Saturday, August 17, 2019

A Roman site

Yesterday I was in Locuon, looking at the Roman (and probably earlier) quarry which provided stone not only for the locality, but for the new town established at Carhaix, 27km away, in the 1st century AD. A Roman road from Vannes passed near the site, facilitating transport of stone blocks, and excavations of this track found parts had been paved in the same material. The sheer rock faces are like living walls, ferns burgeoning in the damp green light of the pits. The whole site has a subterranean feel as the trees close in overhead creating a sensation of being underneath a porous layer. Soft and crumbly to the touch, Locuon granite is a light grey/white in hue and smooth in texture, giving it almost the appearance of marble.

The approach is down a monumental staircase, thanks to the sacralisation of the site, with a chapel, Madonna in a niche on the quarry wall, fontaine and lavoir on a lower level. The current chapel is 17th century and shows off the potential of the building stone, but there were certainly earlier versions, as a line of probable roof support holes in the cliff behind indicates. This granite wall also includes a carved face and cross motif. Facing the statue of the Virgin Mary is the headless statue of a pagan goddess, fixed to the bottom of the staircase parapet.
Descending to a lower level of the quarry, a spring pours out of a sculpted surround in the rock and the water is carried via a slate enclosed channel to the washing basin. Here is the first of a group of contemporary art pieces, a rather dog-like curled wolf on a platform raised above the water. Pushing further into the dells of the quarry, there are rocks incised with criss-cross pattern and, more impressively, a 'boulder' held in the thin branches of a tree. This was actually made in situ by Yuhsin U Chang, from wool over a wooden frame.
After a lengthy site inspection, I set off for a few kilometres on the former Roman road.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019


St Thélo
It's been a real struggle to finish the little Breton saints' guide on time, but I've never missed a deadline yet and I really need to focus now on Wayfaring in Little Britain, which calls me daily for thought and attention. There will still be editing changes on the saints to incorporate, I'm sure, but the basic text is finished and another day should see photo selection wrapped up. Luckily the cover photo almost chose itself and I'm happy that this short introduction to an enormous subject will fit well in what is almost a series, alongside the Huelgoat and Monts d'Arrée slim volumes. What's important is that they have sold in their thousands and that people really like the format and content.
A few walking trips coming up for Roman and megalithic chapters of WILB. Time to get out of my writing hut and onto the road...

Monday, July 22, 2019

Worth its weight in gold

Artichoke harvest
Léon, the northern area of Finistere is best known further afield for its ferry port at Roscoff, but no traveller heading south off the boat can have failed to notice the ubiquitous fields of artichokes, onions and cauliflowers. It is a prime growing area, part of what has long been called the Golden Belt of Brittany's agricultural harvests. Brittany Ferries itself was started in the 1970s to take the produce to Cornish markets. Breton artichokes were once flown on Concorde to the US.
The legend of Saint Goulven is at the heart of this idea of fecundity and its concomitant prosperity. His mother was about to give birth to him as soon as they arrived on the coast of Armorica, near where the bourg of Goulven is today. His father went on a desperate search for water, finally falling to his knees and praying for God's help. On returning to his wife, he found a newly born son and a newly flowing spring of freshwater. The land in Brittany provides. The elaborate Renaissance fontaine of St Goulven now marks the spot. Pilgrims later came for healing, particularly of fever. A stone sarcophagus in the wall by the statue is called the bed or tomb of the saint. Here sufferers immersed themselves and prayed for cures.
Sarcophagus in lefthand wall

Although much later a bishop of Léon, Goulven was a quiet and serious young man, who soon dedicated himself to prayer and preaching. He lived apart from society with a single follower. One day he had the impulse to send his friend Maden to a neighbour asking for a gift. After a short reflection, the neighbour hefted a clod of earth into the fold of Maden's tunic and sent him back. Maden found his load heavier and heavier as he struggled to return. Goulven came out of his hut to meet him and discovered that the earth had turned into a lump of gold. So we learn that the riches of Léon lie in its soil, and that Goulven was worthy of a miracle and destined for sainthood.
Earth turned to gold

