Thursday, 6 February 2014


On my travels abroad I have managed to accumulate a variety of interesting curiosities
which are outlined as follows : 


Breton legends

St Thegonnec
Few regions of France are as pious as Brittany and thousands of saints are venerated in the churches and parish closes.  Many of them are undoubtedly apocryphal but there is a strong legend that St Thegonnec tamed a wolf after it had eaten his donkey and used it to draw his cart.   This is depicted on the very fine calvary at St Thegonnec.

Meanwhile at nearby Guimiliau the elaborate carvings on the church calvary include the horrific scenes of a young girl being torn apart by demons.  Catell Gollet loved dancing and other supposedly sinful activities.  She took a handsome lover and discovered all too late that he was the devil in disguise.  Her final damnation was to steal consecrated wafers for her lover. Her dreadful punishment is publicized on the calvary as a warning to all 'bad girls’.

Ankou is the Breton incarnation of death.  This skeletal figure of the ‘grim reaper’ is depicted throughout the region.  He drives a creaking cart piled high with bodies, he spares nobody.  On the side of the 17th century ossuary at La Roche-Maurice  Ankou is depicticted above a holy water stoup. The inscription reads ‘I’ll kill you all’.  Of course, Ankou spares nobody.

There is a very strong legend at le Folgoet where the village and its church are a place of pilgrimage.  The name Folgoet or Fool’s Wood, recalls the miraculous legend of Salaun who, in the 14th century, lived in a wood near a spring on which the church now stands.   The boy was a poor half-wit and could only speak a few words – the Breton for ‘Hail, Lady Virgin Mary’, which he constantly repeated to himself.  When he died in 1358, a white lily grew on his grave bearing the words ‘Ave Maria’ in gold letters.   Duke Jean 1V built a chapel over Salaun’s spring, which subsequently grew into the fine basilica we see today.   Salaun’s holy well situated on the east side of the church, springs from under the altar.

The Holy Well
Yves Helori
Yves Helori (1253-1303) now venerated as St Ives and buried in Treguir cathedral was indeed a real person.  He was a lawyer and is the patron saint of lawyers.  He was a champion of the poor and as a magistrate Yves was famously incorruptible.  The image of him standing between a well-dressed man and a man in rags recalls a story when a rich man sued a beggar for loitering by his kitchen door and ‘stealing’ his cooking smells.   On this occasion, Ives declared for the rich man and awarded him appropriate damages – the sound of a coin rattling in a tin.
 St Yves


A shrine to St Guirec


The Bay of St Guirec is situated on Brittany’s ‘Pink Granite Coast' near to Ploumanach.   A little stone shrine on the beach is dedicated to St Guirec who landed there on the sixth century.   There is a granite statue of St Guirec inside the shrine.  Originally the statue was of wood, but it suffered greatly because of the old tradition by which girls wanting to find a husband, stuck a pin into its nose, and it had to be replaced.



St Cado
The tiny village of St Cado is on a circular islet on the Etel estuary on Brittany’s Atlantic coast, an idyllic place connected to the mainland by a substantial stone bridge.
The Romanesque church is dedicated to the island’s patron saint, St Cado.  This Celtic monk is said to have been able to cure deafness in all who placed their ears against his stone bed which is to be found inside the church.
Legend has it that St Cado persuaded the Devil to build the bridge to link the island to the mainland in return for the first soul to travel across.  It is said that St Cado sent a cat across the bridge before anyone used it.
St Cado

The chapel of St Barbe


The tiny white 17th century chapel of St Barbe stands on a small hump of cliff at the eastern end of the harbour at Roscoff on the north coast of Brittany.  Apparently St Barbe was entrusted with the task of protecting Roscoff from Pirates and enemies of the church.  A nearby plaque tells us that it is still used as a landmark for sailors and was built as a expression of devotion to beg St Barbe for protection against the dangers of the coast. 
Roscoff is the port where ‘Onion Johnnies’ left for England with their bikes and bunches of onions to sell.  We are told that the ‘Johnnies’ never failed to salute the saint by hoisting their flag three times.



Our Lady in the Marshes
A unique statue is to be found in the church of St Sulpice at Fougères in Normandy.
In the 11th century the Chapel of St Mary was built within the castle walls at Fougères but the castle was destroyed in the 12th century.  In the 13th century the Lusignan family rebuilt the mighty castle and at the same time, the nearby parish of St Sulpice decided to extend their church.  Whilst digging the foundations, the people found a statue which they called Our Lady in the Marshes in reference to the marshy area.
Thirty inches high, the statue is made of Caen stone with the Virgin Mary in a sitting position holding the baby Jesus, who is suckling his mother’s breast.    Throughout the centuries devotion to this statue has not weakened and in 1923 Pope Pius X1 honoured the Virgin of the Marshes with a solemn coronation.

Little Flower of Jesus
Building of the huge hilltop basilica at Lisieux, visited by some 100,000 pilgrims each year, commenced as late as 1926, a year after the canonisation of its patron St Thérèse of the Child Jesus, and was completed in 1954 as her shrine.
Known as ‘The Little Flower of Jesus’, Marie-Francoise-Thérèse Martin, the youngest of nine children, was born in 1873 into a very pious family.  She was a frail child  and at the age of nine she nearly died, but a vision of Our Lady smiling at her, effected an immediate and complete cure.   At the age of 13 years, Thérèse  and her father began a campaign for her to enter a convent before the normal age of 16 years and she was subsequently admitted to the Carmel convent as Thérèse de l’enfant Jesus in 1888 when she was fifteen.  She was ordered by the Mother Superior to try her hand at writing which resulted in her autobiography, ‘The story of a Soul’, the most famous passage being fusion with Jesus in the form of a wedding invitation.   Racked by consumption, the ‘little flower’ died in 1898, at the age of just twenty five.  Following her canonisation she was made a doctor of the Church in 1997

The Black Madonna

The annual Pardon at Guincamp in Brittany brings pilgrims to pay homage to the much venerated Black Madonna in the Basilica of Notre Dame de Bon Secours. There are several such icons in France of medieval origin but the exact origin is not easy to determine.

Another wooden Black Madonna can be seen at Rocamadour, an amazing village in The Dordogne.
The village is named after St Amator and the icon in the pilgrimage church of Notre Dame high in the rock above the village is said to have been carved by the Saint himself.


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