. He was some sort of orthopaedic surgeon and she was an obedient little stay at home Surrey mother. They had an au pair (or nanny) to look after the kids while they went off and enjoyed themselves (I assume). His idea of a holiday was to listen to his mp3 player most of the time with big headphones on. At first Mirinda thought he wasn’t the father of the children but I think he probably doesn’t see them very often so they are unsure whether to call him dad or doctor. Her dinner dress sense was about 20 years younger than it should have been.

There was the old American couple that always sat in the same place. We noticed them mainly because on our first night the wife changed her order upon seeing Mirinda’s dessert. They seemed very nice and acted like they stayed there every year and had done for centuries.

There was the tall Frenchman who was always looking for a friend. I was a bit concerned because he appeared to keep forgetting what he was doing. I noticed him one morning at breakfast. He would get to the buffet and stand and look, pick up a bread roll, stand and look, then wander around a bit then replace the bread roll. This took quite a while because he also had to chat to everyone who came near. He was about 100 and moved slowly but seemed perky enough. It turned out that he has a serious back problem. This did not stop him wandering the town each day wearing his hat at a very jaunty angle.

And worst but not least, in the room beside ours there were two women and a man who smoked on the terrace then went into the room to cough themselves silly. I thought they were awful but when they left, one of the women seemed very pleasant and bid me a fond farewell when we met in the car park as I was packing the car.

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