Where the Sea Begins

25/01/2015 13:38

Finistère mean anything else than end of the earth. Is where the sea begins. Romans thought it when they named the region. Moreover they believed that abruptly ended pouring waters to the void just beyond the horizon. French believe the same as they retained the name for the Brittany westernmost department. And also believe it thousands of tourists who rush in the warm summer months to get a good parking place in the Pointe du Raz. They leave their vehicles self-satisfied having completed the route, recomposing their clothes and maybe just a little bit fatigued, while the rest of the family scatters examining the souvenir shops, the cafeteria menu or vents in services.

Pointe du Raz, for many the western end of French mainland, has a postcard-worthy scenery. Actually they sell them right there. Also are widely known the pictures where lighthouses are embraced between the huge waves of the Atlantic storms where the sea beats violently cliffs and islets, towards the Ile de Sein. But the real point where Brittany ends is further north, even past Crozon peninsula leaving behind the city of Brest. Hidden behind the excessive popularity of Pointe du Raz, the stretch of coastline from Saint Mathieu to Corsen, in the municipalities of Plougonvelin, Le Conquet and Plouarzel, takes the cake. Corsen Pointe is 04º47’44” West, always regardless Nividic lighthouse in Ouessant Island at 05º08’25”, which was begun to be build in the summer of 1912 and did not end until twenty-four years later. Regardless overseas departments in the Western Indies.

The area was subject to constant Norseman visits, not always well-intentioned. In 1558 Anglo Dutch attack devastated Le Conquet. Only eight houses left standing. Previously, under François I the town had some popularity thanks to its Mapping Centre. Its navigation treatises just enjoyed a good acceptance in England, even for someone called Francis Drake.

At that time the town attended a controversial missionary, Dom Michel Le Nobletz, son of a wealthy Plouguernau family. He was given the nickname beleg foll, the mad priest, because his ideas and eccentric practices. In reason to his thoughts he wouldn’t be nothing else than a liberation theology priest denouncing the abuses of the powerful, insufficient wages, predatory pricing of housing and poor quality of goods. The same that it ever was. He used to preach among an illiterate population, so Dom Michel employed illustrated posters, tableaux de mission, he ordered to play at chorus by attending women.  Multimedia sermons at the end. His former home in Le Conquet became, after his death, a small chapel, now Notre Dame de Bon Secours. His body was buried in Lochrist church.

In Plougonvelin, the ancient abbey, founded in the sixth century, then Benedictine monastery of Saint Mathieu Fin-de-Terre was still active. There was evicted until the days of the French revolution. The abbey guarded the skull of Matthew the Evangelist, who according to oral tradition, was taken in the late ninth century by sailors and traders from Cairo, where he was buried after his martyrdom. It is believed the relic could be sacked by pirates who took it to Salerno in Italy, although the abbey, in the Middle Ages and until the seventeenth century even claimed retain the saint's head. It’s also said to be lost in the sea off the cliffs. In the seventeenth century plague and famine decimated the population of the towns and also the abbey.

Several writers and intellectuals paid visit along the first half of the nineteenth century reporting the miserable life conditions in which was plunged the region. Also drawn scenes stained in prevailing Romanticism, from nature and landscape that surrounded. Jean François Brousmiche was a Brest Treasury  employee who travelled there three times between 1829 and 1831, collecting his impressions in Voyage dans le Finistère where describes la misère semble être partage des habitants de cette pointe avancée de l’Armorique sur laquelle Saint Mathieu et Lochrist son placés. Les enfants s’y roulent presque nus dans les chemins ; ils arrachent à la mer les plus légers débris qu’elle porte à la côte pour alimenter le feu destiné a la cuisson des aliments (Misery seems to be commonplace among the inhabitants of this Armorica advanced point where Saint Mathieu and Lochrist are located. Children are almost naked in the streets, snatching the shortest sea waste comes ashore to carry to their kitchens) and described Le Conquet as a town continuellment battue des vents, dépouillée de tout abri, la ville du Conquet semble une solitude. Sur trois maisons, c’est a peine si l’on en trouve une que soit habitable...est, de plus, la ville la plus mal pavée du Finistère. (Continuously whipped by winds, devoid of any shelter, Le Conquet is bleak. Among each three barely one house is habitable... it is also the worst paved Finistère village.)

