Share article PONTIVY, BRETAGNE: I went to the town of Pontivy over the weekend with some friends of mine. We had such a wonderful time visiting the ...
I went to the town of Pontivy over the weekend with some friends of mine. We had such a wonderful time visiting the town as well as the Breton countryside. Pontivy is the old capital of the Rohan family and gets its name from a 7th century monk named St-Ivy who built a bridge (pont) over the River Blavet. Walking around the old town, one of the first places we visited was the Basilique Notre-Dame-de-Joie located in the medieval town center. The original church, dedicated to St-Ivy was totally rebuilt in the 15th and 16th centuries. West of the building is the big square church tower, dated by an inscription between the two doors “1533”, and whose spire was rebuilt in the 19th century. Before the 19th century restorations, the building, in the form of a Latin cross, was composed of a four-bay nave with side aisles, a transept and a chancel with a flat chevet. Only the square of the transept was vaulted with diagonal ribs. In 1866, the whole church was vaulted and the chancel was flanked by side aisles to extend the existing ones. The church was consecrated to Our Lady of Joy in 1696 in acknowledgement of the intervention of the Virgin Mary to stop a plague epidemic. The votive statue is made out of one single piece of oak wood leafed in gold. Pope Jean XXIII consecrated the church into a basilica in 1959. The crafted altarpiece of the high altar was erected in 1782 around the notion of “family”: divine, with the Holy Trinity (in the center the Child Jesus, surmounted by a dove, standing for the Holy Spirit, is pointing to God the Father above), holy human family with Mary and Joseph surrounding Him, and His grandparents, Anne and Joachim, testifying to His roots in the Old Testament; and in the upper register, the Christian family with St-Peter and St-Paul, who founded the Church, St-Ivy in the center, representing the local Church surrounded with the donors, the duke and duchess of Rohan in medallion. In 1790, towns in Brittany and Anjou united in their struggle against the enemies of the Revolution. They became known as the “federates” and it was on this altar that they signed their act of union. There are a great number of statues placed throughout the church which come from the Récollets convent that was burned in 1795. Along the aisles are two plaster gisants. One has been smashed to pieces while the other is in pretty good condition and rests in a niche of the wall. I am assuming it is a likeness of the duchess of Rohan. The organ dates from 1836 and was created by famous organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. The stained glass windows are the work of E. Laumonnier, from Vannes and date back to the 19th century. This was my favorite window. The stained glass tells the story of Christ’s Passion, Resurrection and Ascension and is meant to be read from bottom to top and from left to right. The nine small windows at the top of the arch depict symbols of Christ’s Passion known as the “Arma Christi”. In the square beside the church are a reflecting pool and a monument to the Breton-Angevin Federation Mounted on a pedestal decorated with bas-reliefs and inscriptions, this monumental column commemorates the decision taken in January and February 1790 by towns in Brittany and Anjou to unite in their struggle against the enemies of the Revolution. The monument was erected between 1890 and 1892, based on plans drawn up by the architects Edouard and Jules Deperthes. The shaft of the column was originally decorated with a bronze figure depicting the spirit of liberty. This feature was destroyed in 1938 when the monument was attacked by members of the “Gwenn ha Du”, the Breton independence movement. Further down the road is the most popular destination in Pontivy, the Château des Rohan built by Jean II de Rohan during the 15th and 16th centuries. The façade is flanked by two large machicolated towers with pepper-pot roofs, all that remains of the four towers of the perimeter wall. The walls are 20 meters high and surrounded completely by a moat which never held water. As one continues to walk around the castle, notice the tall stone gabled windows decorated with gargoyles, the outdoor fountain and lavoir, the exterior of the ducal chapel and finally the entrance which used to have a drawbridge. Above the door is the family crest. Sadly, the castle was not open when I was there so I could not visit the interior. The castle is classified as a historical monument and still belongs to the Duke of Rohan who allows the town of Pontivy to use the structure as a tourist attraction. Other places of interest in town are the old half-timbered and corbelled houses of the 16th and 17th centuries. One in particular is named la maison des Trois Piliers (the house with three pillars) located at place du Martrat. It is the only porched house remaining in Morbihan and bears the hallmark of the second half of the 16th century. Numerous in Brittany at that time, the porched houses sheltered a boutique on the ground floor and the porch enabled trade to be carried on undercover, whatever the weather. Their disappearance is mainly due to the demand for modernization and a reduced fire risk, which characterized the urbanization of the 18th century: the numerous plans drawn up at the time for realignment and widening of roads carried the fatal blow to such architecture. Just across the street from place du Martrat is the Hôtel de Roscoët, a house with a corbelled turret. The home is also characterized by its pavilion roof with dormer windows. On the façade, a cartouche with the inscription reads : "Subtilus Iani Roscoet et Jaq Bourdin Colig et Amico 1578" (At the expense of Jean Roscoët and Jacques Bourdain his colleague and friend 1578). Other interesting stone and half-timbered buildings can be found along the rue du Fil. Walking along the banks of the River Blavet one can see the old hospital. There has been a hospital in Pontivy since the middle of the 12th century. According to tradition, it was founded by the Viscount of Rohan, but its exact location is unknown. The oldest written reference dates from the middle of the 16th century. Gradually enlarged and restored over the course of time, the current buildings still have two external vestiges from the start of the 18th century: the Carhaix Gate, originally independent from the hospital buildings, and the chapel, credited to the architect Ollivier Delourme. Another unique feature along the river is the remains of the Nantes to Brest Canal. In 1806, Napoleon I decided to have a canal built between the two ports for strategic reasons. The sea being under English control, the canal would make the Breton naval dockyards and the center of Brittany less isolated. They started digging the canal in 1811 and it was completed in 1842. It boosted the local economy with the transportation of imported goods such as spices, wine, fertilizer, lime and sand from the Loire and also exporting wood, cereals, potatoes, etc. However in 1923, the building of a dam at Guerlédan was a severe blow to the canal trade and in the 1970s this activity came to a halt. Trade has now been replaced by leisure boating. The Hilvern channel (rigole d’Hilvern), 63 km long was completed in 1836 and still joins the canal between Pontivy and Rohan. It used to supply the canal with water. The 71 km long canal runs through three smaller districts of the Pays de Rohan. There are more than 100 locks, twelve of which are submerged under the water of the Guerlédan dam. Don’t forget to stop by the unique Chapel of St-Ivy located between the river and place Anne-de-Bretagne. Tradition claims that it is here that the Breton monk Ivy, founder of the town, had his first oratory built at the end of the 7th century. Dating from 1770, the current chapel replaced a 17th century oratory which had fallen into ruins. Inside the original feature of this chapel is the split-level gallery, which allowed a privileged few to attend services without mixing with the crowd. It was completely restored between 1984 and 1989. On Saturday and Sunday morning, my friends and I warmed ourselves up after strolling the town by drinking tea, eating cake and tasting the traditional Breton pastry called Kouign-amann at the Patisserie Cartron on 16 Rue Nationale. The Kouign-amann was delicious but it was made of butter and caramelized sugar—much too heavy for my taste. On Saturday night we treated ourselves to a delicious meal of traditional Breton galette and crêpe from a popular crêperie called La Petite Bretonne at number 20 rue du Fil. We all had something different as you can see. Our host was very kind and spoke English and French. At one time he burst into song and regaled us with stories from the days he used to be a captain aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean. I recommend anyone visiting Pontivy to consider eating here as the price was moderate and the atmosphere comfortable and quiet. Thank you Pierrot for your kindness!