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Sacred walking - the Grande Tromenie

Tomb of Saint Ronan
I am very interested in sacred walking at the moment as recent posts indicate, although my new book is about different types of routes and not limited to religious themes.The Grande Tromenie takes place every six years at Locronan, with an annual shorter version. The name means journey (tro) around a monastic territory (minihi), and, according to tradition, the route follows the path of a sacred circuit undertaken regularly by Saint Ronan around what was already established by the Dark Ages as a Celtic nemeton, or outdoor temple. A trail linking rocks and megalithic remains, commonly called Druidic stones in the 19th century, may have been linked to fertility rites. This aspect has persisted in popular perception, and maybe conception, right up to the present day.
Countryside around Locronan, context of the trail
When Ronan established his settlement here (later Locronan, the sacred place of Ronan), it was after an initial bruising encounter with feisty Breton women on the coast of the Bay of Douarnenez, who resented him interfering in their nefarious wrecking activities by shining a great light on the shoreline. Arriving in the interior where the welcoming anonymity of the Bois de Nevet (once Nemet = nemeton) sheltered him, Ronan was soon drawn into the public spotlight again, incurring the unbounded hostility of a woman named Keben. She wanted to destroy the reputation and influence of the monk and accused him of murdering her daughter, but Ronan was able to prove Keben herself was the culprit. Later, after the saint's death, she insulted the funeral procession and struck off a horn of one of the oxen leading the funeral cart. This story is to explain the name of Plas ar Horn, beside the memorial chapel of 1912, one of the 12 stations of the Tromenie route, and an earlier ritual site.
Keben uses a washing paddle to de-horn the ox
The festival attracts many thousands of followers for the procession, which wends through the countryside over 12 kilometres, including paths on private land only open for this event - a good chance for new perspectives in all senses. This relationship with the landscape is my interest in this case. The way is cleared of foliage and long grass, and marked out with 12 stations, each representing an individual saint with a granite cross and a little hut containing a statue, brought in from chapels in the area to honour Ronan and be honoured by the faithful in their turn.
One notable feature is Gazeg vaen, a rock also known as the Chair of Ronan, where the saint is said to have sat and looked out over the waters of the bay (no longer visible from the spot). The stone is the survivor of  a megalithic group, and has been (for how long?) the focus of a fertility ritual for women, who lay full length or rubbed their belly against the surface to increase their chances of conceiving a child.
Postcard of woman sitting on the "chaise de Ronan"
The rock today
The grand procession is on Sunday 14th July, but the route remains open to walkers for one week after that date, and I'll be on it at a quieter time. (Walked on Tuesday 16th and some photos added above).

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Morlaix's unique style

9 Grand'Rue
I am currently writing about Morlaix in the context of roads and pathways for my new book, which has reminded me of all kinds of negatives about this beautiful historical town, so here let's focus on something more alluring. The town has a unique architectural form, the maison pondalez, narrow, half-timbered, high-storeyed houses, offering an unparalleled glimpse into the 16th century life of the city. Often likened to lantern houses, they did not in fact originally have roof level light-sources, with windows serving both front and back rooms alone. The great central well, rising the full height of the house, had a monumental fireplace and would have been lit with sconces. The name pondalez is of uncertain derivation, the traditional 'pont' + 'aller' in reference to a single turning staircase with wooden 'bridges' to both sides on each level, is now largely rejected in favour of the nothing in particular. Wood carving is a feature of the exterior with saints and angels dignifying the façade, and the interior where ornate single piece stair-posts rise to an enormous height. The jettied storeys have rooms on each level with small-paned casement windows seemingly only feet away from their opposite neighbours across the tiny cobbled streets of the old walled city, sacked by English raiders in 1522.
Most interesting of all is the raison d'etre of these exceptional buildings. They were the fine residences of nobles turned merchants, officially surrendering the swords that symbolised their status in order to cash in on the highly lucrative cloth trade with England. The quality fabric créées was purchased in the shop-fronts of these Morlaix houses (with a fold-down counter on ground level) and shipped from the river port 200m away. Often younger sons of the Breton petite noblesse had few prospects in terms of family inheritance and stood to make fortunes in commerce, but they still wanted the trappings of the manor houses in the narrow confines of a medieval town - hence the narrow frontage and great height of these splendid residences, and the quality of craftsmanship in their construction and decoration.
Two of these houses can be visited today. The so-called House of the Duchess Anne in the market square Place Allende and 9 Grand'Rue. The latter would be my choice as more atmospheric and clearly presented. Just the thing for getting in the spirit of the town and imagining that attack in 1522. A maid in this very street had the measure of the English: she opened a trap-door in the hall and the first few pillagers fell into the cellar and drowned. Their less stupid comrades chased the maid up and up the stairs until she was forced to throw herself from the top window. That piece of anecdotal history takes on quite another dimension when mounting the levels of this maison pondalez.
So-called Maison de la Duchesse Anne

