Beg your pardon?
One of the best ways to see Brittany’s past come to life is in the annual religious ceremonies known as ‘pardons’, that date back to the Middle Ages and take place largely in the summer months. These days, you don’t have to be looking for forgiveness to get involved or just observe the colours and ritual splendour, which emerged from the potent Breton mix of Christian faith and Celtic superstitions.
Pardons were how Bretons paid homage to the wide variety of official and not-so-offical local saints, and largely took place in the western part of Brittany. On the saint’s day, and in a location associated with them, the ceremonies attracted pilgrims and were concerned with penitence and the granting of indulgences; they involved religious services and processions with costumes, coloured banners and crosses. Part of the fun of the pardons today is the good-natured competitiveness that takes over in the preparations and when it comes to each family, parish or group of friends unveiling their banners and decorations for the occasion.
You might already have come across Saint Yves, Brittany’s patron saint and one of those celebrated by the pardons. In the present day ceremonies, people dress up a bit less although variations on the old costumes are still used. However, there are notable exceptions like the St-Yves festival in Tréguier and the Troménie procession in Locranon, dedicated to Saint Ronan and taking in several sacred sites. Here, the Petite Troménie takes place every year, with a 12-km procession, the Grande Troménie every 6 years – the next one’s in 2013!
Mystery and miracles
Anyone who’s encountered mystery or miracle plays in English towns will have some idea of the beauty and strange power of these occasions.