Rennes & Brittany France    

Brittany / Bretagne is unlike anywhere else in France. The ancient portion the town Rennes rests on a sloping hill about 210 miles WSW of Paris. Rennes overlooks the confluence of two rivers, the Ille and the Vilaine. The eastern Armorican people of the Redones (from which the name Rennes developed (as well as Redon)) founded Condate — an ancient Celtic word meaning confluence. The Armorican territory extended north to a bay, today named after Mont Saint-Michel. This group and their allies from Breton strongly resisted the Romans, eventually responding to the call of Vercingetorix during his unsuccessful attempt to repel the Romans. From the resulting Roman era, the strategic position of the town contributed to its importance, and it maintained the Roman culture very late into the 5th Century, when the Bishop of Rennes helped bring about a peace between the Franks and the Armorican Romans. By then both had become Christian kingdoms.

While missionaries may have begun the region's conversion during Roman control, the first recorded Christians came on commission from Wales. These are known as les sept saints fondateurs de Bretagne ("Seven founding Saints"). They consist of St. Pol Aurelian, at Saint-Pol-de-Léon (Breton: Kastell-Paol), St. Tudual (sant Tudwal), at Tréguier (Breton: Landreger), St. Brieuc, at Saint-Brieuc (Breton: Sant-Brieg, Gallo: Saent-Berioec), St. Malo, at Saint-Malo (Breton: Sant-Maloù, Gallo: Saent-Malô), St. Samson of Dol, at Dol-de-Bretagne (Breton: Dol, Gallo: Dóu), St. Patern, at Vannes (Breton: Gwened) and St. Corentin (sant Kaourintin), at Quimper (Breton: Kemper). Other notable early evangelizers are Gildas and an Irish Saint called Columbanus (who stayed but a brief time before moving on to the Roman fortress of Annegray in the solitudes of the Vosges Mountains, later expanding into Luxeoil and Fontaines -- more HERE). The region remains strongly Roman Catholic.

Eglise St-Ronan & Chapelle du PenityThe patron saint of Brittany is Sainte Anne (nicknamed "gozh Mamm ar Vretoned", ie. the grandmother of Brittany), the apocryphal texts and the Golden Legend of Jacques de Voragine present her as the mother of the Virgin Mary and therefore the grandmother of Jesus. The saint who is the most revered is Saint Yves (Erwan Breton) (1253-1303), a priest and lawyer who devoted his life to the defense and care of the poor. Most of the saints of Brittany are not on the papal lists, because they were recognized by popular holy anointing prior to the reservation on the sole of the right of the pope to canonize in 1234. Being so far from Rome, most were never recognized officially by the Roman Church laws.

In most local parishes, once a year, believers go to a pardons fête (forgiveness" feast) for the saint of the parish. The forgiveness process often begins with a procession, followed by or preceded by a full Mass. Festivals often involve stalls with food and souvenirs. The most famous of the pardons is one dedicated to St. Ronan at Locronan with its Troménie (procession) of 12 km (7.3 miles -- 44 alters of repose with 12 major stations) and a tour of the sacred asylum of the nearby monastery (tro minic'hi of Breton). Many persons wear in traditional costume. The 10th station is called Plas ar c’horn (the place of the horn). Here the buffalo’s broken horn fell off, here they buried Ronan. A modern chapel was erected. It contains a curious statue of Saint Michael equipped with scales to weigh the defunct souls – like his Egyptian counterpart Thot, a wisdom aspect of Ra paired with Hathor. Some 300 m further, but away from the route, is the summit of the hill at 289 m height, a place where a “guet du feu” (Fire guard) was held. Locronan is near Brest and the festival is in mid-July. The largest feast is that dedicated to Ste. Anne in Sainte-Anne-d'Auray, a basilica in Morbihan.

Five miles south is beautiful Auray with a rich history, riverfront public houses (wine bars) and galleries tucked into 15th-century houses. Auray has a special love for Benjamin Franklin. Stroll along the river in the footsteps of Franklin. He arrived in 1776, seeking aid in the American War of Independence. Place Saint-Sauveur in the old town overlooks the port where he stepped off his ship the USS Reprisal onto French soil in 1776. The Reprisal was the first ship (of what was to become the United States Navy) to be given the name promising hostile action in response to an offence. She was called Molly, a brig, before her addition to the Navy. The St. Goustan quarter is Auray's medieval core. A short drive to the south are the megaliths of Carnac. On September 14, 1777, Reprisal left the waters of France, for the United States. About October 1, Reprisal sunk off the banks of Newfoundland. All 129 on board, except the cook, went down with her.

