Visit the Church of Bretoncelles

A church built in the 16th century


The church of St Peter and St Paul, Bretoncelles, that we see today was built in the 16th century, refurbished and embellished in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its distinctive outline dates from this time, combining the elegance of flamboyant gothic to the solidity of its bell tower.

The two successive major programmes of restoration in the second half of the 19th century and the changes during the twentieth century substantially altered the appearance of the interior.  Its mixed architectural style and the works of art and curios contained within it make it the most important part of the commune's heritage.

Visit the church

The original nave was altered during the first half of the 16th century. Stained glass windows, paid for by the abbot and parishioners, were ordered from Maîtres Eugène Hucher and his son (in business from 1853 to 1906) under the supervision of the Carmel of Le Mans.

Walking up the central nave towards the choir:

During the restoration of this part of the church in 2017, under the sole charge of BPN, frescoes were uncovered.

They represent the four evangelists: St Matthew, St John, St Luke and St Mark.


Saint Marc avant restaurationSt-Mark before

Saint Marc après restaurationSt-Mark after

They have been restored to their original state, as has been the starlit sky seen by previous generations, by artist restorer Annick Dieu.

Choeur Ciel étoile

In September 1926, following Abbot Langlois's request, all the closed pews were replaced by chairs with prie-dieux. The abbot paid personally for new paving laid under the old pews.

In 1967, the clergy having made recommendations that churches should be more accessible and less ostentatious, the statues and the pulpit were removed.  The altar was destroyed and the screens enclosing the side chapels were removed.  A total remodelling of the choir walls and paintings followed.

In 1969, following Vatican Council II, a new refurbishment of the interior led to the removal of a number of ornaments and the high altar where four stone columns and two angels at prayer from the 17th century altarpiece remained.  This altarpiece, along with the two others from the side chapels, in polychrome stone in the Louis XIII style, had been given by the parishioners and the Factory.

Today the magnificent wooden tabernacle* is all that remains of the central altarpiece which covered the entire choir:

it has lost its original colours, has been stripped down and varnished.  Its five panels are carved (from left to right): St. John, St. Peter, a ciborium, St. Paul, a martyred saint, perhaps St. James.

Retable Église de Bretoncelles avant 1969

Central altarpiece (before 1969)






Wooden tabernacle



A Christ on the cross in polychrome* from the 18th century is suspended from the keystone.

Christ en Croix Polychrome

The north wall

Whilst the central nave is reserved for divine worship, the sides, with stone vaults, offer areas where aristocratic families or brotherhoods express their devotion around private chapels and altars.

High up on the north side on the keystone is the ornate shield of the arms of the Noue family "argent trellised with six pieces of sable, a chief Gules with three wolf heads eradicated Or" , the Châteaubriant family "Gules decorated with golden fleur de lys", which confirms the construction of this side as after 1505, the date of René de Châteaubriant's death.

Blason La Noue

Blason La Noue

Coat of arms

Blason Châteaubriant

Blason familles de la Noue

Blason inconnu


Two further keystones decorate the other spans of the north side.  The one in front of the altar of the side chapel also seems to be divided vertically: on the left a fret, and on the right a chevron with three flowers, two in chief and one in base.

Clef de voute

The last keystone represents a Christ's face with long hair and a beard.  This chapel was perhaps for the monks of the Charity of Bretoncelles.

Clef visage d'un Christ

The north side, or Virgin's chapel, is important for having the Alterpiece of the Virgin*, painted and gilded stone, undoubtedly offered by a widowed noble: the arms on the pediment have not been identified but include a three-knotted rope, symbol of faithfulness to a deceased husband.

On the pediment the words "Autel Privilégié" (= special altar) are painted in red, so mass could be celebrated for the rest of the deceased no matter what the liturgical feast of that day.  There is a mention in the parish register for the 1st January 1847 that Pope Gregory XVI had this altar erected as confirmation of an ancient privilege assopciated with the "prayer of 48 hours".

Retable de la Vierge

Marie is still here in the form of a statue* in the gable from the 17th century in polychrome stone,

and in the centre an oil painting on canvas, signed A. Bareli, 1877.


Memorial plaque of the Abbot Fret (1800-1843), native of Bretoncelles and baptised in the church who became the priest of Champs (Orne) and was the author of the 'Antiquités et Chroniques Percheronnes (1837-1840)' (Antiquities and Chronicles of the Perche)  and the 'Scènes Perceronnes' (Scenes of the Perche).

Plaque abbé Fret


Put in place on the initiative of the historical and archaeological society of the department of Orne (la Société historique et archéologique de l'Orne) and inaugurated on the 29th September 1910, the plaque is decorated with a bronze medallion (Louis de Barillet).

A war memorial from 1914 - 1918 is placed on an altar originally in the Château des Vaux in Saint-Maurice-Saint Germain.

Monument morts g

Plaque monument aux morts

Religieuse en Extase

Above the door of the sacristy, an oil painting, 18th century, representing a nun in ecstasy*, most certainly Saint Theresa of Avila.

St James's Chapel

The altarpiece of St James was most certainly given by Jacques d'Angennes, Bishop of Bayeux, Prior of Moutiers and Lord of Bretoncelles (d. 1647). It was probably he who had it placed at the pinnacle of the very fine statue of St James*, in polychrome stone with his pilgrim staff and hat decorated with the St James shell symbol.

Retable de la chapelle Saint-Jacques

Statue St-Jacques


The restoration of St James's Chapel, known as the 'right side' nave, was undertaken during the summer of 2023.  It was the third collaboration between the artist restorer, Annick Dieu, and Bretoncelles Patrimoine et Nature, this time under the aegis of the Fondation du Patrimoine.


2 paintings

Descente de croix

Mariage mystique de Sainte Catherine

Mother of pearl crèche

A crèche in mother of pearl, an example of the arts and crafts of Bethlehem (established by the Franciscans in the 16th century) was donated by the President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arrafat, to senator Daniel Goulet who gave it to the church of Bretoncelles, his birthplace, in 2001.

Crèche de Nacre

At the bottom of the wall are various ornaments  placed by Father Oger, these include:

two baptism fonts
and a group showing the Baptism of Christ by St John the Baptist.


Petite cuve

Grande cuve

Baptème du Christ

Restoration of the Nave

The maximum height of the nave is 9.8 m, some 9.5 m for the part above the choir and 6.25 m above the mezzanine.

The total length is 36 m , the width 7.2 m and the height 3.7 m.

The restoration work includes the nave, the arches and the mouldings of the lower section up to the finials of columns.

The second phase was a collaboration signed between the village, BPN and the Fondation du Patrimoine.



* protected by the Monuments historiques

Last edited: 15/05/2024