Tuesday, July 19, 2011

15 LOCRONAN (3): the Celtic year

The Celts have always celebrated the complementary forces of existence such as darkness and light, summer and winter, night and day, death and life, and especially their transitions. They saw them as unities rather than opposites. I think this is very important to understand the Sacred Quadrilateral and the Troménie at Locronan.

For the celts, the day started at sundown and ended at the next sundown. They followed a lunisolar calendar, attempting to synchronize the solar year and the lunar month. The Hebrews, the Buddhists, the ancient Greeks, the Hindus and the Tibetans had a similar calendar. Such a calendar is far from accurate, and every third year, an extra month had to be intercalated to make it workable, among others.

Their year was divided in two parts of six months, winter and summer, dark and light. Winter from the first of November until the end of April, summer from the first of May until the end of October, subdivided in a kind of “end of winter” (what we would call spring) from the first of February until the end of April; and an “end of summer” (what we would call autumn) from the first of August until the end of October.
It seems that the “real“ solstices and equinoxes didn’t play a big role in their calendar, because they don’t fit in this system. Their solstices and equinoxes fell in the middle of the month (solstices on June 15 and December 15, equinoxes on March 15 and September 15).

They had four main “festivals: November 1 (water), February 1 (earth),  May 1 (fire) and August 1 (air). Keep in mind that their November 1 started with the sunset of October 31, and so on.

Giiemorotlio (Winter)

Semorotlio (Summer)


This explanation is based on the Coligny Calendar, found in Coligny, Ain, France in 1897, one of the rare written Celtic calendars ever found.  

Friday, July 15, 2011


In the first half of the first century, Celtic religion and Christianity confronted each other, and, especially in the countryside, Christianity had to accept and incorporate some pagan rituals and beliefs to be able to survive in Western Europe. The Roman Church did everything to convert the pagan souls: they used violence, lies and they even betrayed their own beliefs to that end, by incorporating Celtic beliefs.

A good example is the Virgin Mary. The church had to give her the status of Mother of God, which made her a goddess, because a male god without a female counterpart wasn’t acceptable for the European Celts. In a way, the church replaced the existing Celtic divine couples like Brigid-Ruadan and Frigga-Balder by Mary-Christ.
In the case of Chartres, which means Kar-tres, three virgins, they replaced the three Celtic Matres or Matrones by three Madonnas: in the crypt, the Black Madonna Our Lady from Under the Earth, guardian of the underworld; in the cathedral, the Black Madonna Our Lady of the Pilar, guardian of this world; in the most famous window of Chartres, Our Lady of the Beautiful Window, the Queen of Heaven.

Celtic religion also knew the immortality of the soul, and they had a single deity, an enigmatic “absolute”. This god, “the one we do not name”, acted in the human world by way of divinities. They were the manifestations of the one without name on earth. The Celts easily found the equivalent of goddess Ana, the fertility goddess, their “grandmother of all, the grandmother of all Bretons””, in Saint Anne, the Virgin Mary’s mother, for example.
In 658, the Council of Nantes decided to destroy and recuperate the Celtic sanctuaries, helped by the Franks, who had occupied the Celtic countries. The religious dictatorship of the Roman Church and the Franks had begun…

The Roman Catholic Church acknowledges only 3 Saints from Brittany: Saint Yves, Saint Clair and Saint Corentin. Most Breton saints are more archetypical, mythical, than historical. Some were even “invented” to replace the ancient deities. Even the historicity of Saint Ronan is by no way attested.

Most of these saints are related to animals, mythical creatures or to natural elements. Wolf: Saint Ronan, cattle: Saint Cornely, snakes: Saint Maudez, birds: Saint Guénolé, dragons: Saint Tugdual, sea water: Saint Gildas, rain water: Saint Malo, air: Saint Gunstan , earth: Saint Gouesnou, fire: Saint  Cado, to name only a few. This also points in the direction of Celtic gods.

Locronan, Fountain of Saint Eutrope

The 12 stations of the Troménie and their saints:
1st station: Saint Eutrope
2nd station: the Eternal Father
3rd station: Saint Germain of Auxerre
4th station: Saint Anne
5th station: Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle
6th station: Saint Milliau
7th station: Saint John the Evangelist
8th station: Saint Gwenolé
9th station: Saint Ouen
10th station: Plas ar c’horn (the place of the horn).
11th station: Saint Telo
12th station: Saint Maurice.

Sometimes it’s easy to find the equivalent Celtic god for a saint, like in the case of Ana or Cernunnos (The Horned One), because there’s a common phonetic root. Saint Cornely of Carnac is definitely the same as Cernunnos. Wherever people came with their cattle to be blessed, you’ll find the same saint.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

13 LOCRONAN, the place where Paganism and Christianity meet

Locronan, meaning “the place of Saint Ronan”, the saint who converted the region to Christianity, is a  beautiful small medieval town built at the foot of a hill in the Finistère, Brittany, France.
It is known for its procession of about 12 km, La Grande Troménie, held every six years between the second and third Sundays in July, traversing the wider sacred area around the town, the forest of Nevet.

Nevet comes from « nemet », sacred, derived from « nemeton ». A nemeton was a druidic sacred space of the Celtic religion. The  Nemeton of Locronan is a sort of quadrilateral of 12 km of perimeter with 12 “stations” representing the 12 months of the Celtic year or maybe 12 Celtic gods. Originally, the procession was mostly a fecundity rite, but, as it often happens, the Church recycled for its own purposes preexistent pagan rituals.

Yet this fertility creed is still alive and three stones in the course of the procession, Christianized megaliths, are touched or seated on by the penitents to that end, especially “la Jument de Pierre”, also called “Saint Ronan’s chair”.

