Cornish saint to join Brittany’s ‘Easter Island’

Statue is 100th addition to ‘Breton Easter Island’, La Vallée des Saints.

30 May 2018
By Connexion journalist

A giant statue of Cornwall’s patron saint will be on display at events in Brittany this month before coming to rest as the 100th addition to ‘Breton Easter Island’, La Vallée des Saints.

A towering 3.7m tall, the statue of Saint Piran is being seen as a gesture of Celtic solidarity.

Carved out of Cornish granite, it will rest on a plinth of Brittany granite which will add another metre to its height. The  saint will have a disc of Irish granite around his neck representing the mill-wheel which Irish Pagans supposedly placed round his neck before throwing him in the sea (legend says it floated, miraculously).

One of its sculptors is Stéphane Rouget, originally from Brittany but based in Cornwall, the other is David Paton, who is Cornish.

Mr Rouget said: “For a long time I have thought it would be nice to work on something at the Vallée des Saints. I was working in a quarry in Cornwall, when the artist-in-residence mentioned that they wanted something in Cornish granite and were planning to send a gréement (a old-fashioned sailing ship) to fetch it. I contacted them and the deal was done in a week.”

The two sculptors spent ten months on the statue, much longer than the month in open-air workshops on site allowed for most of the valley saints.

“We wanted to involve people so we did most of the work on Saturdays when people could visit and ask questions,” Mr Rouget said.

He says the technique for sculpting in granite is very different than that for work in limestone. “With limestone you let the mallet do the work. With granite that doesn’t work; you have to put a lot of force into it.”

Titanium steel chisels are used. “Granite has its own problems and rewards. It is not as expensive as white marble yet has the same property for the sculptor of allowing rough surfaces to be next to smooth or even highly polished surfaces, which allows you to express yourself in a different way.”

Saint Piran is said to have taught the Cornish how to smelt tin, bringing prosperity.

Work on La Vallée des Saints, at Carnoët, Côtes d’Armor started 10 years ago, and the aim is to have granite statues of 1,000 Brittany saints. Most of the statues are placed high on a hill and can be seen from far away.

It opened to the public as a free attraction in 2012 and a million people have visited.

It aims to boost the economy of central Brittany and promote the use of granite as an architectural stone, through training masons and sculptors.

Most commercial granite carving for buildings has been lost in France and the UK due to price competition from Portuguese and Indian carvers.

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