Folk-Lore/Volume 29/Breton Folklore

1042183Folk-Lore, Volume 29 — Breton FolkloreJonathan Ceredig Davies

Breton Folklore.

The Legend of Le Roi Grallon and La ville d'ys.

At Quimper, between the towers of the cathedral, stands an equestrian statue of Le Roi Grallon. He reigned in the fifth century. At that time St. Corentin lived in a hermitage near a spring in the forest. Every morning a little fish used to come out of the well, and the saint, cutting off a piece of its flesh, used to throw it back into the water. One day he was visited by Le Roi Grallon, and the fish provided a scrap of its flesh for dinner. The cook laughed at the smallness of the supply, but it was miraculously increased until enough for the whole party was provided. St. Corentin in time became Bishop of Quimper, and the King removed his court to Caer-Is. The town stood at a level lower than that of the sea, and a strong dike was built, the key of which was always kept by the King. He had a daughter, Dehut, who fell in love with a dastardly enemy of the King. He persuaded her to steal the key, and then he opened the dike. The King, with his daughter behind him, tried to escape on horseback. But the water gained on them, and the spirit of St. Guenole appeared and shouted to the King to abandon the demon he carried behind him. So he flung her into the water, and the place where she was drowned is known as the Pool of Dahut. Some say she became a mermaid.

On St. Cecilia's Day the choristers sing on the roof of the cathedral, and when the hymn is ended a goblet is thrown down into the square. Any one who can catch it unbroken gains a prize.


At the village of Lanncanon, about 12 miles from Morlaize, I was told that when a peasant injures his hand he goes to a wise woman at Guerlesquin. He brings with him a worm from his own garden, which the woman places on the injured spot, and repeats the names of certain saints to whom Breton churches have been dedicated. The worm soon dies, and the woman directs the patient to make a pilgrimage to that saint whose name she happened to mention at the time of its death. When he comes to the place he mixes some earth from the churchyard with water and applies it to the wound, which rapidly heals.

Holy Wells.

There is a holy well in the parish of Lanncanon to which women bring their children who are slow in learning to walk. The child's shirt is dipped in the well, and put wet on the child. Similar cures are effected by placing children on a stone known as the Tomb of St. Augustine in the parish of Plougonven, or on another tomb in the cathedral of St. Paul de Leon. Women carry to a holy well near Quimper the shirts of children suffering from whooping cough. But perhaps the most famous holy wells are those of St. Anne la Palue and St. Anne d'Auray, St. Anne being the patron saint of Brittany.


Near Carnac is preserved the head of St. Cornely in a church. When cattle are sick the priest throws holy water over them at the church door, and the owner buys an image of St. Cornely and hangs it in the cattle-shed.


M. Collobert of Lanncanon told me a tale of a farmer in that village who was coming home late from Morlaize. His father's spirit appeared to him on the road and begged him to make a pilgrimage to St. Anne d'Auray and get the priest to say masses for him as he was undergoing tortures in purgatory. When he reached home he found to his great surprise that about the same time the spirit had appeared also in the house.

He also told me about the spirit of Escop Penarstanc. He was once Bishop of Treguier, and was far from being a godly man. So his spirit was condemned to come back every night from the other world, and to say, or at least to try to say, mass, in the church of Plougonven, until he could find a Christian to do it for him. This spirit troubled the neighbourhood for generations. Every night the people were amazed to see the church lighted up. At last a priest conjured the spirit to jump over a precipice into a deep pool, after which it was never seen again.

Death Portents.

A young man named Theophile Guyomarch of Scrignac told me of an old woman who possessed second sight, and can always tell when a death is about to occur. One night my informant was passing a house and heard voices praying as they do in times of mourning. As no one had died in the house he was amazed. But one of the family died a month after. In some places it is believed that if toothache starts at 3 p.m., it is a sign of a death in the house, or at least some misfortune.

Blessing the Sea.

In June, 1912, while I was at Quimper, three or four priests from the neighbouring port of Guilvinec went out in boats and threw holy water into the sea. I was informed that the same custom prevails at two other places on the west coast of Brittany. The Breton fishermen also call in a priest to assist at the christening of a new boat.

Llanilar, Cardiganshire.