St Meloir des Bois in Roman Brittany
This department was once home to four Gallic tribes, the Curiosolites, Lexobiens, Ambiliates and Osismiens.
Two thousand ago the people of Armorica, as Brittany was then known, allied to resist the Romans.
However, they were defeated in 58BC and Armorica became part of the Roman province Gallia Lugdunensis.
The Curiosolites‘ capital, the present Corseul, became the main city of the region.
Many vestiges of the temples, towns and extensive road network the Romans built are still scattered all over the region.
The 5 columns of St Meloir des Bois
Among them are the four Gallo-Roman columns of granite that now stand on the Place de l’Eglise of St Meloir des Bois.
However, nobody really agrees on their origin.
Indeed, some believe that the largest column might have been a mile post from the Voie de l’Etrat- Via Statra, the Roman road that connected Vannes to Corseul.
Others think that the column is a Memorial dedicated to the Emperor Victorinus who reigned in Gaul in 267-68AD, as suggested by the partial inscriptions found on it:
“To the Emperor Caesar Avionus Victorinus, pious, happy, invincible prince, his ambassador dedicates and consecrates the monument.”
Then, we know that the second and third columns come from an ancient Roman monument (now disappeared.)
However, the origin of the fourth column is a true mystery!
It indeed has a much more elaborate decoration.
A twisted molding runs between the column and the capital and you can clearly see an opening for a small drainage basin.
Finally, the column also shows traces of sculptures that could be assimilated to those of the altars once used for sacrifices.
Will we ever know the origin of these columns?
St Meloir des Bois, a village named after a Cornish saint
Not sure, as very little is left of the Roman Empire in Brittany, as it disintegrated in the late 5th century.
The monuments the Romans erected were either used as stone quarries or left to fall in ruins.
New settlers arrived in Gaul.
Indeed the Celts from Cornwall, driven from their country by the Angles and Saxons, landed on the shores of Armorica between the 5th and 7th centuries.
They brought with them their old beliefs and legends.
Furthermore, their religious leaders were officially recognized by the Church of Rome.
They founded the seven dioceses of Brittany.
They also declared respected local chieftains as minor saints in order to convert the pagan crowds to Christianity.
It worked indeed, as these minor saints protected and assisted people in their everyday life and therefore became indispensable!
Many churches, villages and sites were consequently named after them.
St Meloir des Bois is therefore named after St. Méloi or Melar.
St. Meloi was the son of Queen Aurélie de Vannes and Saint-Millau of Cornwall, King of Britain.
The present Church of St Meloir des Bois was built in 1828.
It stands on the site of the old chapel and crypt containing the relics of St. Méloir.
The crypt still exists, however, the relics were transferred to the church of Redon.
The intriguing Roman columns of St Meloir des Bois are definitively worth the detour.
Take this opportunity to discover this charming village that could easily be labelled as Ville Fleurie.
Department of Côtes d’Armor
Coordinates: Lat 48.457497 – Long -2.249754