A Fortress of Forgotten Rites - Where Marriage is Truly Sacred - "Marrying Day" at Plougastel A Relic of the Pagan Past - The Mother's Pathetic Farewell n Brittany nothing ever seems to change. I It is the land of the picturesque; impervious to the exigencies of time and circumstance. This, surely, is one of the country's strongest charms - for those who love it. And all Englishmen love Brittany. A bond of kinship, as mysterious and indefinable as it is real, links together the two peoples. Bretons and Britons - the similarity of name is no mere accident.

Briton And Breton

Brittany, in fact, is the last true stronghold of the Celt. What Wales was once, Brittany still is. There still prevail the same old customs, superstitions, and beliefs as were in vogue in Britain centuries ago, the same delightful customs, even the same language.

In Wales, it is true, custom, costume, language, have not withstood the onslaughts of progression. But temperament dies harder. It yet survives. And the Briton of to-day, although intermingled in him is the blood of countless races, still shares the emotions of his Breton brother, his sentimentalism, his reverence for romance and superstition.

But the Breton has not been similarly hounded by invaders, harassed by new ideas. He is still Celt - and almost pure, for rarely, very rarely, does he marry a woman not of his own race. Indeed, almost always he marries one from his own village, and often - for the welfare of the race, alas! too often - one of his own kinsfolk.

And so in Brittany marriage retains all its primitive and simple sweetness. It is not a convention. It is a sacred, hallowed rite. To the Breton the French idea, un mariage de convenance, is hateful. In his eyes love is - as, indeed, it should be - the one sublime great mystery in life. And in marriage he sees love's just fulfilment.

But the Breton is essentially a prudent man. And a union which, from any point of view, could be regarded as a mesalliance he condemns as a calamity most certainly to be avoided. He has a keen sense for the fitness of things. If a man loves a maid but is unable to provide her with a home, then he must work for her until he can. If that maid loves the man, then she must wait for him. And this, again, is surely as it should be, for in Brittany love is the essential attribute to marriage. Ugly pre-betrothal formalities are unknown.

Matchmakers they may be - of course, are - for matchmakers are an institution as old almost as is the world. But in Brittany, as in England, it is the man who woos and the blushing maid who yields.

Perhaps in the twilight of an evening in some little country lane he slips a horny hand around her trim young body, and whispers his devotion, just as lovers do in other lands; or perhaps on some Sunday or some feast day in the wood beside the babbling brook. Why not the Bois d'amour at Pont-aveu? Have you ever been there? Not only the name, but the very trees invite romance. Or perhaps he asks the fateful question while returning from some distant village where they have been together to attend a Pardon - one of those curious semi-pagan, semi-religious festivals peculiar to the country.

And if the match is not approved of, then the parents are to blame. The lovers should not have been allowed alone together in the twilight or in the Bois d'amour!

The Functions Of The Village Tailor

But in some places quaint old customs still survive, especially in Southern Brittany. Here, I believe, the man does not himself ask his loved one for her hand. Instead, he confides his great secret to the village tailor. And the tailor, as prescribed by ancient custom, acts the emissary of his love, consulting first the maiden, and after that, if she consents, her parents and the man's.

The lover is then permitted to pay a formal visit to the girl, accompanied by the tailor, who carries in his hand a long white wand, wound round and round with flowers, from which hang two hearts of bright red felt. And so begins the brief but ardent courtship.

Brief - for in Brittany there is no occasion to delay the wedding. The bride is always ready. Indeed, almost on the very day of the child's birth the Breton mother begins to make her daughter's trousseau. The trousseau often has to wait for the bridegroom; the bridegroom never for the trousseau.

No; during their courtship days the young couple have naught to do save make arrangements for the wedding, and dream of the great happiness to come. Still, the wedding arrangements are in themselves an undertaking, for the Bretons are a hospitable people, and, although in most cases the bride and bridegroom are neighbours, everybody, even the meanest acquaintance, is invited to the wedding.

No Frenchman, it is said, ever refuses an invitation to a funeral. No Breton certainly ever thinks of declining to attend a wedding. Indeed, it is no unusual thing for so many as four or even five hundred guests to assemble on the momentous day. And they all have to be invited individually by word of mouth, with proper ceremonial, by three officials specially appointed - a master of the ceremonies, a maid chosen by the bride, and a groomsman selected by the bridegroom.