The old pilgrimage called le Tro Breizh (le tour de Bretagne), has pilgrims walking around Brittany from the grave of one of the seven founder saints to another. Historically, the pilgrimage was made in one trip (a total distance of around 600 km) for all seven saints. These days, however, pilgrims complete the circuit during several years. In 2002, the Tro Breizh included a special pilgrimage to Wales, symbolically making the reverse journey of the Welshmen Sant Paol, Sant Brieg, and Sant Samzun.

marieStarting in the fifth century, Bretons (from England) occupied the western part of the Armorican peninsula. Following the successful example of the Cornish-Viking alliance in 722 at the Battle of Hehil (modern day Padstow) which helped stop for a time the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Cornwall, the Bretons made friendly overtures to the Danish Vikings to help counteract Frankish expansionist ideas. In 865 AD the Vikings and Bretons combined to defeat the Franks at the Battle of Brissarthe, near modern day Le Mans. Two Frankish kings, Robert the Strong and Ranulf, were killed by the Vikings so that the Franks had to acknowledge Brittany's independence. As with Cornwall in 722, the Vikings tactically helped their Breton allies by making devastating pillaging raids on the Franks. And so it was that the city of Rennes became part of Breton in 851.

Rennes would later become the capital of Ducal Brittany. Bretons would receive titles and lands (e.g. Richmond) in England after the Norman-Viking invasion of 1066, but relations overtime worsened. Fighting between the Bretons and English, and later the Bretons and French, continued until the end of the 15th Century. Breton was incorporated into the French Crown lands thereafter. The defenders of Rennes were determined to resist to the death, but the Duchess Anne of Brittany chose instead to negotiate. By her marriage to Charles VIII (1491), she started the process that made Brittany a part of France (l'union perpétuelle-1532).

The Cathédrale Saint Pierre is massive. The Basilique Saint-Sauveur is located in the historic city-centre of Rennes. Rennes includes a TGV station, so it is not a very long trip from Paris. Rennes-le-Château and Rennes-les-Bains are in entirely different areas of France.

It is claimed that people are shaped by their surroundings. It is a fundamental principle, that a Tour de France which started in Brittany (Grand Départ) and finished (in Paris) with the crowning of a cycling giant. The 2008 Tour began at Brest, in the far NW corner of Brittany, (on the Armor Peninsula) for the third time. Rennes hosted the first Breton stage of the Tour in 1905 and was the start point in the 1964 race. Lucien Petit-Breton won twice 1907 and in 1908. This year saw the celebration of the 100th anniversary of his second win. Major portions of two days of racing took place in the county of Côtes-d’Armor. The third day (lundi, 7 Juillet) left San Malo for Nantes. Information about the 2011 event is HERE; it will return to this part of France.

At today's stage end of the Tour (09 July 2013), standing in North-west France in region of Brittany in the area called Ille-et-Vilaine in the town named after Sant-Maloù is the Cathedral of St. Vincent. Portions of the current structure date from the 9th century; but it includes Angevin, Plantagenet, Romanesque and Gothic style architecture. Cathédrale Saint-Vincent is famous for its 1160 nave vault.

Built in granite rock on the English Channel, the bathing resort of Saint Malo is known for its castle, Cathédrale Saint-Vincent and its 14th century ramparts which overlook the sea. Saint Malo (Sant-Maloù) is the birthplace of famous French writer and statesman, Chateaubriand, who wrote the most famous history of France. On September 4, 1768, François-René, vicomte de Chateaubriand was born. In 1791, he visited North America, which furnishes the setting for his exotic novels Les Natchez (written in 1800 but published only in 1826), Atala (1801) and René (1802). His work appears, even today, authentic, vivid with captivating descriptions of natur in the then sparsely settled land. His most famous work, one would think, is Analyse raisonnée de l’histoire de France (1861) -- an homage to French culture and reason. Our introduction page (in french) to his analysis is HERE. We are persuaded that there was never complete inhumanity [during the dark ages]. We cannot say that people are completely barbarian when they preserved the [Roman] intellectual culture and its knowledge of the [public] administration.

The Ille-et-Rance canal, which links the English Channel to the Atlantic, and the Nantes-Brest canal were commissioned by Napoleon to limit the effects of the English blockade along the French coast. Today these works are open to pleasure craft. FrenchEntré At the southwest end of this network is La Roche-Bernard in the Morbihan area of Bretagne. Son nom en gallo (le parler local) est "La Roch", son nom en breton est "ar Roc'h-Bernez," but the locals just pronounce it a- Row. A nearby promatory on the Vilaine river was the scene of Viking landings by Bernhardt in 919AD who appreciated its strategic position. This settlement developed into a Norman town called LaRoche Bernard (about 8 miles upriver from the open bay). The barons LaRoche-Bernard swore allégeance to the Ducs of Bretagne until the mid-14th century.In 1547, François de Coligny, Marquis of Andelot, became the Baron, introducing the Protestant faith in 1558. Both the nobles and bourgeois convert, one of the first such centers of the French reformed church. A century later, Baron Armand du Cambout interdit le culte protestant a situation not unlike in the rest of France, causing many to migrate.

