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Legends of Brittany: Father Fouré, Pirates and the Rock Sculptures of Rothéneuf

Phantasmagorical figures, strange characters, pirates, chimeras and animals from another world. Bas-reliefs with endless arabesques…in Rothéneuf, Brittany, they are at once raw art and land art. Exposed to the sea spray and wind, these strange rock sculptures stand along the cliff of the Hague, overlooking the sea, facing the Bénétin islet near Saint-Malo, along the Emerald Coast.  Its author is a priest, arrived in 1893. At age 54, Adolphe Julien Fouré (1839 – 1910), said Father Fouré or Abbé Fouré, suffered a stroke that left him without speech and hearing, and completely paralyzed of half of the body. He was forced to take an early retirement at Rothéneuf, where he lived in a small house a few steps from the shore. The isolation, combined with the dramatic wildness of Britanny’s coast, unleashed Fouré’s creative genius, and he toiled during the last seventeen years of his life, leaving a monumental collection of open-air sculptures.

Mental Post-It: Jacques Cartier, the Breton explorer who claimed what is now Canada for France, was born in Rothéneuf. He was also immortalized in stone by the priest. As you’ll see below, there was no shortage of sea dogs in Brittany!

Brittany France St Malo the Rotheneuf Carved Rocks Abbe Foure Father Foure Rock Sculptures
The Rotheneuf Carved Rocks

Hammer and chisel in hand, “the hermit of Rothéneuf”, as he liked to be called,  worked every day or almost until 1910, year of his death. This self-taught artist created his own universe of imaginary figures, more than three hundred sculptures of animals, heads of giants, dukes, and Breton saints.  He worked frantically, letting himself be guided by the relief of the granite cliffs. Father Fouré was also a skilled wood carver, but his underground gallery of wooden sculptures (some of them you can see in the video below) had been destroyed by a fire in 1944.

Brittany France St Malo the Rotheneuf Carved Rocks Abbe Foure Father Foure Rock Sculptures

Fouré was obsessed by the Rothéneufs, a clan of pirates who dwelt in the region in the 15th through the 18th century. The village was named after them. Most of the sculptures tell the story of their tragic demise. The Rothéneufs and their minions terrorized the English Channel waters for generations, looting, plundering and destroying everything on their way. They were said to possess superhuman vision from drinking water abundant in a variety of sight-enhancing components. But this water on steroids could not save these wrongdoers from their fate. And so they vanished from the Earth, victimized by the  French Revolution, a massive storm, and avenging sea monsters with sharp teeth and a taste for corsairs’ flesh. It’s all there, written in stone. 

Was the priest, like Dante, warning us about the consequences of evildoing or sadistically mocking the once powerful coterie?

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The Demise of the Rothéneufs

 

 

The site is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. There is a nominal entrance fee, payable at the gate, and informative booklets you’ll love.

Directions
Chemin des Rochers Sculptés
Rothéneuf, near Saint-Malo
Tel: +33 (0) 2 99 56 97 64.

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