The birth of Brittany

Little Britain

During the Dark Ages, wave upon wave of immigrants from Ireland, Wales and southern England profoundly altered the character of the Armorican peninsula, turning it into Brittany, or Little Britain. They spread their own brand of Christianity as well as their exuberant legends and a feisty, independent Brittany was forged in this period.

Picture 1 The birth of Brittany Picture 2 The birth of Brittany

New blood in Brittany 

As Roman rule collapsed, Irish people are thought to be the earliest to emigrate in some number to the Armorican peninsula. Then as Britain was overrun by Anglos and Saxons, many fled here from Wales and western England and so Brittany was well and truly born. Holy men from south Wales had a particularly powerful impact on the region in the 6th century, establishing the first cathedrals.

Christianity and myth combine in a heady mix 

Countless Breton place names reflect the influence of all the British leaders who established communities around the region, from St-Malo round to St-Gildas. Once again, however, very little material evidence has survived with the exception of Landévennec Abbey on the west coast. You can also read hugely entertaining, wholly unreliable legends telling of Breton saints crossing the sea in stone boats or on leaves, fighting dragons and evil leaders, and generally being very entertaining, as well as very good. In many a Breton church, you’ll encounter amusing medieval statues representing these local saints.

Little kings of Brittany 

On the political front, in Gaul, the Franks established themselves as top dogs after the Roman era, and pressed on the Breton border. An entente was agreed between the rival parties in the 9th century and one powerful Breton, Nominoë, was recognized as king of Brittany. Under his two successors, Brittany reached its largest extent, although Viking raiders were wreaking increasing havoc.

Did you know ?

The Catholic church of Rome has never been keen on the Celtic saints competing with its own, and so has consistently disowned them, never allowing them to be canonised.

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