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TELEN RUMENGOL¹

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            ‘Le paradis ne se gagne qu’aux pieds des saints de son pays.’

PEACE reigned in the forest of Rumengol. Thither
it was that Gralon, King of Ys, had fled, with the
words of Primel, the anchorite, in his ears:—’My
son, when thy heart is heavy with secret sorrow,
take refuge in the eternal solitudes. The forests
are tender to suffering man. God has made those
sacred aisles the sanctuaries of peace: therein the harmony of
the world is revealed.’

When the King of Cornouailles reached the spot where the
Druids worshipped, the place of the menhir, the stone of
healing, a vision of the Virgin came upon him:—’Mother of
Sorrows,’ said Gralon, ‘if the good God grant me length of
days, here on this spot will I build Thee a temple which shall
stand for all time: its columns shall be numberless as the trees
of the forest, and the eternal silence of the woods shall reign
there.’ But the King of Cornouailles had not the years for
the fulfilling of that vow. Even as he spoke, the green moss
was rest to him, and the gold-brown leaves that fell gently
were stirred by the soft wings of death.

The Virgin greeted the weary old man as he crossed the
threshold of paradise. Smiling graciously, she gave him

¹’Telen Rumengol’ means literally ‘The Harp of Rumengol,’ and by extension the
‘Pardon des Chanteurs.’ This sketch of a Summer Pardon is adapted from a recent
book on the Country of the Pardons, by the distinguished Breton writer, N. Aoatole
Le Braz.


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thanks for the beautiful sanctuary which he had dedicated to
her in the forest of Rumengol.

‘If thou desirest aught of me,’ said the Mother of God, ‘joyfully
will I hearken unto thee.’

‘Alas!’ replied the old king, ‘my daughter Ahès dwells beneath
the black waters which robbed me of my royal city of Ys; her
soft voice calls men to their undoing; on moon-clear nights
her fair form is seen on the crest of the waves.’

The Virgin bowed her head.

‘Canst thou, O Holy Mary, still that voice which lures men to
their doom, and brings down on Ahès, my beloved, the curses
of the people?’

‘That lies not within my power, O Gralon. So it is ordained.
But hearken unto me. A race of singers shall arise, whose
songs shall be sweet as the songs of the siren. In rhythmic
words shall their thoughts be clothed. They shall soothe the
sorrows which Ahès has caused; they shall give peace to the
souls whom she has filled with dread. Each year, at the
return of the month of May, which is my month, they shall
flock to my Pardon at Rumengol. There, as from an inex-
haustible spring, shall flow the inspiration of all the sweet
songs and airs, the gwerz and sônes, of the land of Arvor.
From Rumengol my minstrels shall wander far and wide, and
sing the strength of the men of Armorica, the beauty of her
daughters, the heroic deeds of the fathers of the race, and thy
renown, O Gralon! Field and plain, threshing-floor and village-
green, shall re-echo their songs; and as they draw near, men
shall say: “Behold the nightingales of the Virgin!”‘

It is midway in the month of the hay-harvest Pilgrims from all
quarters repair to the Pardon of Rumengol: natives of Vannes,
‘Gwénédours,’ with smooth hair and sharply outlined features;
broad-shouldered men of Scaer, with velvet-trimmed jackets;
lads of Elliant in stiff collars, saint sacrements embroidered on
the back of their coats. Women are there too: mothers

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bearing the marks of age—the skin wrinkled, the figure
broadened by field-labour and incessant child-bearing; bright,
young girls, too, simple country flowers, the wings of their pure
white coiffes outspreading like the petals of the wood-anemone.
It is no great distance from Quimerc’h to Rumengol. From
the ascending road are seen the green, undulating meadows
of Comouailles reflected here and there in the winding river;
and, beyond, the blue rampart of distant hills, their jagged
peaks touched by the golden light of the setting sun. The sky
is cloudless; the wind soft as the living breath of the sea.
The summit gained, the gaze travels from that eyrie like a
bird. Beneath, the gabled roofs, dotted here and there by
woodland and meadow, recall the middle ages. To the left,
grey, vanishing forms, the crests of Menez-Hom; and
beyond these again, vague, distant shadows, motionless
clouds they seem—the triple-peaked promontory of Crozon,
that ‘three-fingered hand’ which stretches towards the
heart of the Atlantic. To the right, the roadstead of Brest,
called by the Bretons la mer close, an arm of the sea sur-
rounded by fields and woods, expands its smooth, clear surface,
whereon still fluctuates the rose and gold of a sun setting ocean-
ward. Across a valley, full of green shade, the brown, sloping
heathland of Hanvec withholds the last sun-glow; and there,
invested with quiet light, clings, as a swallow to the eave, the
little Mecca of Armorica, the holy oasis of Rumengol.
Slowly moving thitherward, a young shepherd-conscript
tenderly and rhythmically chants the popular air of ‘Our Lady
of Rumengol’:—

                        Lili, arc’hantet ho dêlliou.
                        War vord an dour ‘zo er prajou;

                        Douè d’ezho roas dillad
                        A skuill er meziou peb c’houèz vad. . . .

