I'm starting my series of talks about Finistere on Brittany Ferries with the Parish Closes. This phenomenon of mainly the 16th and 17th centuries plays out the arrival of Renaissance architecture against the background of Flamboyant Gothic so popular in Brittany. But this is much more than an architectural topic, one that needs to be set in a religious, social and commercial context to be truly accessible to visitors, especially those who have no connection with Catholicism to draw on. I have often watched and listened to British visitors to Guimiliau or Pleyben puzzling over what it all means and going away not much the wiser because of the paucity of explanations.
And nowhere is attention drawn to the fun details - the rector used as a model for the devil, a Green Man holding legs of cattle in his mouth rather than foliage and sensuous sirens ... It's also hard to convey a sense of the colour, noise and bustle of these places in their heyday from the dour greyness under current Breton skies. Legend says that Shakespeare's father attended the markets at La Martyre, which has perhaps the earliest close of all from the 15th century. It was certainly the linen trade with England, Spain and Holland that funded these lavish ensembles, in much the same way as the wool churches of the Cotswolds or East Anglia in England.I hope that I can shed some useful light. Just by knowing the basics of each element of the ensemble and the usual sculptural subjects, the visitor has an easy pattern to use as the basis of comparison between sites - something I know from experience that people enjoy. Instead of describing the contents of a particular house, isn't it better to tell people roughly what to expect in any house and then give them the key to go and explore for themselves?