Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 6, 2006
Welsh monk left his mark in France
St. Malo, a rugged missionary, founded a church at Aleth
St. Malo – November 15
By TED FITZGERALD
He (St. Malo) is said to have been a rugged missionary, travelling on horseback, preaching and making converts over a large area.
Today, this City of the Sea, centred on its historic sanctuary, welcomes thousands of visitors each year to walk the impressive ramparts and visit the church, now with Dol Cathedral, a part of the reorganized Diocese of Rennes.
Interred in the church is famed local explorer Jacques Cartier, first European to spend a winter on the site of the future Quebec City in 1535 and to have travelled that far into the Canadian interior. The elegant organ in the cathedral was a gift from the Government of Canada and a heroic, larger-than-life statue of the explorer, his ship's tiller in hand, peers westward to the New World from the nearby city walls.
Despite its dedication, Malouins agree that this is the church of their first bishop, ninth century St. Malo. Tradition holds that this holy Welsh monk was a disciple of Irish St. Brendan and that he arrived in Brittany accompanied by an angel to found a church at the mouth of the Rance River.
This event is depicted in one of the large stained glass windows of the cathedral nave.
He is said to have been a rugged missionary, travelling on horseback, preaching and making converts over a large area. Although a founder of many monasteries and churches, he was forced by local pagan leaders to flee with his monks to Saintes, far to the south, where he died.
Eventually, the settlement adjacent to his original church at Aleth (present-day Saint-Servan) was named Saint-Malo in his honour.
What distinguishes the Saint-Malo cathedral is its membership in a select group of seven Breton churches, one of the stops on the ancient Tro Breiz or Tour of Brittany.
Between the 12th and 16th centuries, tradition holds that Bretons were obliged to undertake this 700 km pilgrimage once during their lifetime, or more painfully in the hereafter. Stops on the route were the cathedrals established by the founding seven bishops of Brittany.
Through Vannes (St. Petern), Quimper (St. Corentin), Treguier (St. Tugdual), Dol (St. Sampson), St. Brieuc, St-Pol-de-Leon and St. Malo, it is said that as many as 40,000 supplicants walked the sacred route.
Over the years, the tradition of travelling the Tro Breiz faded but the observance is enjoying a rebirth where, from an office in Saint-Pol-de-Leon tours are organized and guidebooks published covering segments of the route.
Although some of the cathedrals have lost their status due to diocesan rearrangements, most Bretons prefer to retain the cathedral designation and these shrines are increasingly visited by modern pilgrims, individually or in groups.
St. Malo and his fellow bishops are portrayed in glorious colour in some of the nave windows in the patron's seaport La Cathedrale Saint-Vincent de Saint-Malo.
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