This Month in Celtic History
by Stephen Paul DeVillo
7 March 1905: Creation of the Bleun-Brug, a Breton cultural organization.
Taking its name from the Breton word for the heather flower, the Bleun-Brug was founded by the priest Yann Perrot as a nationalist association of Breton-speaking Catholics. Stubbornly thriving as it did on bog and waste-lands, the heather symbolized the tenacity of the Breton nation.
The inspiration for the Bleun-Brug grew out of the 1905 congress of the Union Regionaliste Breton. The Union had established itself as a key organization on the Breton nationalist scene, but Perrot felt that the Unions emphasis on science and the secular arts neglected the spiritual dimension in Breton culture so he decided to found an organization that would unapologetically promote the linkage between Catholicism and the Breton national identity. At the time the Church had become one of the few public places where the Breton language could be heard on a regular basis. Although the Catholic liturgy was still in Latin, the sermons were given in Breton, and the Paris government was putting pressure on the Church to end this.
Perrot began by reviving an old magazine named Feiz ha Breiz (Faith and Brittany). Feiz ha Breiz, and an association of the same name, had begun as a local magazine for the dioceses of Quimper and Leon. Father Perrot joined the magazines staff in 1902 and built it up into what could become the springboard for a far more ambitious venture.
Under Perrots direction, Feiz ha Breiz became an outlet for the Bleun-Brug. Another important outlet was the annual Bleun-Brug festival that grew to combine conferences and seminars with celebrations of Breton music and theater. The Bleun-Brug reached its peak in the grey years that followed World War I, when it expanded its activities to encompass all of Brittany, and its Bleun-Brug festival became an annual Congress.
A notable high point was the 1929 Congress, a four-day event that opened on 1 September. Run in conjunction with a group of Breton artists, the festival became a showcase for modern Breton art, exemplified by the Rene-Yves Crestons faience statue of the medieval Breton hero Nominoe. Still on display in the museum in Quimper, the statue has become something of an icon of Breton nationalism.
Another major effort of those years was the organization of contests of choral singing. Father Perrot was an avid collector and compiler of Breton choral music, and the Bleun-Brug is credited with the revival of the Breton tradition of choral singing.
World War II and the German occupation of Brittany cast a pall over the Breton nationalist movement, and in 1943 Abbe Perrot was assassinated by a Resistance fighter for his ostensible collaboration with the Germans and the Vichy government. The assassination and the character of Abbe Perrot remain controversial and sensitive issues to this day.
Temporarily silenced by a vengeful Gaullist government following the Liberation, a battered Bleun-Brug reorganized itself in 1948 as the Bleun-Brug of Saint Pol de Leon. Returning to its roots as a primarily religious organization, the groups first major post-war success was the reactivation and return of a community of monks to the old Breton abbey of Landevennec.
But from the mid-1950s onward the Bleun-Brug increasingly emphasized economic and social issues, and began to leave its old Catholic religious connection behind. As this trend accelerated in the 1960s, many in the old guard began to leave the organization, and by the end of the decade it had entered a steep decline. The Bleun-Brug still exists today, though it has been inactive since 1984.
For more information on Brittany, see the Breton Nation Page.
The stories featured in This Month in Celtic History are drawn from the over 1000 anniversaries of people and events from the histories of the six Celtic nations of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, and the Isle of Mann in the 2005 Celtic Calendar, now available from the Celtic League American Branch.