Fête de la Bretagne
All about Yves
Ireland has Saint Patrick’s Day, and Brittany has Saint Yves. The anniversary of his death, 19 May, has really taken off in recent years as an occasion for celebrating the life of one of the region’s most notable sons, and Breton culture and history in general. The festivities began in Nantes in 1997 but Saint Yves is intended to be a day for Bretons wherever they are in the world.
Brittany claims many saints for itself, although many are not officially recognised by the Vatican. One who is, and the most notable, is the region’s patron Saint Yves (full name, Yves Hélory de Kermartin). Born in 1253, he was an ecclesiastical judge who defended the poor – leading to him being known as the ‘advocate of the poor’, and also the patron saint of lawyers, partly because his honesty and sense of fairness as a practitioner of law was thought to be so remarkable!
Time to party
This revelling in all things Breton transmits the values of the region and of Saint Yves with others – and those values include hospitality and generosity. Needless to say, the day (referred to as Gouel Erwan in the local tongue) is a great occasion for a party, and nowhere does parties quite like Brittany.
The Fête de la Bretagne is centred around the 19 May but has turned into a festival lasting over a week and officially spanning at least 50 town and cities. That means that for a good part of May, most places you go to in Brittany are buzzing with activity, from concerts and jam sessions to art exhibitions and food fairs, readings of traditional Breton tales (fairies, demons, the lot) and historic walks, plus plenty of activities for children. Sometimes another famous regional saint, Sainte Anne, gets a look in as well.