Why did Brittany resist Protestantism in the XVIth century and beyond ??


An exhibition is trying to answer this question in the XVIth century manor of Kerjean considered as a local architectural gem despite the fact that it was a little bit ruffled during the French Revolution and badly neglected later on.  When I was a kid, we would pay it a visit once a year: it was a set ritual which has probably fed my strong desire of understanding the past in relation to present days. 


The exhibition as such introduces the tensions fed by the religious wars ( Catholics against Protestants)  which took place in France in the XVIth century and even later on.

Why did Brittany remain Catholic and almost untouched by new ideas? Strange because being a peninsula it should have been opened to the world ( and it was when you consider trade)  and sensitive to the new ideas coming with the boats and the sea. But Brittany in those days was almost exclusively a rural area. 

According to historians while Protestants were destroying representations ( pictures, paintings, sculptures) of the Divine, considering they were bound to idolatry, Breton artists were creating statues of Saints ( encouraged by local aristocrats and merchants whose growing wealth due to the flax trade was on the uprise as early as the XVth century: its hemp too was exported internationally, as it was used for rigging the ships, both commercial and military, that operated from Brittany’s many ports ). Most of these saints inside and outside the local churches  had a specific gift to cure people, to protect them and their animals. Holy representations mixing up with Pagan iconography with the excuse of early Christian legends from all over Europe 😉

In the XVIth century, catholicism was strongly anchored in Brittany with its cultural ( pagan)  elements which could not be overlooked. Religion and rural society were closely knitted together:  the power of the priests was enormous, the cult of the saints and that of Virgen Mary as well, not to mention the Pardons and the prayers for the dead. Breton faith could not give rise to new ideas. Middle Ages versus Modern era. Doesn’t that ring a bell nowadays?  

A statue I didn’t know made me smile. It is supposed to represent St Mamert. He holds his intestines in both hands. In fact it is probably a representation of St Mamnes of Caesarea whose legend says he could only be killed with a trident in his belly. He heals people suffering from stomachache and colic 😉


I especially liked the statue of Sant Alar the horse handler. The statue below represents him shoeing a horse, having previously cut its leg 😉 Reality is no artist business 😉 😉


Another statue is quite interesting too: Saint Roch and his dog. He is showing his bubonic scar. His statue is represented all over Europe and Canada too.

One must remember Brittany was severely hit by The Black Death in the XVIth century. The  well-known legend tells Saint Roch was saved from starvation thanks to a dog which brought him a piece of bread every day to keep him alive. You can’t have statues of St Roch without his dog. He is the Patron Saint of dermatologists and dogs 🙂 🙂


BUT ONLY IN BRITTANY CAN YOU SEE A STATUE OF  THE ANKOU  in a church! I  was never able to take a proper pic of the statue, being usually perched too high. This time it was on the ground.