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A kiss for Our Lady

In the half light reeking of damp stone and moss, the pilgrims came forward one at a time to kiss the granite statue. It had been brought down from the niche to the Kersanton dais in order to present it, in accordance with the custom, for the veneration of the faithful. The pilgrimage of Our Lady of Fou-du-Bois ("pardon de Notre Dame du Fou-du-Bois ") has the feel of Autumn about it. The sky is low over the countryside of Léon and the leaves of the beech trees, at the entrance to Coat-Junval, take on a russet colour in the wind and the early mists. The pilgrims emerge from every pathway, every farmhouse tucked away behind the embankments. They come from Saint Méen, Ploudaniel, Le Drennec, Electrec and Saint Frégant, from Plouider, Pont du Chatel, Tréflez or Plouescat, Goulven, Kerlouan, Lesneven, Plabennec, Locmaria, Plouvien, Bourg Blanc and from Kersaint – they are all following behind their golden crosses and their crushed velvet banners, proud of this old parish tradition which perhaps has nothing to do with the gospel but gets them going towards the belfries of Folgoët, towards Notre Dame (Our Lady) and the Church. Inside the church, they become children of God again. In the dark shrine, blackened by smoke from the tapers, below the historiated stained glass windows, they "make their pilgrimage ".

One after another, they would come up to Our Lady. With one hand, leaning for support on the black stone shoulder, they would embrace the old statue, like one embraces a member of the family, in silence and without lingering. There was something so great in its simplicity in this silent encounter between the earthly pilgrim and the Heavenly Lady ! Even though it was stone that their hands touched and granite that their lips lightly brushed, it was Mary that all these poor folk met. Poor in heart, they went, holding their tapers, towards the dumpy black figure standing amongst red and white gladioli flowers, in front of the altar.

Who will ever know what those " stolen " or lengthy kisses, those thousands of kisses, stood for ? No-one can tell what those kisses expressed. Aren’t some kisses like the embraces exchanged in silence on the occasion of a death or some great trial when words cannot adequately express what is in ones’s heart ? The old peasant woman whose hand gropes for the Virgin’s arm, embraces her just as she embraces a beloved neighbour who has lost a son. They do not exchange any words, they understand each other and that is clear for all to see. And this young peasant fellow , with starry eyes, and hard, frank hands, who draws close and, with infinitely deep respect, kisses the stone cheeks of this woman whom he has been secretly imploring for years , in his tender, lonely heart… They keep coming, in an endless line, carrying a taper and bringing so many hopes and sorrows. A mother lifts her child up to Jesus whose forehead is rubbed smooth with the kisses of " pilgrims ". In this gesture, the child learns that he is known by Jesus and welcomed by his Mother. He is put down on the stone slabs in front of the stand of burning tapers to which his mother adds hers. Here, in front of these hundreds of spluttering flames the child gets an inkling of the hope that burns in the human heart. Even the strong and tough, with hardened faces and clumsy fingers, come up awkwardly and kiss the statue. They have nothing to say to her ; Mary knows it all – she alone, alive and gently bending towards them, in the features of the heavy statue which rocks a little each time that the hands pressed against her remove their pressure. And it is almost with regret that these pilgrims, with their childlike shyness, take their leave. They file past, one after another, and their hearts beating in their anxious breasts, find peace once they have kissed Our Lady. Presently, carried by the arms of six or eight men, this block of stone crowned with gold will go forward into the crowd of people gathered there , to the accompaniment of the old hymn " Patronez dous ar Folgoët…our Mother and our Lady ". Behind the colourful banners, behind the bishops giving benedictions, there she will go, Our Lady, valiant and obstinate as a true Breton woman, bearing, in the name of all her beloved, the cry of all her Salaüns, of all those poor and simple folk who, in the middle of the banquet of their life, " have no more wine… ".


Dominique de Lafforest, " les mares de septembre " Editions La Longue Vue.
We thank Dominique de Lafforest and the Longue Vue publishers for permitting us share this text concerning the Folgoat Pilgrimage with you. Dominique de Lafforest originally from Carantac is one of the best present day Breton writers. At the age of 50 he was ordained a priest and is at present parish priest of the Sacred Heart Parish (Paroisse du Sacré Cœur) in Uccle near Brussels. But Britanny has not lost him. He comes every summer to organise the TRO BREIZ , after having contributed during the course of his journalistic career with the " Télégramme de Brest " to the restoration of several hundreds of Chapels and monuments of the Breton Heritage during the 70’s. Our forum, " Questions de l’Homme - Breiz-Bretagne" is glad to count him among its friends from now on.

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