Saturday, May 21, 2011

Road of the Solar Wind, 5: Poppies and wishing stones

St Vio's chapel was locked.  There are so many on this route, that this one doesn't even merit a mark on the Michelin map in bold blue,  But it has one of those astonishing heavy granite stairways on the roof up to the bell tower, which I can never quite credit the roof structure as really being strong enough to support.

However, just as good things were to be found beyond the chapel itself,

like this quaint round menhir, which looked as if it had been split and cemented back together again, in a field to one side ( the chapel roof is visible just to the left in the picture).  Closer examination revealed it to be oddly pitted, like the surface of the moon,

and that people had placed shiny coins, sometimes of quite high denominations, in the craters.  A kind of wishing stone, perhaps.  ( I'm rather hoping that the enigmatic and knowing Setu, my authority on the ground for all things Breton in general and Finisterian in particular, may stop by and tell me more about this, but he moves in mysterious ways, and hasn't been about for a bit...)

Best of all though was a field of clover and poppies, grasses and other flowers,

on the other side of the road, and stretching far and wide, with the sea in the distance.

(I'm trying to get all the photos in this series out before I go to England for a quick trip next week, as after that I think they really will be beyond their sell-by date, so please indulge me in over-frequent posting!)


HLiza said...

Oh red glaring poppies! I might pick them up and bring back home if I were with you..amazing how wild flowers can be so beautiful!

Zhoen said...

I am fond of a field of grass with masses of wildflowers. No lawn mower in sight.

zephyr said...


christopher said...

I just finished a "Lucyfest", bathing in the work you do. Early this morning, I decided to reprise a poem on my blog and that sent me to your archives to refresh my memory, since the poem birthed under one of your posts. Thank you so much for your work and your friendliness over these last years.

marly youmans said...

I always love a flowering field, but I am very drawn to the menhir with the coins. Yes, do find out more about that if you can!

Setu said...

I have read with great interest the witty accounts of your peregrinations along that shore I know so well: I spent my childhood and my teens in St. Guénolé, where I have inherited, with my siblings, our family house facing the Atlantic waves. So, I divide myself between the monts d’Arrée and the Cap Caval (Penmarc’h peninsula).
Now, about St Vio. Please fasten your safety belt ;-) St Vio’s stone was placed were it stands now only a few years ago (10 years ago?). A local association refurbished that stone that lay, split up, near the holy fountain about 50 m from today’s location. I have been told that the splitting was either caused by a tractor or by a bad handling at some stage in a special ceremony supposed to invite the rain during a drought… After a procession lead by a priest, strong men would try to turn St Vio’s stone over. Would they have succeeded, the saint would have caused the rain to fall. Local legends say St Vio came all the way from Ireland on a stone boat (one more of that kind…) and what you see now is supposed to be a remnant of its mast. As to stone boats, I think this topic comes from a Medieval Breton monk who was lost in translation. In Breton, komm/koumm (cf. Welsh cwm) can be a manger or a trough (the general idea is “something hollow”, hence one of the meanings is “valley”). In Brittany, most mangers (“auge” in French) are carved into a massive piece of granite. The Latin “vitae”, Breton saints lives, had that a saint crossed the sea on board a “cymba”. The Breton (or Welsh or Cornish) speaking scribe, lacking a good dictionary, saw in “cymba” his well known word meaning a stone trough, whereas “cymba” means a little boat, a skiff (Charon’s boat is a “cymba”).
Albert Le Grand (a 17th Century Benedictine who re-wrote a few lives of Breton saints) said that Vio and Nonna of Penmarc’h, as well as Vougay (of St Vougay, on the N coast), are but one and the same person. The Great Albert says he was a bishop in Armagh (Ulster).But I challenge anybody to find any of those names in the Annals of Ulster… I think he might rather be a Breton/Britonnic character than an Irish one. Maybe Gwiziou/Gwizio? Initial Gw gives W (pronounced V here) after Sant (i.e. Saint)/ So, Sant Wizio. A specificity of the Kerne/Cornouaille Breton is the dropping of a Z when between two vowels; thus you will pronounce “Vio” instead of “Wizio”.
The truth is that St Vio’s stone is one of the many Gallic “stèles à cupules” you may encounter in the Pays Bigouden. Generally found near a holy well and/or an Iron Age cemetery and linked to a fertility cult or a cult dealing with the ancestors. Once more, a “Breton saint” has superseded an Iron Age deity…
So, the coins you saw in the “cupules” are not connected to a traditional cult. But, perhaps, without knowing it, the tourists who put the coins there acted in a way quite similar to the way Armorican Iron Age people acted… SORRY to have been so long!