A SUNDIALS TRAIL IN FINISTERE
If Brittany is rich with sundials, Finistère is not the less gifted.
Here I suggest a journey through this department to discover around 30 sundials which, in my opinion, will give you a good picture of the whole set.The path I propose will lead you from north to south of the department, turning roughly counterclockwise. Have good road maps like Michelin or I.G.N. maps. Don't forget your camera as far as possible with a zoom, or remember to take binoculars as, indeed, some sundials are pretty high and naked eye is not enough to enjoy all the details. Some sundials mentionned here are pictured in another page of this site.
As for the other dials, many of them are located in remote places in the countryside, and it would be impossible for me to describe a direct and practical way to reach them. Some are in private places and, of course, I cannot allow myself to disclose their exact location.
During your journey don't hesitate to leave the road and visit towns and villages; sure, you will come across some other sundials, mainly on churches.
If you undertake such a travel, a single day will not be enough, Finistère is vast.
Take your time and enjoy !
Enjoy the countryside, little roads, sun, rain even, horizons, beaches, quiet mornings, blue of slate, wind, silence, cliffs, creperies, rivers, evening, granit rocks, ports, light, islands, villages, tracks.
And above all don't forget people .
Let's go !
Let us approach by the north coast in the Trégor, boundary region shared between Finistère and Côtes-d'Armor. Let us begin by a peculiar set of dials. The first one, pretty difficult to see, is at bottom of the church belltower near the harbour in Locquirec. Another from the porch of the church in Plougasnou. They are made of granit and, as you can see,are carved on the front of a cylindrical piece of stone emerging from the wall. A similar sundial can be found on the chapel ND de Bon Voyage in Plounérin (Cote-d'Armor) on the N12 road near the border of Finistère . These sundials are unique in France by this special design. There is no functional explanation about this setting. Note that the sundial in Plounérin has 24 hour lines, as well as a second sundial in Plougasnou you can discover on a buttress of the belltower. All these sundials are among the oldest known in Brittany and are dated around 1600, thr one in Locquirec being the youngest (1621). A fifth granit contemporary sundial (1581) with also 24 hour lines can be seen on a manor in the surroundings. These five dials form a very original set, limited in space and time . Going from Locquirec to Plougasnou you cross Guimaëc where the church has a more clasical granit dial.
Now let us go southwards strolling on the cornice road which, by Plouezoc'h, runs along the Morlaix river down that town. En route have a look at the Barnenez tumulus which has been meditating above the Morlaix bay for 60 centuries; it is really worth a visit. Then go up to Roscoff where, if need be, you could take a ferry to Great-Britain, for new sundials trails. On the church decorated with stone ships, a large painted sundial with a motto is striking. Is it the distant successor of the dial designed by F. Le Den in 1630 (payed 30 pounds) et perhaps refreshed by painter F. Pennec in 1639 (4 pounds 6 sols) ? It is indeed one of the very few dials, of which the authors and price are known. Since then , it was often restored and painted, so much the better, but, alas !, more and more false time after time. It is a pity, for old documents show a perfect hour lines fan around 1930. A bit before reaching Roscoff, go to Carantec and, tide permitting, cross on foot up to the Callot island. At the summit (nice view) a chapel which dominates Morlaix bay has a modern slate sundial.
The south-west road leads us straight into the Léon region and, to begin with, to Lesneven. On the main square in town center, "Place Le Flô", you discover a large painted sundial with a motto above a shop window . Set up in 1880, partially ruined in the 70's it was restored in 1987, much better than in Roscoff. In the neighbor village, Le Folgoët, the superb basilica has a nice slightly declining sundial, finely carved on slate. The surface is a bit erased. It has no date. Not so long ago on the east gable, above the fountain was fixed the only ancient oriental slate sundial known in Brittany. Almost broken it was removed and stored in a yard, where year after year it vanished away. Near the museum entrance a 1656 slate sundial is fixed under a window. In the past it was in a castle, now vanished. Although it points east (!) and its style is horizontal (!!), it is a good example of the most current ancient slate sundials that can be found by scores in Finistère and Brittany. And it's a good opportunity to have a close look at one of them. It is a meridional non declining sundial, carved on a slate disk, roughly 60-70 cm in diameter, i.e. 2 feet of the "Ancien Régime" (before the Revolution and the metric system). Here carving is in relief, it could have been shallow. Sometimes a date or a writing are carved at the top, giving the carver's or the proprietary's name; not very often the writing is a motto. Ornament, if any, is often religious (IHS, chalice, calvary,...) or popular (flowers, arms,...). Style is usually a mere iron rod formed as a triangle.
