Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 30, 2007
1,707 panels depict the life of St. Ronan
Irish missionary monk preached in Cornwall, Devon and Brittany
St. Ronan – June 1
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
The evil Keben berates Bishop Ronan even in death.
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Said to be one of the most attractive villages in France, Locronan lies in the country's most westerly Department of Finistere, inland from the Bay of Douarnenez with its legendary vanished city of Is.
It's a magical place of interwoven real history and legends, a site permeated with the life of St. Ronan and marked at every turn by the symbols of his Catholic church.
Setting for many historical movies and film shorts, the town looks as ancient as it is, with narrow streets lined with the elaborate 17th century former homes of wealthy sailmakers. Now, street level shops and creperies cater to the thousands of visitors that seek out famous Locronan each year. Patron of two churches and the town of Locronan (Ronan's Oratory) is a 16th century Irish missionary monk who spent time in Cornwall before crossing to Brittany.
Portrayals of the saint show a man of fierce visage, standing determinedly in a small seashell-encrusted boat garbed in medieval bishop's robes holding his crozier, long hair blowing in the wind. After a period spent in Leon on the English Channel, he established a monastery at the place now named for him, traditional site of ancient Druid ceremonies.
A Benedictine church had existed here since 1071, following which Alain Canhart, Count of Cornouaille (Cornwall), built a church dedicated to holy Ronan on the site. This was replaced in the late 15th century by a church sponsored by three dukes of Brittany and its one-of-a-kind ogival flamboyant architecture has greeted pilgrims ever since.
Inside, decorative vaults are supported by three naves which give access to a variety of chapels and sites for veneration of several saints. An old granite statue of Bishop Ronan shares a place of honour beside the main altar with his contemporary, St. Corentin, patron of the nearby city of Quimper.
Of particular interest in his church are a series of 1,707 panels on the pulpit that depict the life of the saint from his arrival by sea accompanied by an angel through his restoration to life of King Gradlon's daughter to his death.
The final picture shows the deceased holy man being accompanied by robed fellow bishops to internment in his church.
Noteworthy is the presence of the king's infamous wife, the Keben, who persists in berating Ronan with her beetle (clothes beater) even in death. Not shown here is her subsequent immediate descent to hell for her transgressions.
The popularity of the saint's tomb as a popular destination resulted in conflicts in church usage between the parishioners and scores of pilgrims arriving at irregular times. The problem was resolved by the construction of a connecting church, the Penity of Hermitage, a royal chapel to house the bishop's relics.
The exterior of the building, with its delicate, slender Gothic towers contrasts with the solid square outline of its earlier neighbour.
Centrepiece of the chapel is a life-size stone gisant (recumbent figure) of the saint supported on the wings of six angels. His right hand is raised in blessing while his left plunges a sword into a beast at his feet.
Other statues and inscriptions honour the builders of the shrine, the French royal family.
In July of each year, the church is the focal point for celebration of the popular, traditional Petite Tromenie, a formal, six-km long processional pilgrimage to a chapel on the Hill of Locronan, said to have been travelled daily by the saint, barefoot and fasting.
Every sixth year, participants in the more elaborate Grande Tromenie visit 12 chapels that identify the original boundaries of the monastery lands.