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Trehorenteuc
Trehorenteuc

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Tréhorenteuc, the Priest, the Legend and the Holy Grail

Tréhorenteuc is situated in the forest of Paimpont, a fascinating forest in Brittany, France. According to local legends, this is the forest Brocéliande, where King Arthur’s mysterious half-sister, Morgana, held her false lovers captive. 

Read about the enigmatic Henry Gillard, a local priest, who pictured the myth of the Holy Grail in his church. 

Who was Henri Gillard?

Henri Gillard, also known as Abbé Gillard or Rector of Tréhorenteuc (born November 30, 1901 and passed away on July 15, 19791), was a Breton priest who served at the Sainte-Onenne church in Tréhorenteuc from 1942 to 1962. 

As soon as he got there, he had this small chapel in Morbihan redecorated with paintings that combined the symbols of the Celtic and Christian religions through the Holy Grail.

Clearly, he propagated the Arthurian tale through his numerous publications and by organizing guided tours of the adjacent Valley of No Return. Throughout his years of preaching, he has guided and housed tourists in the church. His intervention revitalized the town of Tréhorenteuc, a victim of a massive rural exodus at the time, transforming it into a prominent tourist attraction. 

He left behind famous phrases like, “The door is within (La porte est en dedans )” , and other esoteric reflections such as, “What we see does not exist, but what we do not see exists (Ce que l’on voit n’existe pas, mais ce que l’on ne voit pas existe)”.

Disavowed and exiled by his hierarchy in 1962, Father Gillard was finally rehabilitated and interred in the church of Tréhorenteuc upon his death in 1979. A statue of him has been erected, and an organization has been founded to protect his works and legacy.

The door is within

The Door is Within

When you walk through the door, you read the words “La Porte est en Dedans” (The door is within). This is the start of a new adventure. The only question is whether this adventure is in yourself or in the church. You can only find out if you enter.

When we got to the church of Tréhorenteuc, we didn’t know anything about it or the surrounding area. We were surprised by how strange the pictures in the stained-glass windows and the Stations of the Cross looked. We saw paintings of King Arthur and the knights of the round table on the walls. Furthermore, we were amazed by a small statue of Michael, the archangel. He had tied up the devil, who was in the shape of a monster. Michael was holding a cup instead of a sword. We have seen a lot of images of the Archangel Michael, but none of them holding a cup.

Micheal

Inside the church of Tehorentuec

Inside the church of Trehorenteuc

There is a big stained-glass window behind the altar. Even though the picture is full of details, the Grail is easy to spot. It’s a green cup with the words “La Calice de mon sang” written above it (The Cup with my Blood).

On the right, you see Christ, and to the left, the Jerusalem Cross, a reference to Godfrey of Bouillon and the Crusaders. You can also see this Jerusalem cross on the church’s floor, on the spot where the altar stands. Joseph of Arimethea is kneeling in front of Jesus. 

Below this image, you can see a man and a woman. You might recognize the man as the priest, Henri Gillard. 

The picture is surrounded by the symbols of the four evangelists: the eagle, the ox, the angel, and the lion. They almost seem to merge with the oak leaves, the acorns, and the birds.

Zooming into the chalice, we also see a man and a woman. Perhaps a reference to the alchemical wedding (Christian Rozenkreuz).

The windows on the left and right show the origin of the chalice. 

One window has the title l’action de graces and shows the cup during the last supper. 

In fact, only this cup is present on the table on which you recognize Jesus with his eleven disciples. 

The second scene is called l’apperition du saint Graal. It is an image of the Grail that appears at the court of King Arthur. The Grail captures the blood of the crucified Christ and is carried by two angels.

Paintings by german prisoners of war

Gillard used German prisoners of war to decorate his church. The German artists Peter Wissdorf and Karl Rezabeck followed his instructions in exchange for not having to stay in prison. Rezabeck later said that he didn’t know anything about mythology, but that Gillard instructed him and took him to the magical places in the surrounding forest.

In addition to the Stations of the Cross, Rezabeck painted four other paintings. You can find them in the front of the church, to the left and right of the altar.

The first three paintings describe the grail story. One image stands out because it is a copy of a much older painting, probably from the 15th century. It shows the Grail appearing at the round table, where King Arthur sits with his knights. 