The town sits south of the river on the border of pays nantais. The transfer of this town to the département du Morbihan took place in 1789. In the 19th century it was a busy port, today about 500 pleasurecraft boats can be docked at one time. Incidently, eventhough the town was on the ancient land route from Bordeaux to Brest, not until 1839 was a bridge finished (suspension-type). The bridge was improved overtime, but was destroyed by the Nazi's (August 15, 1944 -- masonry still visible along the shore), to be replaced in 1948. It has been replaced again (construit en 1957-1960); and, another was added in 1996 to accommodate bypass traffic, 600 meters upstream. The local museum, the Musée de la Vilaine Maritime, encompasses everyday life and transport along the river. Many signs describe historical events, for the visitor. Photos of Town; Picture map combination (you are looking west, downstream upon the 1960 bridge); Pictures of a foggy bridge.

Located in the heart of traditional Brittany and flanked by the Odet and Steir rivers, Quimper (Kemper) is famous for its faïence ceramics which have been produced by skilled craftsmen since the 17th century. HB-Henriot is one of the oldest companies in France, an artisanal producer of faïence -hand-painted glazed earthenware- since 1690. This firm, founded in 1690, chose Quimper in Brittany because of its readily-available waterpower and riverbed pottery clay. It has earned government recognition as an enterprise du patrimoine vivant -- a company of the living heritage. In mid-July the Festival of Cornouaille celebrates Breton culture. Concerts and street parades by proud Bretons in their distinctive costumes and street musicians bring Quimper to life every year at this time. Cornouaille (literally Cornwall) was the name of a medieval duchy of which Quimper was the capital. The festival began in 1922 as a means to revel in all that is special about the Breton way of life. You'll see Frenchmen playing bagpipes, too. The Gothic Cathedral of Saint Corentin has exceptional 15th century stained glass windows.

Pont-Aven, Home to artist colony known as the "School of Pont-Aven" led by the painter Paul Gauguin, is a pretty market village of white houses and sloping riverbanks. Carnac (on the coast) is famed for its megalithic remains from the Neolithic period. In addition to 2792 menhirs, massive stones erected by tribes who inhabited the region before the arrival of the Gauls, the area is studded with burial places, semicircles and tumuli. Brittany is also known for its calories, elaborately carved sculptures of crucifixion scenes, to be found at crossroads in villages and small towns, especially in Western Brittany.

l'hermine Also on the coast is the medieval city of Vannes, with timbered buildings, an olde Cathédrale Basilique Saint-Pierre (1020 - style roman, 15th century gothic, and later additions style Renaissance), l'église Saint Patern de Vannes (sits on the ruins of a 5th century cathedral destroyed in the 10th, rebuilt as a pilgramage church in the middle ages in the roman style), whose baroque ediface dates from the 18th century (l'architecte vannetais Olivier Delourme) and other beautiful churches (e.g. Chapelle Saint-Yves, Chapelle Notre-Dame du Rohic, ancien portail de l’ancienne Chapelle Saint-Guen, Chapelle des Ursulines, Croix-Calvaire de la Cathédrale) which you otter see (l'hermine). At the head of the Gulf of Morbihan, Vannes is a perfect place from which to explore this beautiful inland sea and its many islands such as Belle Ile. Vannes is older than the Roman conquest (le peuple des Vénètes). The Romans called it Darioritum. In 465 Saint patern became the first Bishop of the Vannetais. Interestingly, in the novels of Alexandre Dumas, the musketeer Aramis appears at one point as Bishop of Vannes. Vannes is paired as a twin city with Mons in Belgium since 1952.

Panorama of the castle and the Tour Tanguy

A little further north and west is the harbor at Brest. Nothing definite is known of Brest before about 1240, when a count of Léon ceded it to John I, the Duke of Brittany. In 1342, John de Montfort surrendered Brest to the English, in whose possession it was to remain until 1397. The importance of Brest in medieval times was great enough to give rise to the saying, "He is not the Duke of Brittany who is not the Lord of Brest." With the marriage of Francis I to Claude, the daughter of Anne of Brittany, the definitive overlordship of Brest – together with the rest of the duchy – passed to the French crown. June 14th is the Strawberry festival at Plougastel-Doulas near Brest. Come and see and taste everything to do with strawberries.

Finally, there is a small colorful village in this part of France called the Village of La Roche-Bernard, Brittany. I expected crepes, apple cider and giant salty oysters. But I would never have guessed the plants that would be blooming in September. Throughout this part of France things were flowering that on the east coast of the United States I associate with Spring. Flowers seemed to be bursting out of every nook and cranny. La Roche-Bernard was settled by the Normans in the late 1st century. La Roche, or “the rock” towering above the Vilaine River, was a strategic location for the settlement during this tumultuous time. In the 16th century La Roche-Bernard was one of only four protestant towns in Brittany. The town prospered as a port for much of its history. It was occupied by Germany during World War II, and attacked by Allied forces following the Invasion of Normandy.

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