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
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
Renaissance poses on
the gorgeous, faded tapestries
of purple, mauve and green,
two hundred of the church beatified,
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
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—
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
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 2000, email@example.com. See here for permissions.