Knights of the round table
Knights of the round table (Tréhorenteuc)
Knights of the round table
Knights of the round table (15th century)

With some effort, you can distinguish the signature K. Rezabeck 1945.

Grailstories in tréhorenteucs' church

A painting with the signature REZ ’47 consists of four stories. The parts in the middle refer to the source of well called Barenton, which you can find in the magical forest Broceliande. This spring sometimes seems to boil because bubbles rise from it, while its water is cold as ice.

According to tradition, the brave knight Ywein (Yvain) defeated a Black Knight here. On the upper part, he pours water over a stone at the source, causing severe weather. This angers the Black Knight, standing in the back of the picture. He wants revenge because the storm has damaged his land. Behind it is the wife of the Black Knight. Ywein was in love with her and married her after defeating the Black Knight.

The lower part represents the fight between the knights.

The golden wizard on the left wears zodiac signs on his robe. A fascinating detail is that the golden cross on the table has fallen over.
In any case, it is interesting to study this figure. Is it the wizard from the tarot deck, or does this figure represent Merlin?

The other side represents a sleeping youth and a woman with a white snake in her hands. The snake represents rebirth or a new beginning.

On the next painting, we could not find a date. It again presents various scenes from the Grail legend. On the left, you can clearly see the church of Tréhorenteuc. The stones at the top are also clearly recognizable. We had encountered them before, exploring the valley of false lovers. In this valley, you can easily get lost, they say. The high iron content in the rocks would make a compass unreliable (but with our GPS, we had little trouble finding our way). 

Looking at the painting, you can see the magician Merlin leaning against some stones in front of the church. His mistress Viviane enchanted him. 

The woman in red is Viviane or Morgana. One cant really tell, but in terms of symbolism it makes little difference. They both are superior women, evil because they felt betrayed. 

What I found super intriguing was the similarity with the station of the cross. 

station of the cross trehorenteuc

Is the lady in red looking in dismay at the fallen Jesus, or is there some pity in her eyes? Is she Maria Magdalene looking at her fallen lover? A false lover because he betrayed her by his death?

This picture is also set in Valley of no Return. One can recognize the stones.

Villagers say the lady in red looked a lot like the schoolteacher from the fifties. Rumor says she and the priest were lovers. This made the Gillard a false lover too. Either way, with this affair he betrayed his holy relation with God, but he also betrayed his love for the teacher by being a priest. 

Saint Onenne

One painting is a domestic scene. It represents the family of the saint to whom this church is dedicated: Onenne. On the pillars, you can read the name of the parents, Judael and Pritelle, and the names of her brothers and sisters. A number of them have been canonized, as has Onenne.

The painting is signed with REZ ’46.

In the foreground, we see Onenne with her mother. The window on the right gives a view of the church. Onenne is an unknown local Saint. As far as I know, the church in Tréhorenteuc is the only church dedicated to her. She died in 630 and her holy days are 30th of April and 1st of October.
The story boils down to the king’s daughter choosing the life of a virgin and hermit over life at court.

In fact, Onenne was allowed to call herself the owner of the castle Tréhorenteuc, in the current department of Morbihan just west of Paimpont, but she preferred to live the life of a hermit. She died at the age of 24 and was buried at the back gate of the castle, surrounded by the poor.

Glass-stained window picturing the live of onenne

The story of her live is depicted in six windows:

Onnene
Onenne receives the blessing of virtue from Saint Elouarn
Life of Onenne
Onenne is kissed by the holy virgin
Onenne 3
Onenne is exchanging her expensive robes with the clothes of a poor woman.
Onnene 4
Onenne's honor is attacked by a lover, but she stands up for herself.
Onenne 5
The last will of Onenne. Everything she owns is for the poor.
Onenne 6
Onenne's funeral is attended by many of her worshippers

Practical information

You can spend more than one day in Tréhorenteuc and its vicinity, exploring the church and the Grail forest, Brocéliande. If you would like to stay in a hotel, just fill in the dates below to see what facilities are available at that time. Don’t forget to zoom out, as there are no hotels in Terhorenteuc, but there are some nice deals in Paimpont or Ploërmel. 

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Organized tours from Rennes

If you are staying in Rennes and if you are with a small group, check out the advertisement below. You can rent a minibus with driver and if you can divide the price with 15 people it is much easier than going by bus and taxi. 

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