Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Missionary zeal in Brittany

After the tedium of the Council of Trent and the furor of the Wars of Religion, Brittany was well set for a religious revivial in the early 17th century. The magnificence of the parish closes and the outbreak of convent-building (Ursulines, Carmelites, Calveriennes, etc.) are well-known, but less attention is given to the widespread activities of missionaries in the region.
Michel le Nobletz from Plouguerneau, called the Lunatic priest for his eccentric delivery and semi-masochistic lifestyle, devised the use of "taolennou", pictorial maps of faith painted on sheep-skin or sometimes wood, to reach the minds and souls of illiterate Breton peasants who had wandered from the Catholic fold or never been rounded up in the first place. These proved remarkably effective and his relentless efforts over many years throughout Basse Bretagne did much to regenerate the religious devotion which has somehow wormed its way into the fabric of Breton identity.
But the man he chose to succeed him in this noble work, Julien Maunoir, came from eastern Brittany, north of Rennes, and therefore was burdened by the fundamental handicap of not speaking Breton. Fortunately God intervened at this point, and as Maunoir prayed in the Chapel of Ty Mamm Doué, an angel appeared and touched him on the lips, giving him the gift of that bythronic language. A huge painting in Quimper cathedral records this miracle.
I can just picture the scene as he toiled away by candlelight each night with a grammar and the help of a real Breton servant. 'No, your reverence, I really think you must labour a little more at those mutated consonants before we announce the angel's visit.'
One can't help admiring those tricksy Jesuits.....

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