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Cornouaille 2O1O (52)

The Breton saints

The cathedral shut, the price
of entering the Musée des Beaux Arts 
too steep, uncertain what to do
we joined the gathering crowd.

Some kind of march. A few crush barriers,
a PA system booming out the voices 
of Quimper's locked cathedral’s choir,
welcoming a region’s adhérents 

on ancient pilgrimage. From every part
of Brittany they come to climax here, 
walking beneath the magpied flags
and banners of their Celtic heritage. Some bear  

their parish names like mouthfuls of small stones—
Rosporden, Ploggonec—but mostly those 
of each one’s patron saint: St Thurien,
St Bernadette, St Marie-Madeleine

striking Renaissance poses on
the gorgeous, faded tapestries 
of purple, mauve and green,
two hundred of the church beatified,

bobbing like so many little boats
in a sea of moving heads. Cast on the shore 
with baseball caps and cameras we look on,
blank-faced adherents of the new religion 

of staring into other peoples’ lives.
The procession breaks against us— 
too many to go in they wait in shoals,
St Patern, St Samson, St Exuperé— 

eddies in the flow of supplicants
as if treading water. St Maurice Priez Pour Nous— 
you that once thrilled with faith, too feeble now
even to walk, who must be carried here 

like John at Ephesus, alive beyond his time,
Gospel and Revelation done at last, borne 
to church on others’ shoulders, muttering       
Little children, love one another.

Written after viewing the parade in Quimper. 

John at Ephesus The tradition that the apostle John in extreme old age and unable to walk would repeat nothing but this phrase from his first Epistle over and over comes from the commentary on Galatians by Jerome (340-420 AD). Jerome says that eventually John's disciples wearied of hearing the same phrase, and asked him why he spoke it, to which John replied "It is the Lord's command, and if this alone be done, it is enough".

© Godfrey Rust, godfrey@wordsout.co.uk. See here for details of permissions for use.