Thursday, November 5, 2009

St. Salaun and His Lily

Here, a few days late, is the story of Salaun, a canonized saint whose feast day is November 1. The setting is 14th century Brittany (a region in northwestern France, on a peninsula between the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay).

According to Baring-Gold, St. Salaun's life was originally recorded by Jean de Langouezenou, a Benedictine monk who was the abbot of Landevenec and a contemporary of Salaun. The original account was lost and so it cannot be determined how much the more recent versions vary from the original. In summary, this is the story:
Salaun (also referred to as Yann Salacin, Solomon, or Salomon) was a poor child from the area of Lesneven. At school, he learned to revere the Blessed Virgin Mary. He learned nothing else.

He would gather flowers in the fields and bring them to the Virgin's altar where he spent hours every day.

He begged his food by the roadside and by knocking at doors. He would plead, "O Lady Virgin Mary! Salaun would like some bread!" He often wandered in a certain wooded area and slept in the trees or in the barns of peasants. He would swing in the branches of the trees singing "Ave Maria".

Once during the disputes between Charles of Blois and the Count of Montfort, some soldiers asked him to which side he belonged and he replied, "Neither to Blois nor to Montfort, but to Mary".

Because he was regarded as a simpleton, he came to be called "The Fool" and the woods he inhabited "Fool's Wood" (Folgoat or Follcoat).

Salaun died on All Saints' Day around 1358 and was buried in a churchyard. From his grave, a tall, pure white lily grew. The grave was opened and it was discovered that the lily sprang from Salaun's mouth. Some accounts say the petals of the lily were inscribed with the phrase he used to cry -- "O Lady Virgin Mary!" Others say they were inscribed with "Ave Maria", written in gold.

A church was erected in the Fool's Wood called "Notre Dame de Folgoat", which portrays the story in a stained glass window. The church became the most popular pilgrimage destination in lower Brittany.
Baring-Gold, Sabine; The Lives of the Saints, Vol. 13 (1898), pp. 40-41.
Sedgwick, Anne Douglas; A Childhood in Brittany Eighty Years Ago (1919), pp. 196-197.

"Lilium Neilgherense", an illustration by Walter Hood Fitch (1817-1892), from Wikimedia Commons. In the public domain.

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