Thursday, 25 March 2010

Salt and Sablières

   This post was going to be about salt and salt marshes.  I dropped our little salt grinder from Brittany the other night and it smashed into a million pieces all across the floor.  During the summer, the salt in Brittany (from the city of Guérande) is harvested from marshes which are filled with water once a month when the tide is highest.  During the month, the water is channelled into different sections of the marsh, and as it evaporates salt is raked out of it.  Brittany is one of the few places in the world where salt is collected this way.  And the salt from the marshes comes in big grey lumps and is always moist, so a special salt grinder with porcelain gears is needed.  (Salt marshes are lovely to bike through!)
   This morning my husband told me that we say someone is (or isn't) 'worth their salt' because Roman soldiers used to be paid a salt stipend, and that the world salary is derived from the Latin word sal, which means salt.  So it seemed like a great day for a salt themed post... but when I went through my old photos looking for pictures to add to the post, I found that in all my bike trips through salt marshes, I've never taken even a single picture.  So all I can offer you is this short video, in French, about salt marshes and the paludiers who work in them.  Even if you don't speak French, you can get a look at how it's done.
    But while I was looking through old photos from Brittany I found some nice pictures of carved sablières, which are the wooden beams that sit below the ceiling and above the stone walls of churches.

(Click to enlarge.)

  The photos in the above collage were taken in the Church of Notre Dame in Quimperlé, the Trémalo church near Pont Aven, and in the Church of Saint Germain in Pleyben, with the majority of photos being from the latter church.  In fact the church in Pleyben is probably one of the most gorgeous churches ever made.  Outside, there are statues depicting biblical scenes, as is often the case in Brittany.

As we were leaving that church, two people pulled up on two huge horses.  I didn't know it was possible to travel from city to city on horseback anymore, but they were making their way through the Monts d'Arrée (a mountain range in the west of Brittany) and stopping in the little towns along the way.

(Interior and ceiling of the church in Pleyben Click to enlarge.)

   The church outside of Pont Aven is also quite nice.  It's quite small and sits all alone atop a hill surrounded by very old oak trees, and rather looks as if it is sinking into the ground.

   Back to the subject of sablières, this tradition of carving and painting them is very common throughout all of Brittany.  The imagery depicted within this medium can range from biblical themes to obscene grotesques.  At some churches children were (maybe still are?) forbidden to raise their eyes as they were entering the church so they would not glimpse the carvings above them.  There also many carvings which depict classical mythology, satrical scenes, depictions of both heaven and hell, and folkloric pieces.
    Theres a really nice book full of gorgeous photos of sablières from all over Brittany called Trésors cachés s sablières de Bretagne by Claire Arlaux and Andrew Paul Sandford.  It really puts my blurry little photos from a few churches to shame.


  1. what a gorgeous and fascinating post! that first image is so beautiful, it's really all i needed :)

    what a great place, that you don't have to mine the salt, it comes up like that--the nazis and soviets gave the job of salt mining out to prisoners, and in english the phrase "salt mine" can refer to "a job involving drudgery and confinement."

    and your photos are beautiful, i am amazed at the church of st. germain, and that last one really does look like it's sinking into the ground...

  2. Hi Zoe,

    I passed on that bit of info about 'salt mine' to my husband. You can be sure some poor, unfortunate, French buisnessperson is going to have to learn all these little bits of wisdom in their next English class. Mwa ha ha!

  3. I've read how in the UK, the craftsmen would carve images of themselves or make some pointed statement about a church official or gentry of the day who was either disliked or caught up in some sort of scandal. Those churches look interesting*!*