A calvary (calvaire in French) is a type of monumental public crucifix, sometimes encased in an open shrine, most commonly found across northern France from Brittany east and through Belgium and equally familiar as wayside structures provided with minimal sheltering roofs in Italy and Spain. The Breton calvaire is distinguished from a simple crucifix cross by the inclusion of three-dimensional figures surrounding the Crucifixion itself, typically representing Mary and the apostles of Jesus, though later saints and symbolic figures may also be depicted.
In northern France and Belgium, such wayside calvaries erected at the junction of routes and tracks "function both as navigation devices and objects of veneration", Nicholas J. Saunders has observed[1] "Since medieval times they have fixed the landscape, symbolically acquiring it for the Christian faith, in the same way that, previously, Megalithic monuments marked prehistoric landscapes according to presumed religious and ideological imperatives".
The oldest surviving calvaire is at the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Tronoën in the town of Saint-Jean-Trolimon, in south Finistère, near the Pointe de la Torche. This is raised on a large base which also includes carved representations of the Last Supper and scenes from the passion. Calvaires played an important role in Breton pilgrimages known as Pardons, forming a focal point for public festivals. In some instances the Calvary forms part of an outdoor pulpit or throne.
Calvaires are to be found in large numbers throughout Brittany, and come in many varied forms.
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