The enclos paroissiaux churches of Finistere
One of the most interesting architectural highlights in the north-west of Brittany, mostly in the Finistere department, is the large number of so-called 'Enclos paroissial' churches to be found in small villages across the region.
In the 16th and 17th centuries the Finistere region was very prosperous due to the trade in flax and hemp, which were needed for the shipping industry and which was very important on the coast of Brittany at that time.
As a consequence of this wealth the village churches were often built with an ensemble of structures that were very decorative - typically including the church itself, a surrounding wall that contained an ornately decorated gateway or entrance, and also a calvary cross, a chapel, an ossuary and a triumphal arch as a gateway to the cemetery.
Very often there are a remarkable number of stone carvings to be seen, typically created by local craftsmen whose identity is now unknown, making them an even greater achievement.
The villages often competed against each other to produce the most impressive enclos in the region, and many of these are still intact today.
You will probably come across one or two as you are exploring, or might enjoy to spend a day visiting a larger selection. The majority are in the countryside towards the north of Finistere, between Landerneau and Morlaix, while visitors to the south can visit the enclos at Pleyben, one of the most impressive in Brittany.
Below we list the best known and most popular of the enclos, but there are many others. Ask at the local tourist office when you visit for a list of those in your region or for details of one of the 'suggested routes' that visits several of the churches on a pre-planned circuit*.
Note: these routes are proposed as driving circuits but at around 60 kilometres long also make for an excellent day cycling!
The most important Enclos Paroissiaux in Finistere
- Guimiliau *
- La Martyre
- La Roche Maurice
- Pleyben **
- Plougastel-Daoulas *
- Plougonven *
- Plounéour-Ménez *
- Saint Thégonnec **
Those marked with a '*' are among the most popular, and '**' enclos are unmissable!
Note: the photos above show the calvaries and churches at Guimiliau (top) and Pleyben (bottom).