Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Seven Sacred Hills of Brittany

Menez Hom
The magical number of seven embraces sacred summits as it does founding saints in Brittany, but whilst the saints have their own cathedrals, the hill-tops, scattered throughout the region, are shared by mixed religious associations, pagan and Christian, ancient and more recent.
The westernmost is Menez Hom, end of the Montagnes noires chain, an elongated open hill offering views of the Atlantic and the Aulne basin. It is particularly popular with radio-activated aircraft buffs and hang-gliderists today, but early morning visits can still give a memorable solitary experience above the mist. A statue of a Gallo-Roman goddess, identified as Minerva/Brigit was discovered here by a farmer in 1913.
Mont St-Michel de Brasparts, topped by a tiny chapel, is an iconic image of inland Brittany, one of the high points of the Monts d’Arrée. This area of wild moorland landscape and rocky crags above marshes and the modern reservoir has ancient connections with worship of a pagan Sun god and in more modern times, Druid ceremonies during solstice celebrations. The legendary entrance to the Celtic underworld was said to be nearby in the peat-bogs.
Mene Bré, another summit with a chapel visible from afar, this time dedicated to the blind St Hervé, is in Côtes d’Armor, near Guingamp. It offers exceptional views, especially north and west across the Trégor. Here the famous council of powerful secular and religious figures is said to have gathered to excommunicate the tyrannical 6th century lord Conomor. The earliest chapel on the spot may have dated back to that time.
Menez Bré
Not far away lies Menez Bel-air (336m), one of the Monts du Mené, where any sense of atmosphere is marred by a large rather ugly mid 19th century chapel and an intrusive communications antenna. There are, however, great views from certain points of the rolling landscape of central Brittany. It was once a site of worship of Belenos, the Sun god, with Druid rituals of purification of cattle at the Beltane festival in May.
In Morbihan, the wooded hill-top of Mane Guen – of modest height at 155m - also has a small chapel of St Michel. The name means the White Mountain, thanks to a miracle in 1300 when it was lit by an intense white light for several days, and various other legends have added to its notoriety. One claims that the body of a dragon lies under the contours and the chapel was founded on its head. A granite boulder is rumoured to have been a pagan ritual sacrifice altar.
Mont Dol
In the Marches of Brittany, east of St Malo, lies Mont Dol, a small table-shaped protuberance rising from flat marshland. An exceptionally rich historical evolution has seen pagan Mithraic rites, evidenced by the discovery of two taurobolia, altars for the sacrifice of bulls with gratings to allow the blood to shower initiates waiting below. Today a tiny chapel to St Michel, who fought the Devil for sway here, stands on the highest point, and, rather too near it, a tower topped by a huge statue of the Virgin.
Visible in the distance from Mont Dol is the familiar World Heritage and pilgrimage site of Mont St Michel, once in Brittany but now by the vagaries of river Couesnon, fractionally over the border into Normandy. It has an imposing position just off-shore in a vast bay with one of furthest tide recoils in the world. Recent works have seen the causeway destroyed and a replacement bridge allowing tidal flow all around the island. Neolithic megaliths on this conical hill have disappeared to leave the stage for the spectacular abbey perched on the summit.