On a recent stay at Quimper in Brittany we devoted some time to the Cathedral: Cathédrale Saint-Corentin de Quimper and it was interesting to experience this building and compare it both to our local Canterbury Cathedral that I know so well and also to the local and much less grand church around the corner from Saint-Coretin. (Coretin was the city’s first bishop by the way)
Both the Canterbury cathedral and Saint-Coretin share an unusual feature: Both buildings have unusually kinked aisles and whilst they are both of elderly – Canterbury has the edge in being more than a few hundred years older – and Canterbury is significantly larger I found the spaces contained within Saint Coretin curiously un-mystical and they left me cold. This may be slightly unfair as my favourite part of Canterbury is the crypt and whilst I feel sure Saint Cortetin has one, it isn’t open to the casual visitor so I didn’t get to experience it. The building is altogether a more uniform structure, the whole comes across as being conceived by one mind or at least one conception and seems to be of a time which contrasts strongly to Canterbury that is a really cobbelled together structure and as Jonathan Foyle puts it is a journey through time. I found the grey local stone rather unappealing lacking the warmth of the limestone used at Canterbury (that ironically was imported from Caen in Normandy!) The inside however did have some marvellous colours that Canterbury does not have.
And not surprisingly, given Canterbury’s position as home of some of the finest medieval glass in existance, the stained-glass was universally poor by comparison, with some of the best examples being quite modern and I use the word “best” relatively. (I note that Wikipedia suggests that the 15C glass is “exceptional” but then I guess that is a relative term) So overall, I came away feeling very happy to have visited the Cathedral but rather unmoved by the experience.
This was not the case at the church of Locmarie just across the Odet from the cathedral. Here we found a marvellous space with no stained-glass at all and none of the grace to be found at either Canterbury or Saint Coretin but with so much more spirit than the latter. The church of Locmarie predates the cathedral by some three or four hundred years and is an entirely Romanesque structure featuring the massive walls, round arches and tiny windows that define the period. But although its rough hewn interior had none of the finesse of St Coretin, it does hold a truly magical feel that more than makes up for it’s inadequacies in other respects.
The church was built in 12C and there is surprisingly little more information about it. The west wall was rebuilt a few hundred years after it was originally built but that aside, it kind of just is. This is in itself refreshing as it allowed us to simply appreciate what was there, rather than thinking about who did what when and where etc etc.