logo bizzarrobazar colore


by Ivan Cenzi

Is God love? According to abbot Fouré, God was above all word. Not only the capitalized Word, the well-known logos that was “in the beginning” and is the incipit of the Gospel of John. Not even the solemn word delivered during the Sunday sermon. No, for this simple man, born in 1839 in a little village in Brittany, to be able to speak on God’s behalf meant to get in touch with the people of his community, to give them solace and hope, until he became the spokesman of their misery. He went as far as to cross the English Channel to request an audience with the British owners of the coal mine close to his parish, with the only aim to support the cause of the workers on strike. Abbot Fouré was a goodhearted individual, full of energy, always ready to help other people with gleeful generosity, a real force of nature. And then, when he was almost in his fifties, God imposed him the most typical of the tests of faith, depriving him of what he considered as the most important thing on earth: word. Because of a brain injury, abbot Fouré gradually became deaf mute. He, who had used the word as his sword, found himself quickly cut off from the world until in 1893, incapacitated, he left his ministry. The abbot could have continued to be a Job among many others, another version of the theme of the “suffering virtuous man”, but his fortitude was indestructible. If he had to do without word, he would express it in a different way: he would embody it in the landscape of his beloved Brittany. The abbot close to retirement did not give up and began an extraordinary work. Locked up in the silence of his illness, he started to sculpt the cliffs of Rothéneuf, a little inlet in the jagged coast of Brittany, not far from Saint-Malo. In the stones of the cliff his imagination perceived fantastic shapes, that his chisel, day after day, freed from the exceeding rock. Here is the man, dumb to the world, dialoguing through the stone: he is called the hermit of Rothéneuf, and curious people come even from the seaside resorts of Dinard or Saint-Malo to see him at work. From 1893 to 1909 he sculpts without respite, and does not pay attention to anybody. As far as he can, he still serves the local people, but his true life is all there, on the cliffs hit by the wind and the sea, where he is transfusing his entire soul, for those who will appreciate it. The abbot decided to immortalize a local history, that of the Rothéneuf family. For the most part legendary, the events that he sculpted in the rock regarded a family of local shipwrecked that in the sixteenth century managed to live on fishing, haunting, piracy and smuggling: an odd theme for a former minister of God. And yet the legend contained all those features that Fouré could recognize as his own: stubbornness, endurance, energy, fight against adversities. Obviously, the pirates belonging to the Rothéneuf would have to perish because of their sins, devoured by huge sea snakes, but it is not hard to perceive a sort of elective affinity between the abbot, imprisoned but not bent by his handicap, and those pugnacious local ancestors. Fouré started sculpting about fifty characters at first. As time went by, his work became more and more colossal: embracing by then about 5 hundred square metres of coast, the sculptures followed the shapes of cracks and stones, and ended in showing the last desperate fight of the Rothéneuf against the monsters that Hell had sent to seize them. During those sixteen years of tireless work, carried out until his death, abbot Fouré carved an impressive artistic legacy out of the rocks: his garden of stone hosts almost three hundred characters divided into several tableaux, some sacred and others definitely profane (like the one in which the character of Gargantua Rothéneuf kicks his wife up the backside), in a dense and – in the opinion of many people – esoteric sculptural group. Abbot Fouré was far from being a Michelangelo. His work can be catalogued as naïf or outsider art, although these terms do not shake off an aftertaste of arrogant academic haughtiness. But today the statues carved out of the stone by this humble and deaf mute abbot tirelessly continue to stare at the ocean’s horizon, standing still on the cliff in front of the mysterious raising of its tide and the perennial violence of its waves. They seem to mean that, if you know ecstasy, you don’t need words to express love.