You will note that the great majority of slate sundials respond to this scheme
By the way, all along the trail you will note that, in spite of the inevitable damages due to the years, sundials, made of slate or granit, bring out rigour, perfection of the original work : neatness of the plate edges, accuracy of the hour lines drawing, delicacy and care in the carving; there was no room for roughness. These objects were telling the time; they were designed to be watched, they had to be carefully done, as, most often, they were a piece of ornament, and some of them are true masterpieces.
There was no "rustic" dials as some people try to make, and that can be encountered, quickly carved on bad slate pieces. Unfortunately some examples of these bad dials are spread along our trail. We shall ignore them.
Don't hesitate to visit the "Enclos Paroissiaux" between Landerneau and Morlaix. On some of these architecture masterpieces you will discover many sundials, for instance in Saint-Thégonnec, Lampaul-Guimiliau, Loc-Eguiner and Locmélar. The one in Saint-Thégonnec is only known dial carved in a kind of granit, the granit de Kersanton named from the hamlet which it is extracted from, just at the entrance of the Crozon peninsula. This granit has a very fine grain, it is hard, difficult to carve, but long lasting. Most of the great monumental calvaries are made with it. Note the carving deepness. Do not miss the dial in Locmelar. Climbing to the village you will discover a splendid view towards the north-west countryside of the department.
Landerneau, 13 km south, is well known for its 16th century inhabited bridge over the Elorn river. High on a chimney have a look at the beautiful sundial with two lions holding a coat of arms. Cross the river and going along south west you will reach Plougastel-Daoulas, famous for its strawberries, and now too for vegetables as tomato. Part of a monument fountain set up in 1990 in town center, is a modern sundial, slightly declining, and finely carved on granit .
West of Lesneven towards the luminous region of the "abers", or southernly at Le Conquet and the Pointe Saint-Matthieu you'll find many sundials, old or new, mainly on village churches. I let you discover them.
Returning eastwards, through Daoulas, you reach Le Faou and more especially Rumengol, on east on the other side of the motorway. The church has a nice, well preserved classical sundial. But if you go down to the cimetery nearby you will see an old cross. On the sandstone base notice a few lines with deeply carved gothical digits.They form a very ancient hoizontal dial, something like an horizontal mass dial. Here time was shown by the shadow of the cross' shaft. Originally this cross was in front of the church, and the base was turned when it was moved to the cimetery around 1890; that's why, nowadays, cross' shadow don't cover the lines.
Next stage leads you at the "Notre-Dame" chapel in Chateaulin. Built in a really charming place above the town, it has a simple dial with gothic digits. Porch, as for it, dates back to the 18th century.
From Châteaulin, may I suggest, if you have time, a small trip westwards to Trégarvan. Not only for the sundial on the church, but also for the place, near the river Aulne which is about to join the sea : it is a quiet and charming place, in the sun's light of an ending day. You can also get there from Le Faou following a picturesque path by the Landévennec abbaye and the Térénez bridge. The Trégarvan sundial is another example of the numerous sundials we can find throughout Brittany.
Still from Châteaulin a longer trip towards east will bring you through a picturesque landscape of hills and valleys down to Pleyben, Brasparts et Saint-Herbot. In the first village, don't miss the church, its calvary and charnel-house.. A very beautiful sundial can be seen on the left side of the entrance porch. Dated 1619 it is finely and carefully carved; it is one the maost beautiful sundials in Finistère. Binoculars are necessary to appreciate its richness. Next look for he secondary school "Louis Hémon" where, in 1990, a large and modern sundial was designed and set up by pupils. Futher north, in Brasparts, the church shows a sundial deeply carved in granit above entrance, erected during the Renaissance, around 1589. Still further east in the Saint-Herbot hamlet, part of Plonévez-du-Faou, the impressive and charming chapel keeps an old slate sundial.