                        Down where the salt sea-meadows are,
                        Each lily gleams a silvern star:


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                        ‘Tis God that clothed them so; each yields
                        Its soul in fragrance o’er the fields. . . .

Other pilgrims catch up the strain, and the wandering air
re-echoes from the opposite hill-side.

The road, descending, winds between two woods; above it, the
meeting branches form a green trellis-work. From the fosses
on either side this woodland way comes the faint sucking
sound of thirsty water-plants. Not a breath of wind is astir:
each leaf sleeps, or rather hushfully suspends, for everywhere
is that sense of the approach of night which pervades a dusking
wood.

Abruptly the road lifts itself out of the greenness; and, as the
woods fall away on either side, the horizon is again visible.
The path now leads through fresh-smelling ferns and fragrant,
blossoming gorse. Behind, the shadows of evening deepen;
though, on the hill-slope opposite, still lingers a mysterious
light, infinitely delicate in tone, thrown up, it may be, from the
distant surface of the sea. In this strange aureole the fiame-
like spire of Rumengol stands out distinct: the surrounding
country seems to bow before it in silent adoration. All things
breathe of prayer, and a scarce audible murmur rises from field
and plain and meadow, a murmur recalling the spirit of dimly-
remembered orisons.

Again the words of the local hymn burst from the lips of the
wayfarers:—

                        Lili, arc’hantet ho dêlliou. . . .

From a field hard by comes an answering song, shouted by a
band of excited blue-jackets on their way to the Pardon. Arm
in arm they dance and sing:—

                        Entre Brest et Lorient
                              Leste, leste,
                        Entre Brest et Lorient
                              Lestement

The freedom of the song in no way shocks the young shepherd-
conscript. ‘Ah,’ says he to a stranger pilgrim, ‘these poor

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lads sing what they know. Does it matter what they sing, if
only they do sing? The good Virgin of Rumengol is not so
particular. She hears the sound of their voices; that is enough.
That they should hasten from Landevennec or from Recouvrance
to worship her in her own sanctuary proves that they remember
her, these brave lads of the fleet; and she is glad to see them
again, ay, truly glad to see them happy and well. For the rest,
she does not trouble. She is a true mother, our Virgin of
Rumengol. You will see her soon, in her robe of gold, her face
shining with welcome. A smile is always on her lips—it is for
joy to her to see the worshippers light-hearted. She loves one and
all to come to her singing some couplet, no matter what the
words or the air. Thus is it that her Pardon is well called
Le Pardon des Chanteurs.’

With these words the young bragou-ru joins the sailors, and
his strong, rich voice soon dominates all others. Again and
again the refrain rings through the air, poignant and clear as
the song of the rising lark; and even when the words are lost,
the sound of the floating music adds to the strange glamour of
that summer evening.

Rough tents become more frequent; on the further side
of the stream they form a street. A tallow candle stuck
into a bottle casts a dim flicker over groups of people who
talk noisily and embrace across narrow wooden tables. The
crowd on the road grows denser. Here and there a gap is
made by some beggar sitting cross-legged on the road, who,
as he entreats for alms, rattles a string of amulets which
hang round his neck; the passers-by, throwing a coin to him,
draw aside with superstitious respect.

The single street of Rumengol, flanked on the left by about a
dozen houses, on the right by the low wall of the cemetery, is
lined with stalls. Groups of peasant women gaze in wonder
at the medals, rings, trinkets, and charms which sparkle in
the flaring light of lamp or torch, or they flnger enviously the
suspended chaplets and bright-coloured scapularies which

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swing to and fro in the breeze. The men surround the stall
where the game of mil ha kaz—a kind of primitive roulette,
very popular among the Bretons, proceeds noisily, or exercise
their skill in shooting at the Turk’s Head. To gain a passage
through these crowds is by no means easy, for a Breton during
his leisure hours is immovable as a rock. Only by free use of
the elbows may one at last reach the inn.

The little hostelry stands at the end of the street, a stone’s-
throw from the church; the warm glow from its narrow
mullioned windows has a look of welcome. A deep crimson
light fills the lower room; in the vast open hearth expands
a mass of red flame, and above swing the simmering black
pots. Fifty people or more, some squatted on the ground,
their plate between their knees, crowd together in this heated
atmosphere, and thankfully eat their supper.

