Church of St. Joseph of Pontivy!

Here I am again back to my wonderful beautiful Morbihan  in my lovely Bretagne. Again, I have written several posts on Pontivy and mentioned this Church but feel it deserves a post of its own and more details. I am updating this post from the original stormy cloudy day , let me tell you a bit more on the Imperial Church of St Joseph.

The Church of St. Joseph is located on Rue Nationale, it was built in the heart of the Napoleonic district of the city (city was known as Napoleonville) between 1863 and 1867, thanks to an imperial grant granted by self name Emperor Napoleon III during a visit to the city. As the Imperial subsidy was exhausted on that date, the work was interrupted and the Church remained unfinished. This Church is open in summer, so check schedules with the tourist office for opening dates and hours. Inside photos are not allowed.


The Church of St Joseph features a belltower-porch that has implemented large-grain granite in big facade, with monolithic balusters, granite stone from the area. In neo-Gothic style, the Church remained outwardly unfinished (no spire of the Bell Tower). One notices the gargoyle overcoming the porch, left side, which represents the Empress Eugenie and, inside, the stained glass with imperial weapons. The final reception of the works takes place as is in 1869. The Church was officially handed over to the bishopric in 1873 as the auxiliary chapel of the parish church and consecrated on April 12, 1876 as in Saint-Joseph.

The Church of St. Joseph is built on a three-tiered Latin cross plan: large arcades, triforium and tall windows. It has the choir facing south, contrary to the religious architectural norms that require an orientation of the choir towards the east. The Emperor also wanted the Church to finance a Finnish-style Bell Tower, but the Church of St. Joseph nevertheless had no reference to the Breton Gothic. It was the French Gothic of the 13C that inspired the Parisian master of the Church.

The bell tower could not receive an arrow because the Imperial financial contribution was not enough to complete the construction site, as well as other elements of the Church such as the stones sometimes carved sometimes simply spliced with architectural sculpture are a good examples. The Sacristy, indispensable to the good conduct of the cult, could not be built. In 1869, fixed furniture such as altars, pulpit, stalls and organ were non-existent.  In the 1870s, in Neo Gothic style, the panels that closed the Choir, as well as the stalls and the pulpit to preach, carved the dove of the Holy Spirit which decorate the lampshade of the pulpit to preach and the reliefs of the four Evangelists accompanied by their symbol on its cube, Saint Mathieu and the Angel, Saint Mark and the Lion, Saint Luke and the Bull, and Saint John and the Eagle.


The organ that is in the choir today dates from the early 20C. In 1972, the restored organ was installed in the Benedictine Abbey of the Sisters Saint-Michel de Kergonan in Plouharnel (see post). In the early 1990’s, the nuns preferred to separate from this instrument and was acquired by the Intercommunal Union for the Tourist Development of the canton of Pontivy. This is how the organ was installed in the Church of St. Joseph where it has remains.

The arms of the self name Emperor Napoleon III are inlaid on the stained glass of the eastern arm of the transept, on the keystone of the apse of the Choir and under the railing of the bell tower-steeple outside. The elements that form the coats of arms are: the Crown, the Imperial mantle, and the signs of the sovereign authority such as the scepter and the hand of righteousness; the Eagle is still present because it symbolizes the military victories and the necklace of the Legion of honour. The “E” of the Empress Eugenie (of Spain) and the “N” of Napoleon III are located in the center of the stained glass of the west arm of the transept and on the floor of the Choir, topped by the Imperial Crown and surrounded by bees, as well as in the center of the west arm of the transept. The bee symbolizes immortality and resurrection and creates a bond also between the Empire and the origins of France. It was in 1653 that, on the tomb of Childeric I, father of Clovis, small bees in gold and garnet were discovered in Tournai ,Belgium. The bee figures are present on the two rosettes of the transept where they surround the central motif with stars. They are also found on the floor of the choir, framing the Imperial Eagle or the figure of Napoleon and on some keystone of the aisles of the nave and the Chapel and the Choir. The bees surround the figure of the Emperor and the Imperial Crown on the pavement of the Choir and the figures of the Emperor and the Empress in the center of the rose of the west arm of the transept.

The Bell Tower, the triforium and the rosettes of the transept; before being restored in 1991, the Church’s bays were once closed by stained white glass windows, most of them surrounded by a blue border. the Church of St. Joseph of Pontivy is today among the major French historical monuments that have participated in the renewal of the art of contemporary stained glass from the 1980’s.

Some webpages to help you plan your visit here and it is worth a detour are:

The Morbihan dept 56 tourist office on St Joseph Church in Pontivy:

The city of Pontivy on heritage

The Pontivy tourist office on Napoleonic heritage see flyer

There you go folks, another nice stop in your route of Bretagne ,and especially my dear home dept 56 of Morbihan. The Imperial Church of St Joseph at Pontivy is worth waiting to see it.

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

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