The Gavrinis island is famous because of its important passage grave, a megalithic monument from the Neolithic period, belonging to the same broad context as the Breton megaliths of Carnac and Locmariaquer. At the time of its construction, c. 3500 BC, the island was still connected with the mainland. The rich internal decorations make Gavrinis one of the major treasuries of European megalithic art. The tomb is also remarkable for the care taken in its construction and its good preservation.
The stone mound has a diameter of about 50m. The mass of stones forming the cairn is internally structured by a series of walls, subdividing it into separate 'ranks'. It is a characteristic example of Neolithic dry stone architecture. The mound covers a single rectangular (nearly square) slab-built burial chamber, located at the centre of the mound and measuring about 2.5m across. The chamber is built of about 50 carefully placed slabs. The biggest of these is the ceiling slab which weighs nearly 17 tons.
The chamber is reached from outside by a 14m long corridor or passage. Of the 29 orthostat slabs that form the sides of the passage, 23 are decorated with carved symbols and patterns. Some of the symbols appear to represent non-abstract objects, like axes and croziers or staffs. A common horn-like motif may symbolise cattle, a shape conventionally called the shield may be a very stylised human figure. More abstract motifs include zigzag lines, lozenges and snake-like lines.
A replica of part of the Gavrinis passage with its decorated slabs can be visited in the Museum at the megalithic necropolis of Bougon.References:
The Abbey of Saint-Etienne, also known as Abbaye aux Hommes ('Men"s Abbey'), is a former monastery dedicated to Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne). It is considered, along with the neighbouring Abbaye aux Dames ('Ladies" Abbey'), to be one of the most notable Romanesque buildings in Normandy. Like all the major abbeys in Normandy, it was Benedictine.
Lanfranc, before being an Archbishop of Canterbury, was abbot of Saint-Etienne. Built in Caen stone during the 11th century, the two semi-completed churches stood for many decades in competition. An important feature added to both churches in about 1120 was the ribbed vault, used for the first time in France. The two abbey churches are considered forerunners of the Gothic architecture. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The interior vaulting shows a similar progression, beginning with early sexpartite vaulting (using circular ribs) in the nave and progressing to quadipartite vaults (using pointed ribs) in the sanctuary.
The two monasteries were finally donated by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, as penalty for their marriage against the Pope"s ruling. William was buried here; Matilda was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames. Unfortunately William"s original tombstone of black marble, the same kind as Matilda"s in the Abbaye aux Dames, was destroyed by the Calvinist iconoclasts in the 16th century and his bones scattered.
As a consequence of the Wars of Religion, the high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed and was never rebuilt. The Benedictine abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and the abbey church became a parish church. From 1804 to 1961, the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings in 1944, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church; on the rooftop there was a red cross, made with blood on a sheet, to show that it was a hospital (to avoid bombings).