But perhaps there is a method in this hospitality, for, of course, each guest is forced to send a present, and the total value of the presents exceeds, no doubt considerably, the cost of entertainment, though what happens to the unlucky guests, at Plougastel, for example, it is hard to imagine. For there one day in every year - "marrying-day" it is called - is set apart for weddings, and on it all the engaged couples in the town go to the altar in solemn procession, one after another. This year (1912) no fewer than twenty-six couples were united. What a sudden drain on the guests' exchequer! It must have sapped all their meagre savings.

The "viewing of the presents" - the velladen - takes place usually on the last Sunday before the wedding. This is quite an important function. For then is signed the marriage contract, a formality with which not even the poorest peasant ever dispenses, and then displayed in the house of the bride's mother, so that all who care to may come and see them, are the wedding presents and the trousseau.

And if the good nuns who taught the girl such letters as she may know should send a gift, as invariably they do - perhaps it will be a baby's tiny linen frock, for the Bretons are a picturesque and sentimental people - it is displayed on a table by itself, covered with white flowers, a rosary on top, and a candle burning on either side. And the guests, in passing, gaze reverently at the little gift, cross themselves, then each in turn hides a small coin among the flowers.

The Wedding Day

And so at last the great day comes. The bridegroom is astir early in the morning. Indeed, soon after dawn, accompanied by his bazvalan ("spokesman of love"), he sets out to claim his bride, for Brittany still remains loyal o the old tradition of marriage by capture. The groom's bachelor friends, armed with bagpipes - an instrument known in Brittany long before it was imported into Scotland - follow in procession. This constitutes the bridegroom's fighting force.

They arrive before the house of the bride.

At Plougastel one day in every year is set apart for marrying all the engaged couples in the village. On Marrying Day this year (19125 twenty six couples were united. Above is depicted a typical procession to the church Photos, Central News

At Plougastel one day in every year is set apart for marrying all the engaged couples in the village. On Marrying Day this year (19125 twenty-six couples were united. Above is depicted a typical procession to the church Photos, Central News

Doors and windows all are bolted and barred. There is no sign of life within. The bazvalan pounds with his staff upon the door. No reply. He pounds again. Still no reply. Then the pipes begin to play. And for an hour, perhaps more, they are allowed to make hideous the morn, before at last a window is opened, and a kinsman of the bride thrusts out his head and grants a conference.

Then begins a long and tedious ceremony. conducted part in verse and part in song, What it is all about I know not, though I believe attempts are made to persuade the bridegroom to accept each woman in the house in turn, even the bride's grandmother, be she still alive and eligible, before at last he is allowed to enter and take to himself the girl of his own heart.

As his attendants cross the threshold, one and all they fall upon their knees. The pagan rites now are over; the Christian begin. First they recite a Paternoster for the bride and bridegroom, and then a De Profundis for their dead.

The Mother's Blessing

After this the bridal party forms into a procession, and prepares to set out for the little, white-walled church. The bride, clad in the dress in which her mother may have been married before her - perhaps even her grandmother - wears round her waist a sash so tied that it falls in long double loops. Just as she is about the leave the house, the mother, weeping bitterly, embraces her; then cuts this sash.

"The cord," she sobs - the words are an ancient formula, and antiquity has made them dear to the heart of every Breton - "which has so long bound us together, my child, is broken now, and I must give to thy husband the authority over thee which God gave me. If thou art happy - and may Mary grant it! - this will never again be thy home; but should grief find thee, I am thy mother still. And a mother's arms are ever open to her children. Like thee, I left my mother to follow my husband. Some day thy children will leave thee also. When that day comes, I charge thee, bless them as I now bless thee."

With these same words the mother also left her childhood's home, and her mother before her, and her mother's mother. The guests know this, and, hardy, simple peasants though they be, they, too, weep tears of genuine emotion.

The Wedding Feast

And so to the church. A short and simple service. Then home again, while the solitary tinkling little bell bravely rings forth its merry peal.

The ceremony is over. Then comes the wedding feast. The bridegroom and his kinsmen wait upon and serve the guests. And a joyous meal it is, and sumptuous. Then begins the dancing - dancing, romping, and singing. And the festivities are continued late into the evening, for the Bretons know how to enjoy their pleasures.

But at last all is quiet within the little village. The wedding day is over. And yet two more good souls have set out together down the road of life, bravely resolved to share in common all the fatigues and hardships of the journey - and its joys.

Some happy Plougastel bridegrooms photographed after the ceremony

Some happy Plougastel bridegrooms photographed after the ceremony

The beautiful ballroom at Sandringham arranged for a command performance. The small size of the stage necessitates a very careful rehearsal upon it previous to the actual performance

The beautiful ballroom at Sandringham arranged for a command performance. The small size of the stage necessitates a very careful rehearsal upon it previous to the actual performance

Photo, Ralph