Thursday, June 06, 2019

'New' website

Combourg - chateau and park
My website has had a complete overhaul and now features recent and other work. It will be updated regularly with new writing. Please have a look - non-spam flavoured feedback is welcome.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Ile St Gildas

Ile St Gildas
I spent the weekend on the north coast in Cotes d'Armor for the pardon on the little private island of Saint Gildas, who is one of several Breton saint patrons of horses. The unusual aspect of this event is that the island is only accessible on foot at the lowest tide and that it is only open for public access on this one day a year. A procession of people and horses make their way out from Coz Castel in Bugélès, following the curving line of an old causeway constructed in the days when the islands in this chain were all exploited and regularly inhabited. In places there is no more than a vague track and care is needed all along the slippy sliding path over sand, mud, rocks and seaweed.
I set off before the official start time, leaving crowds gathered on the shore to await tractor transport or to walk along with the horses on their way to a bishop's blessing on the island. Even so there was already a long line of men, women and children picking a precarious route across the strand. Footwear varied from wellingtons and walking boots to open sandals and bare feet. Many old hands carried a shoe-bag with a change for arrival. It was certainly a dirty business and required a degree of concentration that left little time for observing the off-shore scenery. Fortunately the intense heat of Saturday had evaporated and the breeze was fresh once away from the shore and walking where there would normally be sea. One wide channel remained and I waded across up to my knees through the gentle current.
Behind in the distance I could make out the main body of participants on the move. The first horses, a fine pair of chestnut mares, passed me shortly before I reached the causeway up onto the island. Paddocks and paths had been newly mown for the occasion, scenting the air with the summery smell of cut grass. There were already many there but I had the chance to visit the tiny chapel of St Gildas and even smaller oratory of St Roch in their stone enclosure before the crowds arrived. A makeshift altar was set in the open air under a white canopy and lines of chairs awaited the pilgrims for mass.

While they filled up, I wandered about watching the horses, now lining a large fenced area beside the food and drink stalls, and locating the eccentric toilets in a former bread-oven.
After mass the bishop of St Brieuc and Tréguier and his acolytes processed the short distance to the paddock, mounted a special platform and blessed baskets of bread which he then fed to each horse to ensure its good health and good behaviour during the coming year.
There were 75 animals,so I decided to set off back whilst the route was fairly clear and enjoy the journey which was my (work) purpose in coming, able to take it slower on return. There was about an hour left before the tide began to fill the channel, but I met an elderly Breton woman with bright blue eyes and bright yellow wellingtons, making her slow way to the island. She said she was afraid of slipping, but clearly determined to reach the site even though the ceremonies were almost over and tractors lining up to bring the faithful home. Gradually fading snatches of canticles accompanied me on my return.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Pardon of St Yves