Historian Jules Michelet captured nature snapshots: quelles monstruoses vagues elle entasse à la pointe Saint Mathieu, à cinquante, à soixante, à quatre-vingt pieds ; l’écume vole jusqu’à l’église ou les mères et les sœurs sont en prières. (Monster waves crashing at Cape Saint Mathieu, fifty, sixty, eighty feet, its foam flies to the church where mothers and sisters raise their prayers.) These are reflected in two of his works: La Mer and Voyage en Bretagne.

Madame Bovary’s creator, Gustave Flaubert arrived in the spring of 1847, and with his friend Maxime Du Camp, toured walking Brittany and Normandy. Their journey is reflected in the book Par les champs et par les grèves : Ici se termine l’ancien monde; voilà son point le plus avancé, sa limite extrême. Derrière vous est toute l’Europe, toute l’Asie; devant vous c’est la mer et toute la mer. (Here ends the old world, here its most advanced, its extreme limit. Behind you is all Europe and Asia, facing is the sea and the whole sea.) On ne songe pas au désert sans les caravanes, à l’Océan sans les vaisseaux. (No one dreams a desert without caravans, an Ocean without vessels). With these thoughts they come back over the cliff to Le Conquet. About the village he wrote that ne vaudrait pas la peine de s’être dérangé pour le voir le voir s’il n’y avait non loin l’abbaye démantelée de Saint-Mathieu. (Not worth bothering to see if it was not having near the dismantled abbey of Saint Mathieu.)

The lighthouse, built next the abbey ruins a few years earlier, in 1835, mark out with the ones of Kermovan peninsula and the Pierres Noires, the bounds of this particular end of the world. Saint Mathieu lighthouse bears, almost proudly, his own name painted on the top of the tower. Its flashes are visible at a distance of twenty one miles.

In the mid-nineteenth century a great controversy erupted over the decision to renew the parish church because of its ruinous conservation. This was located so far in the neighbourhood of Lochrist actually town old core in times of coastal pirate and Norman raids. Then Le Conquet was just a small harbour. Over the years the specific gravity between the cores had been reversed and Le Conquet had gained in significance. The logical consequence was to build the new church in the most populous. Material elements of the old church and the now defunct Saint Christophe chapel were reused in building the new temple. Sainte Croix new church was completed and inaugurated in 1858 by the bishop of Quimper, and resentment become towers battle that would last for five years. The remains of the mad priest, Michel Nobletz also were transferred to the newly released Lochrist basilica.

Le Conquet was shaken in the late nineteenth century by several mysterious violent deaths occurred in the Hôtel de Bretagne, in the Grand Rue. On July 12, 1885 disappeared without a trace one of the guests, a horse dealer named Norman Eugene Emeric, whom was known was carrying a large amount of money, about two thousand francs, well out to trade horses. Without witnesses, the police investigation faded over time. Two years later, one afternoon in May, a farmer from Kerzoniou named Jérôme Leizour, found human remains near a road. Police report recognized them comme étant celui de Le Hoult Eugène Emeric dit “Courval”, ...né a Sap canton de Vimoutiers dans l’Orne, âgé de 53 ans, fils de défunt Théodore et de Le Charpentier Nathalie Eugénie, époux de Boutellier Désirée Florence...signe Keriguy, maire. (Belonging to such Le Hoult Eugène Emeric nicknamed Courval, …born in Sap, Vimoutiers dans l’Orne shire, at age 53, son of demise Théodore and Nathalie Eugénie, Désirée Florence husband…signed by Kerigouy, mayor.) He was buried in Plougonvelin graveyard. Two years later hotelier’s wife, whom is told that she was too fond of bottle, was found hanged in her own room. Initially her husband and the property owner, Louis Besson, was the prime suspect and was charged with the death, even speculated on a possible link with horse dealer mournful demise. Besson trial was seen for sentencing on February 18, 1900. A jury, given the weak evidence incriminating and without finding any relation with the salesman’s death, declared him not guilty.

Today Le Conquet port, closed by Kermovan peninsula, remains a notable fishing centre, where nearly forty boats are moored. Mainly crabs are captured, but also monkfish, striped bass, flounder and turbot. The port is also the primary link with Molène and Ouessant islands and a good place to enjoy the above mentioned fishing. In Saint Mathieu, even quieter if possible, there are still a few neighbouring houses to the ancient abbey, a hotel, a restaurant and public restrooms.

© J.L.Nicolas


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