The first Christian missionaries came to the region from Ireland and Great Britain. With more than 300 "saints" (only a few recognized by the Catholic Church), the region is strongly Catholic. Since the nineteenth century at least, Brittany has been known as one of the most devoutly Catholic regions in France, in contrast to many other more secularised areas. The proportion of students attending Catholic private schools is the highest in France. As in other Celtic regions, the legacy of Celtic Christianity has left a rich tradition of local saints and monastic communities, often commemorated in place names beginning Lan, Lam, Plou or Lok. The patron saint of Brittany is Santez Anna Saint Anne, the Virgin's mother. But the most famous saint is Saint Ivo of Kermartin ('saint Yves' in French, 'sant Erwan' in Breton), a 13th century priest who devoted his life to the poor.
Once a year, believers go on a "Pardon", the saint's feast day of the parish. It often begins with a procession followed by a mass in honour of the saint. There is always a secular side, with some food and craft stalls. The three most famous Pardons are:
from Sainte-Anne d'Auray/Santez-Anna-Wened, where a poor farmer in the 17th century explained how the saint had ordered him to build a chapel in her honour.
from Tréguier/Landreger, in honour of St Yves, the patron saint of the judges, advocates, and any profession involved in justice.
from Locronan/Lokorn, in honour of St Ronan, with a troménie (a procession, 12 km-long) and numerous people in traditional costume,
In Brittany, there is a very old pilgrimage called the Tro Breizh (tour of Brittany), where the pilgrims walk around Brittany from the grave of one founder saint to another. The seven founder saints of Brittany are:
St Pol Aurelian, at Saint-Pol-de-Leon/Kastell-Paol,
St Tudual (sant Tudwal), at Tréguier/Landreger,
St Brieuc, at Saint-Brieuc/S-Brieg,
St Malo, at Saint-Malo/S-Maloù,
St Samson of Dol, at Dol,
St Patern, at Vannes/Gwened
St Corentin (sant Kaourintin), at Quimper/Kemper
Historically, the pilgrimage was made in one trip (a total distance of around 600 km). Nowadays, however, pilgrims complete the circuit over the course of 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. Whoever does not make the pilgrimage at least once in his lifetime will be condemned to make it after his death, advancing only by the length of his coffin each seven years.
Some old pagan traditions and customs from the old Celtic religion have also been preserved in Brittany. The most powerful folk figure is the Ankou or the "Reaper of Death". Sometimes a skeleton wrapped in a shroud with the Breton flat hat, sometimes described as a real human being (the last dead of the year, devoted to bring the dead to Death), he makes his journeys by night carrying an upturned scythe which he throws before him to reap his harvest. Sometimes he is on foot but mostly he travels with a cart, the Karrig an Ankou, drawn by two oxen and a lean horse. Two servants dressed in the same shroud and hat as the Ankou pile the dead into the cart, and to hear it creaking at night means you have little time left to live.
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