I spent the weekend in Tréguier, a favourite haunt, but for the first time to attend the great Pardon of St Yves. Yves Hélory (1253-1303) was an ecclesiastical advocate and extraordinary defender of the poor, well-known all over the Trégor in his day and considerably further afield following his canonisation in 1347. He is the patron saint of Brittany and his special day attracts thousands for a procession between the cathedral in Tréguier and the chapel in Minihy-Tréguier, his birthplace and home. The relic of his skull is carried by lawyer and priests along the 1.5km route and back.
The town is all dressed up for the event with his family's yellow and black flag (thanks to a crusader grandfather) displayed everywhere together with sheaves of yellow broom and hundreds of lily flowers studded into hedges along the way.
I attend the mass in Breton at Minihy, for a while in the back of the chapel and then outside in the cemetery, still singing along from the hymn sheet (Breton is easy to follow and generally pronounced as it looks), and watching pilgrims turn up now and then to crawl under the 'tomb' of the saint, an ornate stone table. The best sensations of the occasion - in the simple and emotional faith of St Yves - are most felt here without the great numbers thronging around the cathedral in Tréguier, where the service in French is also taking place.
Walking into the town along the processional way in reverse - Chemin de St Yves, rue de St Yves - I have time for a leisurely coffee while crowds gather to witness the spectacle. Suddenly I realise that just seeing a bunch of lawyers coming out of the south door with their proud burden is not what I want to see most, and it will be hard to do so or to take photos in the scrum of curious onlookers and the faithful following the parade.
I retrace my steps all the way back to Minihy, where a few are waiting at the point by a wayside stone cross where the main ritual of the procession occurs, on a ninety-degree turn down to the chapel.
After a short wait I hear singing floating up from the village - canticles of St Yves are repeated over and over during all the ceremonies - and the procession from Minihy with its three ancient banners arrives to await the cortege coming from Tréguier. The priests take up a position facing along the road towards the cathedral.
The crowd grows and seeking a place with a good view and the sun behind me, I'm forced to get up on a very narrow bank where three older people are sitting with their legs dangling. It requires considerable muscle and foot strain to keep perched up there for more than half an hour of anticipation. Finally the first figures appear and a Breton pipe band leads the way, passing in front of the cross and down into Minihy. Behind it an astonishing spectacle, wave on wave of banners and ceremonial crosses stretching as far as I can see.
The ritual of encounter begins as Minihy's tall metal cross is lowered and raised in a nod to various passing crosses from other parishes, which also dip so that the two metal faces almost kiss as they skim by one another. It is nearly forty minutes before the skull appears in the distance, a priest in front flanked by lawyers bearing the weight of the reliquary on their shoulders. They stop a little way away. The rest of procession has passed. We all wait. Finally the Minihy banner-carriers move forward and the skull is brought to face them. Up and down the banners go - what body strength it must take - high in the air then dropping towards the ground, saluting their saint as he arrives home in his own parish. This is the climax of the Pardon, the relic visiting its most profound site of connection. After passing through the village, the procession will return to Tréguier.
This is an old ritual, and of more significance that touches me than is usually the case in official ceremonies. The depth of relationship with place is something I understand. Indeed I am currently writing about St Yves and his paths in the Trégor. Almost every day, despite travelling far and wide in his duties as a priest elsewhere and preacher everywhere, Yves Hélory walked back home to the little family manor house where he tended the old and sick and saw that all their needs were provided for. Thirty or forty kilometres was nothing to him in search of home and belonging. The Pardon, despite all the trappings and pompous lawyers, both of which the saint himself would have deplored, still manages to symbolise this simple truth.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Text 7: Musings of a Patron Saint

I am the saint. This is my church.

I stand over the porch, I stand next to the altar,
Sometimes a place on the calvary.
You can see me on my stag, with my wolf,
Beside my dog, along with a horse or cow.
I prefer animals. They obey me.

I am honoured with altarpieces, telling my story,
Through offerings and prayers, a relic, a tomb.
Honoured by banners and processions:
On my holy day, the Pardon winds its way.

Not always so easy being a saint.
All those demands and quarrels and envy:
I would prefer the quiet peace of a lonely spot,
But destiny says otherwise.

I have a mission: it is quite an exalted position.
Special powers make me a magician,
Using my staff for a wand.

I could strike a spring from the earth
Drive dragons to suicide,
I could cure shingles, blindness and burns.
Make children walk or form in the womb,
Bring rain to crops,
Call up the wind or pat it down
To save ships in a storm.
At my best, I was most effective.

