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Rural faith healers

Faith healing

The French health service is over 12 billion euros in debt. And it is much abused, at least to my way of thinking. My rather British attitude is “don’t bother the doctor unless the illness is still serious after 3 days”, in stark contrast to many of my French friends. If my daughter’s best friend so much as coughs, she is taken to the doctors immediately and returns with 5 or 6 different medicines just to treat a common cold.

So with this heavy reliance on the state health service, I was quite surprised to learn that the practice of faith healing is still very popular in rural areas. Nearly every small village in Brittany has a faith healer, or person with the “don de guérisson” (the gift of healing) of some kind or another. They tend to specialise in individual problems, rather than be a “cure all” type healer. You will find one who treats skin problems, another will cure headaches, another stomach problems etc. They cure simply by touching the affected part of the body.

My first encounter with this practice was 9 years ago, when I developed a nasty skin rash (due to a chlorine insensitivity). My octogenarian neighbours, Francis and Maria, sent a friend of theirs, Paul (a retired functionary) over to see me. He had a bottle of holy water from Lourdes and proceeded to splash some of this over my rash, whilst praying. I was extremely sceptical about this working, and went along with it largely not to offend my neighbours. However, a couple of days later, my skin cleared up and I’ve haven’t had had a problem since. My mother also saw Paul when she was staying once, and her skin problem also disappeared.

My second experience was with my son, Olivier, when he was a baby. After 9 months of broken nights, I was getting quite desperate. My neighbours suggested I went to see Maurice, a retired farmer who lives the other side of Tremblay and who had cured their children of teething problems. So I set off with my baby and arrived at his little house. The healing process this time involved Maurice washing his hands, then dipped a finger in a bottle of  ‘eau de vie’ (a very strong alcohol, which is made of distilled apples here in Brittany). He then rubbed his finger around Olivier’s gums. For the next month my son slept through the night consistently. He started waking up again in the night, so I took him back and that was it, since then he has always slept soundly.

Marie-Christine is a farmer’s wife who lives nearby who has a ‘don’ (gift) and specialises in treating burns. Fortunately I haven’t had the misfortune to be burnt seriously enough to go and see her, but I wouldn’t hesitate as I’m quite a convert to faith healing now. It isn’t reimbursed by the social security, of course, but usually a bottle of something is all you need to give to show your gratitude to the ‘guérisseur’. And of course, it isn’t a drain on the resources of the health service.

 

 

Foraging

This is a great time of year for making the most of the free food provided by nature. The chestnuts are ripe now and the footpaths around here are covered in them. Mushrooms of many different types can be found, although it is always best to check to see if they are edible before cooking. Either buy a guide or check with your local pharmacy to ensure you don’t end up with a very bad stomach ache, or maybe worse. The variety of mushrooms to be found here is extraordinary.

Last weekend we took the children up to a secret beach to go “palourde” or clam fishing in the sand on the beach while the tide is out. You need little rakes to move the sand, and then you can feel if you have something hard underneath the sand. Then you dig. The best place to look is on the little rivulets going down to the sea. Where there is one big clam, there are often at least 5 others. The technique needs a little practice, but the clams were delicious, cooked in a little butter, shallots, garlic and parsley. And it is great fun for the kids!

Journée du patrimoine

Chateau de Bonnefontaine
Chateau de Bonnefontaine
Tree where Anne de Bretagne sat
Tree where Anne de Bretagne sat
Stately dining room
Stately dining room
Bonnefontaine
Bonnefontaine

September is always a beautiful month to visit Brittany. The colours of the countryside are change from green to orange, yellow and brown, the tractors are ploughing the fields and preparing for the corn harvest. The beaches and attractions are quieter, the sea still warm (well, 18°C) and the weather is often sunnier and drier than in July and August. The third weekend of September is designated ‘Week-end du patrimoine’ (heritage weekend) and it is on this weekend that you find many historical buildings, including town halls, churches, cathedrals, stately homes and manor houses which are usually private, opened to the public for one or two days. It’s a great opportunity to see the inside of buildings you usually only see externally, and if you are lucky, meet and chat to the owners.
On Sunday I took my children to the nearby Chateau de Bonnefontaine, near Antrain (10 kms from La Haute Manceliere), a very well preserved stately home. The chateau is still privately owned, although weddings and musical events take place in the grounds and the Orangerie. We were able to walk around the grounds and see the tree where the Duchesse Anne de Bretagne (she deserves a separate post of her own and I will do that soon!) and also enter the chateau to see the beautiful hall and dining room of the chateau itself, with it’s fantastic painted mural.  The owner himself and his wife gave a guided tour of the rooms and explained the history of the building. Definitely worth a visit, and next year we will be visiting a few more local stately homes.

Chateau de Bonnefontaine

Talented guests

One of the nicest things about living on site is meeting guests and learning about their hobbies and interests. Over the years I’ve had musicians stay, the most memorable (and loudest) was a teenage trombone player who brought his trombone with him on holiday to practice. Fortunately he played quite well!

I’ve also been lucky enough to be the recipient of some excellent paintings done either here, or of things in the area. This summer, Beth Davies, who is only 13, spent some of her holiday doing some beautiful paintings of the flowers around the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think they are beautiful – and thanks to her mum Hazel for copying them and sending them to me!

Another treasured picture was done by Colin Warden, who has stayed here a few times with his family in Les Chouettes.  For the last visit he presented me with a painting he did of Mont St Michel, which I had framed and it is now in pride of place on the wall of the living area of the farmhouse.

Mont St Michel by Colin Warden
Mont St Michel by Colin Warden

Any drawings, whether by toddlers or professional artists are always received very gratefully. Thankyou to everyone who has everyone who has painted at La Haute Mancelière!