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Brittany Tourist Board
1 rue Raoul Ponchon
35000 RENNES
Tel: 33 (0) 2 99 36 15 15

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Celtic Worship, Music

Brittany’s originality comes from the many different influences which have marked its history, 

But, we can say with certainty that the music, legends, art and imagination, similar to its sister countries like Ireland, Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, owe much to their Celtic ancestors.


When goddess Ana became Saint Anne

In the 6th century, Druidism gave way to rising ChristianitySainte Anne, the Virgin Mary's mother... grandmother of us all. without any real friction: the Celts also believed in the immortality of the soul, and they recognised the reality of a single god, an enigmatic absolute.

This god, “the one we do not name”, acted in the human world by way of divinities. The Celts easily found the equivalent of goddess Ana, their “grandmother of all”, in Saint Anne, the Virgin Mary’s mother. This sheds light on the particular fondness the Bretons have for Saint Anne.

Towns like Sainte-Anne-d’Auray or Sainte-Anne-la-Palud illustrate this attachment.

Water-worship, sun-worship: always and forever!

One of the most original Breton characteristics is the number of extraordinary fountains they have, which can be found everywhere. They bear witness to the ancient worship of water, the primordial feminine element.

These simply sculpted fountains are examples of pagan water sources converted for Christian uses. They were once dedicated to divinities, we dedicated them to saints! But they are still just as miraculous.

If you prefer to worship the sun, climb the Breton heights, at Mont Saint- Michel de Brasparts for example: all the chapels dedicated to the archangel Michael were built in the same place the ancients used to worship Belenos, the beneficial fire.

But this superimposition is not surprising: the old god and the Christian archangel both symbolise the triumph of light. We find the symbol of the sun in Celtic crosses: their main pattern is inscribed in a circle, evoking the sun or a wheel.

Symbol of the Triskell. It means " three legged" Some say it represents life : Soul, Spirit and Body
Brittany, however, possesses much less of this than Ireland. Another circle that represents life is the triskell, the symbol of Ireland and Celtic people in general.

Its harmonious design can be seen on the small stained-glass windows of many chapels, such as the one in Trémorvezen in Nevez, in South Finistère.

A fondness for abstract ornamentation

The Celtic influence in Brittany can be seen in its fondness for abstract ornamentation: the large cloister basin in Daoulas Abbey, engraved with mysterious drawings, is one of the most beautiful examples of Celtic art in Armorica.

You can also find abstract drawings on the converted Christian standing stones as well as the capitals of church columns: the interlacing, rings and spirals are a strong reminder of Celtic ancestors. The free curvilinear designs are associated with highly ornate animal motifs.

The columns of the ancient Landevennec abbey church provide a very beautiful example: animals, a donkey, ram heads and contortionists mix their figurative expressions in extraordinarily rich, voluted abstract designs.

The fondness for geometrical art can also be found in furniture designs and in the embroidery on Breton costumes.

A passion for music!

Traditional instruments are what give Breton music its unique appeal: the Celtic harp, smaller than a classical harp, has Irish origins, but the bombarde is typically Breton.

This wind instrument, a relative of the oboe, is traditionally played with the biniou kozh, the small Breton bagpipe.

The bagadou, large groups playing bagpipes, bombardes and drums, are extremely popular in Brittany: each town has its own bagad group. The many bagad contests create such competition that the proficiency of new generations of players has impressed many Scottish bagpipers! Bretons love a party.

Any occasion is reason enough for music and song, so long as everybody joins in the fun: not a week goes by without a festou noz, the night parties where people dance hand in hand accompanied by kan ha diskan singers.

No one can resist the rhythm of this unbroken circle and everyone, even outsiders, are invited to dance. This dancing communion of energy is a Breton tradition that is very much alive today.

A cultural crossroads

For a long time, Celtic music and cultures have been crossing paths in Brittany at the main festivals. In Quimper, the Cornouaille festival is celebrating its 84th anniversary this year! The Lorient interceltic festival, staging 4,500 artists each year, is approaching its 37th year. In Dinan, the international harp festival gathers rivals from all over the world each year.

Magical nights at the Interceltic Festival in Lorient

The major advance that these cultural and festive exchanges have made over the past few years is that they have opened their doors to creativity, all the while remaining loyal to tradition. These special Celtic inspired music festivals are also meeting places for dance, art and traditional games, such as Breton wrestling, the oldest of Breton sports.

Aside from the key festivals, Brittany hosts a wide range of lively interceltic events of various sizes. They also provide an opportunity to discover the true warmth of inner Brittany.

credits : Brittany Tourist Board

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