People spoke fervently to me once,
A saint who was here and did stuff of note,
Rather than God, too busy or remote.

Now not so much.
No longer the draw, the object of hope,
I live in the past, and to be honest I’m bored,
It’s an unsettling slope,
From adored to ignored.

2019 ©Wendy Mewes

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Exhibition of texts on Parish Closes


EXHIBITION April 29- May 17 at SUR LA ROUTE, Huelgoat
Opening event: May 4, 3pm

I am exhibiting creative texts - together with photos by Candy Blackham - on the theme of the Parish Closes in northern Finistere. These extraordinary religious ensembles renowned for their architecture and art deserve to be better known. They are also revealing of the particular social and economic history of the region.
There are 12 texts, with French translations, including a visual display of a close in words. The following are short extracts from what are much longer texts that obviously need to be read in entirety for best effect and all the intricacies of sound and structure.

Extract from Text 4: Ossuary - Bone House

end flakes
darling dust
not so

stone speaks
the dead words
memento mori

talking of bones

Extract from Text 5: Calvary – a tiered response

And those women: Mary sweetly holds her baby’s foot as they flee. Magdalena grieves at the base of the cross. Mary Stuart’s hat is there. Veronica and the hologram handkerchief. Those are the good roles, mothers and mourners. Not like Katell Gollet, dragged down to hell for liking a drink and a dance. Watch out, girls.
Extract from Text 10: Bits about Bits

Enclosure: determining wall, shaping the truth. Keeps faith in and the ungodly out, likewise dogs, chickens and pigs.  Pagans manage to squeeze through. Defining space and temptation, ritual containment. Descendant of cairns and alignments.

Extract from Text 12: Faith is

FAITH is glue, sticking together.
FAITH is an almost forever.

FAITH is illusion, but one bright and gilded.
FAITH is for the weak and deluded.

FAITH is trust in bones and blood.
FAITH is no protection from flood.
Look forward to seeing friends and followers at some point during the course of the exhibition.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

St Yves de Verité - hexing by saint

St Yves in judge's garb
St Yves, the patron saint of Brittany and of lawyers worldwide, has enjoyed a tremendously strong and lasting cult centred on the cathedral of Tréguier (which holds the relic of his skull) and nearby chapel in Minihy-Tréguier, the hamlet where he was born. But just across the Jaudy estuary near the shore at Trédarzec, once stood a chapel dedicated to the saint with more sinister practices.
Unusually for a Breton saint, Yves was both a real person (in the late 13th century), and an actual official saint, canonised by the pope in 1347. Renown for his passion for helping the poor which led to giving away most of what he had and favouring them in decisions he made as an ecclesiastical judge, he was a synonym for justice and truth. At some point by the early 17th century this reputation had developed a very particular application in the form of St Yves de Verité (Erwan ar Gwirinez or Santik (little saint) ar Wirione in Breton), with a case attested in 1620 when a woman sought vengeance on the landlord who had accused her son of arson. This was indeed the purpose of the cult: a petitioner who felt himself wronged would make a bargain with the saint, calling down vengeance on the guilty party. If his accusation was false, he would suffer the same punishment - death within a year.
The ritual consisted of pilgrimage (in a state of fasting) to the chapel at Trédarzec on three consecutive Mondays as night fell. The petitioner then grasped the shoulder of the statue of St Yves and shook it sharply. This could be because the place was ill-frequented and Yves might have dozed off a bit, but in fact violent treatment of saints' statues by worshippers was widespread in Brittany. Whilst doing this, the petitioner would say the portentous words 'You are the little saint of truth. I make this vow to you. If he is right condemn me. But if I am right let him die within the appointed time.' A coin marked with a cross would then be placed at the foot of the statue, before the customary prayer of a vow would be said BACKWARDS, a clear echo of pagan magic ritual where curses often employed this method. Three ritual circuits of the chapel then followed. Another account says a cobblers' awl was left handy in the chapel for piercing the statue three times, to make a little dust, so anticipating the fate of the guilty party.
Skull of St Yves - Tréguier cathedral
It was once thought this strange cult began just after the Revolution, a time of excess and the suppression of conventional religious practice. In 1792 a document records that the chapel was one of several in the area closed and without petition to reopen it. The building itself began to decay but remains and two statues were still seen in 1881. The poet Brizeux called it 'cette chapelle horrible' in 1845 and this 'cult of hatred' was well-known (and presumably well-used). The chapel was destroyed by order in the 1880s to put an end to what the church saw as barbarous practices, but when the statue was removed to the priest's courtyard it remained a focus for petitioners. He finally hid it in the attic of the presbytery.
The matter was somewhat blurred by the great folklorist Anatole le Braz, who wrote in 1893 that the cult had originally been of St Sul and the chapel destroyed after a notorious murder case in which an old woman claimed to have been asked to carry out a vow of vengeance. In fact the chapel had already been destroyed by then, but a nearby oratory, which still exists, may have caused some confusion. There is also reference to Notre-Dame de la Haine by Emile Souvestre in 1836, but perhaps this was a casual deduction from the standard 'Ave Maria' to be said three times in the course of the ritual.
The attempted destruction of superstition was always an act of folly by the Church - it is the very strength of Breton faith whose tenets are set by the people and their will. God himself would be hard pressed to make impositions on a Breton. Let's not forget we live in a world where recently made statues of unknown saints are said to be working miracles. Today there is apparently a freemasons' lodge at Tréguier with the title Erwan ar Gwirionez. Good luck with that.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Christophe Deceneux

