Archive for tombs

The Chapel of Saint-Gobrien, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, Church, Saint with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2015 by mysearchformagic

On a recent cycling trip along the Nantes-Brest Canal in Brittany I came across a small village named Saint-Gobrien. Looking at it across the canal, I instinctively sensed that this interesting-looking little place was worth a small detour. I was drawn in particular to the ancient church that stands at its centre, its spire clearly visible above the small clutch of houses. As is often the way, my instinct did not let me down, because I soon discovered that this church, in particular its atmospheric interior, was unmistakeably magical.

The village of Saint-Gobrien, Brittany

The village of Saint-Gobrien, Brittany

The name of the church, and indeed the whole village, comes from Saint Gobrien of Vannes, a local bishop and holy man who lived in the region and was reputed to perform miracles. After Saint Gobrien died in the early eighth century his body was laid to rest here, and the tomb quickly became a place of pilgramage. It is thanks to this that the village grew up around its increasingly grand church, drawing worshippers for miles around who came in search of miraculous cures for their ailments.

The medieval church of Saint-Gobrien, Brittany

The medieval church of Saint-Gobrien, Brittany

Old chapels are ten-a-penny in Brittany, but I have never encountered one with such a unique charm as this. Although parts of the building date back to the eleventh century, most of what we see today was built in the five hundred years that followed.The large porch is notable for its beaten earth floor, a rare survival of a once common building technique.

The mud floored nave of the church of Saint-Gobrien, Brittany

The mud floored nave of the church of Saint-Gobrien, Brittany

The church is also filled with wonderful sculptures, ranging from colourful life size figures of saints and monumental carved altars to tiny red angels hovering in the rafters. Even the ends of the rafters themselves are carved into elaborate dragons’ heads.

Hovering angels in the rafters of the church of Saint-Gobrien, Brittany

Hovering angels in the rafters of the church of Saint-Gobrien, Brittany

Although the church is obviously well cared for, its cobwebby nooks and dusty corners only add to its wonderful aura of age and mystery. I was particularly intrigued by two strange carved faces, which project from the wall just above the elaborately carved gothic gate that decorates the arch between the porch and nave.

Two intriguing carved faces in the church of Saint-Gobrien, Brittany

Two intriguing carved faces in the church of Saint-Gobrien, Brittany

Saint Gobrien’s tomb, an unusual carved wooden structure, still survives too, although the bejewelled treasures which once decorated it, including a reliquary and a chalice, are now locked away for safe keeping. Legend tells that if pilgrims left a handfull of metal nails on top of the tomb, by the time the nails had rusted their illness would be cured.

A life size painted sculpture of Saint Etienne in the church of Saint-Gobrien, Brittany

A life size painted sculpture of Saint Etienne in the church of Saint-Gobrien, Brittany

A ‘pardon’ is held here once  a year, but other than that this is now a pretty quiet place. The flocks of pilgrims may have stopped coming, and the saint may be largely forgotten, but the church of Saint-Gobrien thankfully still retains its wondefully magical atmosphere.

After a thoroughly enjoyable visit to this special place, what else can I say but ‘Merci à Saint Gobrien’?

P1020428

Advertisements

Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh

Posted in Cemetery, Church, Edinburgh, Ghosts, History, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2014 by mysearchformagic

If there is one place you can be pretty sure of finding magic, it is in an old graveyard, and my visit to Greyfriar’s Kirkyard in Edinburgh this week certainly didn’t disappoint. The graveyard is situated on the edge of the city’s Old Town, and has been in use since the 16th Century, so there are lots of wonderful old tombs and carved stones to look at.

A packed corner of Greyfriars Kirkyard

A packed corner of Greyfriars Kirkyard

As I wandered around the graveyard, I noticed skulls and skeletons everywhere. A rather lively looking dancing skeleton welcomes you as you enter, and many of the tombs are decorated with carved Memento Mori, suitably macabre reminders of our own mortality.

A Dancing Skeleton near the entrance to Greyfriars Kirkyard

A Dancing Skeleton near the entrance to Greyfriars Kirkyard

As well as being the last resting place of many of Scotland’s most prestigious citizens, the Kirkyard has also witnessed some dramatic events over the years. In 1679 over a thousand Covenanters, Scottish Christians who were battling for a new style of worship and church organisation, were kept prisoner in a corner of the graveyard. They were left out of doors for over four months, surviving on scraps of bread and any extra food which kindly locals were able to sneak in to them. Not surprisingly many died, and more were later executed, and the melancholy spot now bears a memorial to those who lost their lives in this atrocity.

The Covenater's Prison, Greyfriars Kirkyard

The Covenaters’ Prison, Greyfriars Kirkyard

The tomb of the man largely responsible for these terrible events sits just a few yards away. Sir George Mackenzie (1636-1691), later known as “Bloody Mackenzie” for obvious reasons, now rests in a rather grand, if slightly overgrown monument, designed by famous Scottish architect James Smith.

The tomb of "Bloody" MacKenzie

The tomb of “Bloody” Mackenzie

I say that he rest there, but in fact recent reports of ghostly events near the tomb suggest that Mackenzie is not resting at all, with hundreds of unexplained events in the graveyard in recent years being blamed on his malevolent spirit. If you really want to be creeped out, then ghost tours of the Kirkyard are held every evening. Check it out, if you dare…

A Memento Mori in Greyfriars Kirkyard

A Memento Mori in Greyfriars Kirkyard

A Tau tau, the Wellcome Collection

Posted in Art, History, Superstition with tags , , , on January 12, 2013 by mysearchformagic

Until last weekend, I had no idea of what a tau-tau was. Now that I have seen one, I won’t be forgetting it in a hurry.

A tau tauImage courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London

A tau tau
Image courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London

I discovered this tau tau in the current exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, which is simply and snappily titled Death. The exhibition features the private collection of Richard Harris, which includes a plethora of strange and magical items, all of them relating to that most taboo of subjects. Despite the fact that it is going to happen to all of us one day, death is something most of try to avoid talking or thinking about. The way that it has been viewed over the centuries and throughout the world has varied immensely, hence the array of amazing objects included in Death.

Tau taus are unique to the Toraja people of Indonesia. They were created to sit outside the rock-cut tombs of the wealthier Torajans, guarding their remains and acting as symbols of their wealth and status. The arrival of Christian missionaries in the early 20th Century almost wiped out the practise, and in more recent times the remaining tau taus have been regularly plundered by grave robbers.

Tau taus in situ, an image taken near the village of Lemo in 1971

Tau taus in situ, an image taken near the village of Lemo in 1971

For any visitor to Death, it’s hard to miss the tau tau. It sits silently in the centre of one of the galleries, spotlit and staring. Its presence is unsettling, and despite its simple carving and rudimentary accessories, it has a real sense of personality. This tau tau looks like it could get up and start shuffling towards you at any second, which is a distinctly unsettling thought.

I’m not sure about the morals of display such items, which have obviously been stolen from their rightful location at some point, but the tau tau is certainly an object of wonder. Standing next to it was a rather sinister experience, one which will I suspect haunt me for a long time to come.

http://www.wellcomecollection.org/Death