Beggars once exerted a ubiquitous and very noticeable presence in Breton society, particularly in the countryside, but their position was often ambivalent: they were feted as the most honoured guests at wedding feats but also feared for their purported ability to cast the evil eye that brought-on misfortune.
Pardons in Brittany : A religious and secular celebration that you really must see
In the Brittany of yesteryear, there was a dearth of doctors in the rural areas and when one could be found, his services were not always affordable. Traditional healing treatments were therefore widely used; one of the local healers most commonly consulted was the Bonesetter.
In the 17th century, the division between natural and supernatural differed markedly from our modern-day notions. The concept of the natural world was not restricted to things corporeal and observable but included the incorporeal and unobservable. It was not considered irrational to believe in the existence of spirits causing natural effects and it was widely accepted that demons and witches existed in nature, acting according to its laws.
Home to more hiking trails than any other part of France, many of Brittany’s ancient pilgrimage routes can still be experienced today, including stages of the Camino de Santiago and the Pilgrimage of the Seven Saints, offering travellers a chance to discover the country and connect with the past and themselves.
An echo of the region’s Celtic past, sacred springs were commonplace throughout Brittany with miraculous qualities attributed to many and were an important part of daily life even after the Catholic counter-reformation.
Monumental ossuaries are a striking part of Brittany’s religious heritage. Although widespread in Europe between the 15th and 18th centuries, nowhere else did they systematically take such monumental form and stay in use for so long.
In Brittany, the miller enjoyed a rather ambivalent reputation. His trade brought him into regular contact with a wide range of people across the community; guaranteeing any visitor would leave the mill with all the latest news of any importance. Admired for his hard-work and often his skill at resetting broken or dislocated bones, the miller was also viewed with some suspicion and a once popular saying told that nothing was bolder than a miller’s shirt because every morning it caught a thief.
Deified and demonised across the world throughout the ages, the dragon of yore also left its footprints upon the lives, legends and landscapes of Brittany. Indeed, Breton lore once held that the peninsula of Brittany itself was the body of the enormous dragon slain by the archangel Michael.
In the west of Brittany, when the mysterious glow of a torch seemed to dance on the moor at night, it was said that it was the phantom of the Ligueur, the brigand La Fontenelle who, during the Wars of Religion, ravaged the land, indiscriminately massacring thousands of innocents and leaving intolerable misery in his wake. In some parishes wasted by him, where the population had numbered a thousand adults, he reduced it to a dozen.