Christophe and I at Combourg with 'our' book
So very sad to hear of the sudden death of my dear friend Christophe. He was a lovely man and an exemplary writer, devoting much of his time to research and managing to turn that into a prolific output. I was delighted to translate one of his booklets 'The Holy Grail and Brocèliande in Dol-Combourg' to bring his work to the attention of anglophones, and this investigation did indeed make its mark in the world of Arthurian studies, through the interest of Geoffrey Ashe.
I first got to know the work of Christophe's late brother Marc Deceneux, an historian of repute, who wrote extensively on the area around Dol and Combourg. During a month's stay for research of my own in Combourg years ago I was introduced to Christophe and his charming wife Jacqueline, and through them became friends with the La Tour du Pin family, owners of the famous chateau. These connections have been of immense importance to me, and my attachment to Combourg remains profound.
Christophe's interests were wide, but recently focused on the curious, alchemic and esoteric. He published Finis Gloriae Mundi de Fulcanelli, La Révélation in 2016. More recently he was working on a novel in conjunction with another writer. The research that brought us together, on the 'location' of the literary forest of Brocéliande in the tales of Arthurian knights, made a big impression on me, going against received notions here in Brittany that the forest of Paimpont was the original inspiration - not at all likely, as Christophe demonstrated convincingly. Exploring the Dol/Combourg area to follow up his leads was an adventure and a revelation.
I will never forget his kindness and enthusiasm for history and imagination. I shall sorely miss sitting in his garden talking over the latest research and going on a little trip of exploration with both Christophe and Jacqueline, as we did one happy day not so long ago. It seems long ago now, the separation of death harsh and decisive. But I was very lucky to know him.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Mr Patch

My primary school reports
I've often been asked about why I write but never about the origins of the impulse, about what made me a writer from a very early age. The most obvious influence was my father, a teacher of English and Latin with an equal interest in history, a phenomenal reader and throughout his adult life a maker of notes and diaries. After retirement he devoted a lot of time to writing, including an account of his experiences during WWII which he called with habitual irony 'A good war'. I read very widely from his suggestions from the age of 4, having an excellent library of books to draw on.

The first book I wrote was at the age of 8/9. It was about, of all things, the Greek islands. I still have it. Of course I'd never been there or anywhere outside of Gloucestershire and Wales. The Homeric tales and Greek mythology had generated the interest, and islands were an excitingly stimulating whilst unknown phenomenon. My method was organised and surprisingly good: books collected from home and the local library, extensive notes made, a process of selection and then a text in my own words. Not that far from what I do now, except today I have the luxury of airing original thought as well as words. But I did pretty well then without the element of personal experience or widely acquired knowledge.

