The Fire Pardon
Saint-Jean-du-Doigt is famous as the home of a relic from John the Baptist, kept in the church’s treasure room, and the annual Pardon ceremony naturally features this relic, attracting countless pilgrims and tourists who wish to enjoy the authenticity of this traditional festival.
THE HISTORY OF THE PARDON IN SAINT-JEAN-DU-DOIGT
The annual Pardon has been famous since the 1400s as both a sacred and secular event, reaching its height in the late 1800s, when some 15,000 pilgrims came either by sea or on foot from every corner of Brittany. In the 1950s, religious fervour began to decline and by the 1970s the Pardon was not especially well-attended.
The year 1990 marked the bicentenary of Saint-Jean, with new stained-glass panels inaugurated in the church, so the locals decided to revive the Pardon. In 1998, a hundred years after French writer Anatole Le Bras described the tradition in his book ‘Le pardon du feu’ (The Fire Pardon), Saint-Jean were celebrating as their ancestors had done so many years before: locals dressed in traditional costume, forming a procession leading to the square of Place Robert Le Meur, where they would bow to the banners before heading to the church for the service. The grand procession is led by a small child who symbolised John the Baptist; the men carry the crosses and the women carry the banners. Sacred songs are sung as they proceed to the stone cross and the fountain of Pen ar C’hra, then the sacred fire known as the Tantad is lit to close the ceremony.
On 24th June 1898, Anatole Le Braz wrote:
‘This spectacle is one of raw, unspeakable beauty. Supple and reptilian, the flame licks around the pyre… This bitter caress hollows it out, searches deep within and almost sculpts it, gradually turning the shapeless pyre into a statue, a colossus, a sort of spiked lizard, surrounded by a halo of blazing cloud and draped with a fiery purple.’
Every year, on the last Sunday in June, the Pardon of Saint-Jean-du-Doigt brings together a crowd of believers and non-believers alike, gathering amicably to keep this ancestral tradition alive.