You may have heard of Carnoët, a little village in central Brittany which is home to a bizarre cast of characters. None other than the statues of the Breton saints, whose miraculous deeds are recounted in local tales and legends ! That’s all the motivation we need to head for the Valley of the Saints in search of ancient rites and mysteries !
Walking in the footsteps of giants with Jean
We’re welcomed by Jean, a guide at the Vallée des Saints, who invites us to follow him on ‘a voyage to an imaginary world of the Brittany of yesteryear’. From the top of the hill, Jean shows us some majestic views over central Brittany. Our gaze lingers far into the distance, where we spot a little chapel nestled down in the valley : “The chapelle St-Gildas is listed as a historical monument, and just there, at your feet, you can see a perfectly preserved feudal motte.” And then we’re right amongst the stone giants ! Our group leader invites us to “admire the hundred or so statue-menhirs emerging from the depths of the past. There are women, men and even animals, hewn from huge chunks of rock, each with their tales of beliefs, legends and miracles.” We listen, like spellbound children, as Jean weaves tales of the saints : “they came from across the Channel, monks, priests and men of God who were held sacred by the ‘pagans’ because of their extraordinary lives. Their legendary deeds and miracles gave rise to the stories which have been transmitted from generation to generation."
Jean reveals the incredible life stories of some of his favourite characters. Saint Tugdual “one of the founding saints of Brittany, the first bishop of Tréguier - he had to conquer a dragon ! Hence the red dragon on the flag of the Trégor." Another favourite story is the life of Saint Bieuzy : “One day a lord arrived during the service, and demanded that the priest cured his dogs of rabies. When he refused, the furious lord split his skull with an axe, in spite of which Bieuzy continued with the service, finally making his way to St-Gildas where he breathed his last. Since then, Saint Bieuzy is reputed to cure migraines and rabies." We have a marvellous time, with Jean and the statues turning the pages of an exciting open-air story book.
Easter Island - Breton style
Jean is passionate about the origins of the project. “ Philippe Abjean, President of l’association de la Vallée des Saints, along with Sébastien Minguy, enabled this madcap scheme to see the light of day ! They found the initial sponsors, the first sculptors, and provided the impetus to start the adventure.” At the present time there are more than one hundred stone giants, and their number continues to grow each year, towards the final goal of one thousand sculptures ! We can just imagine future generations discovering the site, and puzzling over its meaning !
A passionate team of sculptors
Jean makes sure to tell us about the sculptors who use their talent and their tools to bring the statues to life. “Around twenty artists from Brittany and further afield come together several times a year to make the stone and senses sing in perfect harmony. Each one has a different artistic vision, yet each one finds their place on the hill of St-Gildas. You can watch them working, and see how the artists gradually give form to the figure they have imagined.”