The Perros Relief:.

The Arthurian episode in the Life of St. Efflam

It turns out that there are TWO sculptures in the Breton church of St-Jacques at Perros-Guirec which have been interpreted as Arthur and St. Efflam fighting a dragon. On the south portal of the church is a sculpture showing, apparently, two men attacking a dragon; in the nave is a sculpture showing a man with a crozier apparently helping a naked man away from a coiled mass which could be a dead dragon. Recently a paper was delivered at a conference by Esther Dehoux (histoire médiévale, Poitiers),"« Pour la colère du plus grand roi des Bretons » ? Arthur, l’évêque, l’apôtre et les dragons au portail de l’église de Perros-Guirec," a title which suggests that current opinion identifies the sculptures on the porch as representing Arthur, the dragon, and holy men. It is not impossible, however, that the two sculptures, one of which represents violent conflict an the other some kind of deliverance, could be related to each other; however, their styles are quite different.

De la Monneraye's original 1849 article on the church can be read here: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k2074644.image.f305.langFR . He describes both capitals, but it is the external (porch or portal) one which he identifies as the story of Efflam.

Below are three photos. two of the porch sculpture and one of the nave sculpture. Click for larger versions.

1. . Photos of the porch sculpture, courtesy of Chris Lovegrove. Chris's description: "the image of a helmeted warrior with a shield with, to the viewer's right, another figure with a sword (a squire, perhaps?), confronting a headless monster crawling around the capital." It looks as if the monster would originally have had a head, though.

De la Monneraye's remarks on this capital (p. 159): "Six columns take the weight of the archivolt [of the portal], two by two; they are crowned by very strongly flared capitals, decorated with people or animals. The first capital on the left represents an episode in the life of Saitn Efflam: great Arthur, head of the knights of the Round Table, had been fighting vainly against a terrible dragon which had laid waste the parish of Plestin and the whole shoreline; Efflam, recently arrived from the British coast, comes on the scene just as the warrior is about to succumb from exhaustion and the torments of a cruel thirst. Arming himself, according to the legend, with the sign of the Cross, he touches with his apostolic staff the monster, which withdraws in terror and throws itself into the sea, to disappear forever. This last part of the scene is the subject of the first capital." Loomis indicates this page as the description of the other capital (#2, below). However, there is no question but that this is the outermost capital on the left of the portal, and therefore the one De la Monneraye identified as portaying Efflam. Oddly enough, it does not correspond very well to his description, since one sees Arthur actively fighting the dragon and the figure behind him has a sword, not something which could be interpreted as "an apostolic staff." Perhaps there was an extension of the scene on lost portions of the capital.

The nave sculpture. This is an enhancecd scan from the photo in Loomis, _Arthurian Legends in Medieval Art (1938, plate 3), with labels identifying the proposed persons and things represented. It is of a carving on a capital inside the church. Loomis (p. 31) mistakenly cites De la Monneraye's description of the portal capital (#1 above) as applying to this one, although he is aware that other scholars believe it is the portal capital which is indicated. According to Loomis, we see Arthur, having exhausted his shield and arms, being drawn away from the slain dragon by St. Efflam, identified by his crozier.

De la Monneraye's description of this portal: On p. 160, the author enters the church ("En penetrant dans l'eglise...) and finds there more capitals, but not flared (there is no doubt a technical in English for this; anyway, the ones outside are wider at the top than at the bottom, while the ones inside are cylindrical). He remarks one with the sacrifice of Abraham carved on it, and then: "On another capital of the same style, we see a man whose pose and form seem to personify the Lustful, the Debauched. A second character, standing beside him and holding in his left hand a curving crozier, reaches out with his right to lift up the other man, to draw him closer and away from vice."

As Chris Lovegrove noted on the list, the arrangement of the figures might also suggest the Harrowing of Hell (Christ, with a bishop's crozier instead of the usual triumphant cross, drawing Adam from Hell, Hell being represented as a dragon).

Many more ( recent, color) pictures of of St-Jacques and its 12th-century capitals are available on the web.

Topic-Topos inlcudes a number of photos of the church and artifiacts inside it, though not of the two capitals in question.

Sorrento66 photostream includes 12 photos of capitals (exterior and interior) and of the church in general, including both of the capitals above.

Certif 3's album "Visiting a few churches in Brittany and France" includes 17 photos of the church, including many nave capitals.

Renaud Camus's photostream--nice picture of the church and another of the "Arthurian" portal capital.

Translations J. Shoaf