Region between Huelgoat and Quimper is not void as for sundials. Many are known, most often spread in hamlets and farms throughout the countryside. Although they are quite interesting, we do not mention them first because the scattering make them less easy to access, and next their location in quite and private places urges me to preserve their quietness. I only shall say that many of them are of the first half of the 19th century and that they are beautifuly made.
Nonetheless going down to Quimper from Pleyben or Saint-Herbot, go to Châteauneuf-du-Faou at the heart of Montagnes Noires. From there go to the nearby village of Saint-Goazec. Trévarez Castle (entrance fee), in addition to the charm of its botanical garden, shows a magnificent view on the Aulne valley. It was built around 1920. In the lawn in front of the castle do not miss the monumental granit sphere surrounded by a 12 rays bronze star. It is an attempt to make a spherical sundial where time would have been shown by successive rays shadow. But the slender form of the rays does not allow a correct working. Down the castle in the experimental farm you will find a damaged slate sundial.
Going on with our travel in Cornouaille, let us cross Quimper and go to Pont-L'Abbé. Designed by hydrographical engineer Beautemps-Beaupré, a 1819 declining dial is the ornament of the Town Hall. Its motto "Heb Ken" (without equal) is the very first breton motto, and even words, in the history of breton sundials. All the other texts or mottoes are either in french or in latin. Only modern sundials made since 1950 have systematically breton mottoes.
From Quimper, where curiously enough there is no public sundial to see, go to the Pointe du Raz. Along the road you will not miss dials on churches in villages of the Cap and the Pays Bigouden. I let you find them, as it is also an opportunity to discover and to taste that part of Finistère.
Next, wandering along he coast you will reach Concarneau where it is impossible for you to miss the sundial of "La Ville Close", near the entrance. It is the most famous sundial in Brittany, the only one you will find on postcards. Designed around 1853 it was beautifully maintained and restored many times. Note that the hour lines drawing, slightly declining, has always been respected. According to the restoration the french translation of the latin motto was painted or not, as well as the initial or restoration date :it is obvious on the postcards. Currently (200) it has no date. The motto was added in the 1920's.
North of Concarneau, near the motorway lies a small village, Melgven,where the church has recently recovered its sundial. Indeed in october 1987, during a very severe gale which, here, knocked down the belltower, the sundial fell staight down from 7 meters. Without breaking.
Finally by the motorway or other ways, for instance coming up from the Pouldu or Guidel in Morbihan nearby, go to Quimperlé, where, in center town, you will discover a huge declining dial painted on front of ancient manor, now the current gendarmes' headquarters. It is dated back to 1700.
But, unless you travel by sea, I think you will cross a couple of departments in Brittany before reaching Finistère.
Morbihan's coast is rich of dials of every epoch and every design. Auray with a large declining sundial on the Saint-Gildas church, Carnac with sundials almost everywhere, Vannes are examples. Still in Morbihan go to Ploërmel to discover the astronomical clock designed and made by Brother Bernardin at the end of 19th century. Near Ploërmel is the charming town of Josselin : do not miss the splendid castle. And also ND du Roncier church with its two sundials, both really ancient and apparently very similar. But they belong to two different generations. Indeed the highest, exiled on the pinacle of a buttress, has a 15° hour lines fan, whereas the second on the front wall has a gnomonic diagram.
In the Côtes-d'Armor department, typical sundials, both declining, and easy to find are in Lannion and Trégastel, near the starting point of our Finistère tour. Eastwards sundials on the cathedral in Tréguier or on the basilica of Guingamp, on the church in Plouër-sur-Rance are other examples of the wide diversity of the breton sundials.
Finally if you visit Rennes do not miss the large meridian line with an anlemma on the Town Hall. And nearby, on the "Parlement de Bretagne", now magnificently rebuilt after the 1994 fire, a large slightly declining dial dating about 1635, domintaes the front door.
Have a nice visit !
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Mise à jour : 29 janv. 2006