Saint-Pol-de-Léon cathedral visitor guide

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The cathedral of Saint-Paul-Aurélien is the principal historic monument in the centre of Saint-Pol-de-Léon, a small town in the north-east of the Finistère department of Brittany.

The cathedral takes its name from Paul-Aurélien, the first bishop of Léon and with his origins in Wales, and subsequently made a saint: his relics are still inside the cathedral.

Explore the cathedral of Saint-Pol-de-Léon

France This Way review: the cathedral in Saint-Pol-de-Léon has several very interesting characteristics and lots of historical artefacts, and is our favourite cathedral in the region

The cathedral was built on the site of an earlier cathedral, which was in the roman style and was built in the 12th century, itself on the site of an even earlier church, which was here until it was destroyed in the 9th century.

Most of the cathedral we see today was built in the gothic style in the 13th century, using stone from a quarry at Caen in Normandy, although numerous additions and modifications took place in the folling three centuries.

View along the nave in cathedral in saint-Pol-de-Léon

The facade of the cathedral in Saint-Pol-de-Léon includes two imposing spires, one on either side of the entrance, each more than 50 metres tall and built in the 14th century. The towers each have further small towers at an upper level, in a style that repeats in the towers above the transept.

The north tower includes three bells, dating from the 16th and 17th centuries. It is possible to climb the narrow staircase inside this tower.

The facade between the towers includes a large gothic style arch, a row of stained-glass windows, and a clock. To the sides of the church, you can see the chapels and the arms of the transept, featuring large stained glass rose windows.

On the south side of the cathedral there is a second entrance, also impressive with stone carvings and statues. The final addition to Saint-Pol-de-Léon cathedral was the side chapels, that were also constructed in the 16th century.


Inside, the nave of the cathedral is about 80 metres long, with large gothic arches separating the nave from the side naves, and a row of small arches above, with a further row of large arches at the level of the triforium, the highest part of the sides of the nave.

The choir area is built from granite and was completed in the 15th century, with the transept also completed around this time, which incorporated part of the transept from the prevous cathedral: there was a long interruption between the construction of the nave and the construction of the transept.

There is a deambulatory (path) around the rear of the choir that allows access to the chapels at the rear of the cathedral.

There are several interesting items in the cathedral, including the altar and the carved wooden stalls in the choir area that date from the early 16th century: take a close look at these carvings, which are remarkable representations of people, animals and dragons.

The stained glass windows in Saint-Pol-de-Léon cathedral are also impressive. Some of these are medieval, and others are a 19th century addition. Again, take the time to look closely at these, in particular the "verrière de l'enfer", with a middle panel showing a 16th century representation of hell, and the window showing the Last Judgement, although they all merit a close look.

Elsewhere in the cathedral you can see several statues - our favourite is the statue of Sant Joseph - as well as various tombs, wall paintings and other items including a series of shelves holding boxes containng skulls(!) so overall there is a lot to detain you inside the cathedral if you take the time to explore thoroughly.

Stained glass windows in rose window of cathedral in Saint-Pol-de-Léon

Attractions nearby

The town of Saint-Pol-de-Léon is quite small but you will discover several interesting historic houses and an attractive centre: see the Saint-Pol-de-Léon guide. Also see the guide to French cathedrals if you are exploring sacred and religious monuments in France.

You can find more travel ideas in the Finistere guide and the Brittany guide.

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The French version of this page is at Saint-Pol-de-Léon cathedral (Francais)