But here I want to honour someone who had an enormous influence on my writing career. When I was 10 years old, he arrived as a student teacher at the primary school I attended in Stonehouse. His name was Mr Patch. Not only did he teach my class daily English lessons, but we also had extra individual lessons together as my mother had quarreled violently (her speciality) with the RE teacher and withdrawn me from all religious teaching. As I had consistently avowed my desire to be a writer, it was deemed fitting that I concentrated on this in these spare lessons. What lovely and sensible people there were in that school!

Mr Patch set me a series of imaginative and demanding exercises, to write in different styles, to develop character studies, to describe places, to produce dialogue and most of all to stimulate my already maturing imagination. I remember now a newspaper article about an imaginary accident and the physical description of a Red Indian chief and desert setting. I realise now that he must have been an avid writer himself. He praised, corrected, encouraged and challenged me throughout. He gave me scope with discipline. He made me feel like a writer, with a serious purpose and a process of development to follow. He wanted me to be my best self in a context that has mattered to me more than other as my life has progressed.

What gifts for a solitary, serious, hyper-sensitive and hyper-imaginative 10 year old child! Recently finding my primary school reports stimulated this memory of a man who had an enormous influence on my writing, although I have never forgotten him. I'd thank Mr Patch from the bottom of my heart, if he wouldn't gently respond with a word or two about cliché.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

St Efflam

He's a strange one, this Irish saint of royal blood, who ran away on his wedding night to avoid intimacy with his new wife Enora and pursue his devotion to God across the sea. He landed at Lieu de Grève in the bay of Plestin-les-Grèves where his chapel and sacred spring stand near to the shore. Stories later associated with him illustrate the exceptional powers and single-minded courage that form almost a badge of office for many Breton saints.
The substantial fontaine, dating from the late 16th century, is a prophetic one. The rituals vary but pieces of bread are of the essence, If you have been robbed and have your suspicions about the culprit, take three pieces of bread, name each one and throw them into the water. The one that sinks will be the guilty person. This tradition has muddled itself with another concerning engaged couples, who are also to throw in three pieces of bread. If two come together without the 'saint' (or third bit) intervening, they will be happy. Obvious you might think, but rumour has it that the bread used should be stolen... In fact, the same ritual with the magic number three is used to answer any question there - will I marry, will my husband survive a sea voyage, will my child live - but in this case the answer is yes if two of the pieces float towards the third saintly morsel. Ah, the finesse of ritual.
St Efflam has another curious legend to his name. He came across King Arthur engaged in combat with a dragon on the towering rocky pinnacle of Grand Rocher overlooking the bay. When the hero failed to make headway and both combatants retired for a half-time break, St Efflam stepped in and called the beast out of his lair. The sight of the raised cross was enough to daze the poor dragon, who meekly submitted to a command to throw himself off the precipice. The moral is clear: faith is stronger than brawn (and dragons should always look away quickly when faced by saints).
Enora, the deserted wife, showed admirable spirit in following the virginal Efflam and landed a little way off near Le Yaudet where she was picked up in a fisherman's net. She was soon running from the local tyrant, who chased her lustfully back towards Efflam's haunt of Lieu de Grève. There a miraculous paralysis overcame the pursuer: he swiftly repented and was released from his plight by Efflam himelf. Enora established her own oratory near that of her husband and remained close but chastely separated from him until her death.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Hello 2019

Temple complex Fanum Martis
Good start to the New Year, with lots of calm weather for tentative walking and lots of new writing getting itself down on the page. I've been working on the Roman chapter of Wayfaring in Little Britain with a trip to Corseul this week, considering the notion of procession in the short journey from the town to the hill-top site of the Temple of Mars. I'm also thinking of reviving my idea for a short Walking Meditation book if I can find the right artist for a collaboration.
Some solid work on the parish close exhibition has been achieved in the first days of January and I can now see the whole thing 'in the round' and connnections between the different pieces are clearer. There have also been new poems, so something in my head is still working - an encouraging and surprising discovery.
Temple remains