  .         .         .         .         .         .         .         .         .         .        

It is a strange scene, now, towards ten o’clock, the scene in
this votive church. Behind a pillar stands the Madonna of
Rumengol, her face lit up by the taper offerings of the people.
These tapers fill the church with a mysterious gleam; a
hallowed light that rests like a benediction on the snow-white
coiffes of the worshippers, and on the worn faces—a soft, won-
derful glow, bom not only of the litten tapers and the candle-
offerings in dim recesses, but out of humble minds and tender
hearts filled with the beauty of prayer. Kneeling in a circle
before the steps of a side-altar a group of women recite an
Ave, and the whole church responds. The ceaseless rise and
fall of their voices is as a fitful wind passing through a forest of
leaves. Until morning the watch will continue, and as a dream
from a thousand weary lips this prayer will issue.

Outside the building another chant is heard, a slow chant in a
minor key, one of those characteristic Breton strains in which
the same phrase recurs again and again, now muffled as a sob,
now penetrating as the howl of a wounded dog. Thus begins
another watch, the vigil of the singers in God’s acre.
  .         .         .         .         .         .         .         .         .         .        


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It is about three o’clock. Already, eastwards, a roseate light
suffuses the frontiers of the morning. A tremor is in the air;
it forebodes the incomparable awakening of the sea on a Breton
summer day. Here amid these wide, peaceful expanses of the
extreme West, where man is still in harmony with Nature, the
dawn has lost nothing of its pristine solemnity or grandeur.
Rounding the isle of Tibidi, the Rock of Prayer, a sail comes
into view, and others follow, notes of brown here and there in
the uniform grey of the horizon. It is the procession of boats
from Ouessant entering the ‘river.’ It may be that these
heavy fishing smacks, built for daily struggle with wind and
tide, have some secret sense of the solemn part which they now
play. In single file they advance slowly up the inland sea, furl
their sails, and disembark their passengers: all is done noise-
lessly, well-nigh without gesture. Some women fall on their
knees and kiss the ground where begins the blessed zone of
Notre Dame of Rumengol. Then in small groups they make
their way towards the ‘House of the Saint.’ All go barefoot;
each carries a taper.

They are tall, these women, for the most part, with somewhat
masculine, regular features, their faces fresh and rosy with the
salt breath of the sea. Their beautiful eyes, with the sea-
shadow in them, are limpid as the pools that sleep over green-
brown wrack in the rock-hollows; pathetic, too, they are, in
their depths lie the memory of past griefs, the presentiment of
sorrows to come. No woman of Ouessant is there who from
birth till death is not a living prey to the terrors of the sea
which robs her of father, lover, husband, sons. And this is why
from the cradle to the tomb they are clad in black. The dress
is black, the apron black; black, too, the coiffe, save for the
severe folds of white across the forehead.

The men, fine muscular fellows, in grey or blue woollen jerseys,
with huge fists, and placid features, follow the women. These
pilgrims from the parched isle of Ouessant know not the warm
breath of the country and the fragrance of the fresh-mown hay,
yet they move on, absorbed in their devotions, their eyes fixed on

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a belated star which hangs low in the sky immediately above the
village spire. It is as a celestial sign to the islanders. Gazing at
the pale beam, they raise as with one voice a hymn to the
Virgin, the Breton version of the Ave Maria Stella:—

                        ‘Ni ho salud, stéréden vor!’

It is a motley throng which crowds the graveyard of Rumengol
after the Mass of Dawn. Every type of the Armorican is here:
the stolid, taciturn Léonard, bom to be trader or priest; the
Trégorrois, frank yet sharp of tongue, with deep, expressive
eyes; well-built men of Pont l’Abbé, quaint pictures in their
embroidered vests and ample velvet trousers. It is a world of
reliefs and contrasts, but all are as one in the deep fellowship
of an ancient faith, of an ancient race.

The sun in now high above the horizon. Already from the
direction of Le Faou, Landemeau, Chdteaulin, creaking
    omnibuses and brakes filled with bourgeois families
        hasten to Rumengol as to a pleasure fair. The
           Midnight Vigil, the Mass of Dawn, are over: the
                Pardon des Chanteurs is at an end.

                   EDITH WINGATE RINDER.

MLA citation:

Rinder, Edith Wingate. “Telen Rumengol.” The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal, vol. 3, Summer 1896, pp. 90-97. Evergreen Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2016-2018. Yellow Nineties 2.0, General Editor Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/egv3_rinder_rumengol/