The Legend of Saint Ronan:

1. The holy Ronan was a squire
Who was born on the Isle of Eire,
In Saxon land, beyond the sea,
High rulers in his pedigree.

2. Once, as he was on his knees and prayed,
He saw a dazzling light that spread,
An angel clad in white who told
Him these words on behalf of God:

3. - O Ronan, far to travel away
You're ordered by God, so that you may
Once save your soul. Embark and flee
To Breton Cornwall beyond the sea.

4. And Ronan did as the angel said
To Brittany at once he repaired,
First to the valley of Leon, then
To Cornwall to the "Wood of the Shrine".

5. And 2 or 3 years went by, or more
Once he did penance before his door,
One evening, praying upon his knees,
Devoutly was facing the sea,

6. A wolf sprang out of the nearby wood
That held a sheep in his mouth, followed
On by a man who ran in despair,
Whose bitter laments rent the air.

7. Full of compassion for him, Ronan
Prayed to God for the sake of this man.
“O Lord my God, I do implore You;
Do show Your strength and spare this ewe!”

8. No sooner had he finished his prayer
Than the wolf to the door trod his way,
Submissively he laid down the sheep
Before Ronan's and the poor man's feet.

9. The good man got used from then on
Every day to visiting Ronan.
With greatest pleasure to him he fled
To listen to the words God has said

10. But this man was married and he had
A wife named Keban who was bad
And she decided Ronan to harm
Who was upsetting all on her farm.

11. One day she came to him, furious,
And made a row and a lot of fuss
- On all in my house you cast a spell,
My husband and my children as well.

12. They always are with you and your god.
And my goods are going to the dogs.
And they don’t obey me when I yelp.
Now I bawl to you and you don't help.

13. She put then into her head she would
Calumniate the holy man of God.
And she went to King Gradlon's court
To Quimper town beyond the mount.

14. - My Lord and King, O avenge my child:
My little girl was strangled and died.
And Ronan of Koad-Nevet did it.
I saw how into a wolf. he turned.

15. Because of this infamous slander
Saint Ronan was taken to Quimper.
In a deep dungeon he was locked in
By order of Lord Gradlon the King.

16. Out of it when at last he was freed,
It was to be bound onto a tree
And two ferocious and hungry hounds
Were unleashed and on him at once pounced.

17. But, fearless, he did not give a start,
Calmly crossed himself upon his heart.
The hounds, that were at once put to flight,
Burnt by some flame, barking, ceased from strife.

18. King Gradlon who this wonder beheld
Then said to the holy man of God:
What’s the use of my doing you wrong,
It's quite clear that to God you belong.

19. No redress whatever I demand
But pardon for this woman Keban:
That her child is not dead I attest:
It is in her house, shut in a chest.

20. They brought the chest they found underground
They opened it and the child was found
In it but it lay, dead, on its side;
And Ronan called it back to life.

21. Lord Gradlon and his followers
Were all dumbfounded by the wonder.
Before Saint Ronan they bowed low,
And asked him forgivingness to show.

22. But Ronan went off, back to his wood
Where he remained until he would
Decease, in ashes and sackcloth,
A mere hard stone was his pillow.

23. Clad in the speckled hide of a cow
And belted with some intertwined boughs
He drank naught but the brine from the marsh
He ate naught but bread baked in wood ash.

24. And when the last hour for him had rung
And he had left behind this world,
Two white buffaloes drew his cart,
Three bishops led him to the earth.

25. And when they had arrived at a pool
Keban was there, dishevelled all
Doing her washing on a Friday
Despising Christ who died on that day:

26. And she did brandish her battledore
And fling it at the wild bull’s horn
Who startled frightened violently
And broken was his horn by the hit.

27. “Off into your hole, son of a whore!
I trust we won’t find you any more
Doing your tricks to abuse us.”
Go and rot away with the dead dogs!

28. No sooner had she closed her mouth
Than she was engulfed by the earth
Amidst dark smoke and flaming blaze.
The spot is called now "Keban’s grave".

29. And the funeral cortege went forth
Carrying Holy Ronan to earth,
Until the two buffaloes did stop
And would go neither ahead nor back;

30. The Saint was buried there on the hill.
It was believed that it was his will.
Atop the mount, in the green wood, too,
So as to face the wind and the blue.
Transl. Christian Souchon (c) 2008

Legends have different layers of meaning. In this case, it's clear that the Keban woman represents paganism.
The Nevet forest was an area known for persisting in the druidic religion and worship of nature deities, whereas the neighbouring places had been since long Christianised by settlers from Cornwall and Wales.
Ronan decided to put up his hermitage in the sacred forest and was immediately opposed by the upholders of the old religion.
Ronan did not destroy the pagan open air sanctuary but "recycled" it to a Christian holy ground with Christian saints replacing the Celtic gods.

La Grande Troménie, with the 12 stations

Remains of the Nevet forest

Keban's cross, the place where Keban was engulfed by the earth. No Christian ever makes the sign of the cross there

The "Jument de Pierre", the druidic fertility stone

Saint Ronan

Preparing the Troménie

And there they go

Sunday, July 3, 2011

12 Orval Abbey, Villers-devant-Orval, Gaume region, Belgium

The new abbey, built in 1926

The ruins of the old abbey, built in 1132

The legendary fountain: Mathilda of Tuscany  was a widow and her wedding ring had accidentally fallen into the fountain. She prayed to the Lord and at once a trout rose to the surface with the precious ring in its mouth. Mathilda exclaimed : "Truly this place is a Val d'Or! " In gratitude, she decided to establish a monastery on the site.