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Rennes includes the Department of Ille et Vilaine. The Concordat of 1802 re-established the Diocese of Rennes which since then has included;

  • the ancient Diocese of Rennes with the exception of three parishes given to Nantes ;
  • the greater part of the ancient Diocese of Dol;
  • the greater part of the ancient Diocese of St. Malo;
  • ten parishes that had formed part of the ancient Diocese of Vannes and Nantes.
  • On 3 January, 1859, the See of Rennes, which the French Revolution had desired to make a metropolitan, became an archiepiscopal see, with the Dioceses of Quimper, Vannes, and St. Brieuc as suffragans. Cardinal Place obtained from Leo XIII permission for the Archbishop of Rennes to add the titles of Dol and St. Malo to that of Rennes. Rennes was the capital of Brittany. Under the Roman Empire Brittany had formed part of the province of Tertia Lugdunensis (Third Lyonnesse), but from 383 to 509 it was an independent kingdom; afterwards, under the Merovingians, it ranked as a countship. The Kingdom of Brittany, founded by Nomenoë about 845, was shortlived, and after 874 Brittany was parcelled out among a number of counts, the most important of whom was the Count of Rennes. In 992 Geoffrey I, Count of Rennes, took the title of Duke of Brittany. The solemn and final union of Brittany with France was the result of the marriage of Francis I to Claudia of France, daughter of Anne of Brittany and Louis XII. Tradition names as first apostles of the future Diocese of Rennes, missionaries of the Latin race, but of an uncertain date : SS. Maximinus, Clarus, Justus. On the other hand, when in the fifth and sixth centuries bands of Christian Britons emigrated from Great Britain to Armorica and formed on its northern coast the small Kingdom of Domnonée, the Gospel was preached for the first time in the future Dioceses of Dol and Aleth. Among these missionaries were St. Armel, who, according to the legend, founded in the sixth century the town of Ploermel in the Diocese of Vannes and then retired into the forests of Chateaugiron and Janzé and attacked Druidism on the very site of the Dolmen of the Fairy Rocks (La Roche aux Fées); St. Méen (Mevennus) who retired to the solitudes around Pontrecoët and founded the monastery of Gael (550), known afterwards as St. Méen's; St. Lunarius and St. Suliacus who dwelt in the woods along the banks of the Rance, and Sts. Samson and Malo.

    I. DIOCESE OF RENNES

    The earliest historical mention of the See of Rennes dates from 453. One of the four prelates, Sarmatio, Chariato, Rumoridus, and Viventius who in that year took part in the Council of Angers, was Bishop of Rennes. One Athenius, Bishop of Rennes, took part in the Council of Tours in 461. Mgr Duchesne is of opinion that the St. Amandus reckoned among the bishops of Rennes at the end of the fifth century is the same as St. Amand of Rodez. Among other bishops are the famous St. Melanius (Melaine) who in 511 assisted at the Council of Orléans and had a widespread reputation for sanctity. He gave his name to a well-known abbey, which in the twelfth century possessed no less than seventy parish churches. Famous among the annals of Rennes are: St. Desiderius (Didier) whose episcopate is questioned by Mgr Duchesne (c. 682); St. Moderamnus (Moran) who died about 730 in the monastery of Berceto near Lucca ; Marbodus, the hymnographer (1096-1123); the Dominican Yves Mayeuc (1507-41); Arnaud d'Ossat (1596-1600), cardinal in 1599, and prominent in the conversion of Henry IV ; Godefroy Brossais Saint Marc (1848-78), cardinal in 1875; Charles Place (1878-93), cardinal in 1886; Guillaume Labouré (1893-1906), cardinal in 1897, Le Coz (1760-1815) during the Revolution was constitutional Archbishop of Rennes. Under the Concordat he became Archbishop of Besançon. In the Middle Ages the Bishop of Rennes had the privilege of crowning the dukes of Brittany in his cathedral. On the occasion of his first entry into Rennes it was customary for him to be borne on the shoulders of four Breton barons.

    II. DIOCESE OF ST. MALO

    The monk Malo (died about 600) at the end of the sixth century came from Wales at the head of a band of emigrants and founded two monasteries on the coast near the Roman post of Aleth. Two legendary biographies of him which date from the ninth century make him the first Bishop of Aleth. The biography of King Saint Judicael, written in the eleventh century, mentions as a contemporary of the king, a Saint Maelmon, Bishop of Aleth. Local breviaries of the fifteenth century, mention three bishops prior to Maelmon: Enogat, Gurval, and Coalfinit. In Mgr Duchesne's opinion one thing only is certain that the Diocese of Aleth existed in Charlemagne's time. The town of Aleth was destroyed by the Normans, and soon after 1141, the seat of the diocese was removed to the Isle of St. Aaron (so-called after a hermit who lived there early in the sixth century), on which stood the town afterwards known as St. Malo. This change was endorsed by Eugene III in spite of the protests of the monks of Marmoutiers who had a foundation on the island. Among the bishops of St. Malo are: Blessed John de la Grille (1144-63) under whom the see was transferred; William de Montfort (1423-32), cardinal in 1426; William Briçonnet (1493-1513); Harlay de Saucy (1632-46).

    III. DIOCESE OF DOL

    The Life of St. Samson, which cannot be of earlier date than the seventh century, mentions the foundation of the monastery of Dol by St. Samson. He was doubtless already a bishop when he came from Great Britain to Armorica, and it is he perhaps who assisted at the Council of Paris between 561 and 567. But in the biography there is nothing to prove that he founded the See of Dol or that he was its first bishop. In the twelfth century, to support its claim against the Metropolitan of Tours, the Church of Dol produced the names of a long list of archbishops : St. Samson, St. Magloire, St. Budoc, St. Génevée, St. Restoald, St. Armel, St. Jumael, St. Turian. Mgr Duchesne discounts and doubts this list. He is of the opinion that the abbey of Dol may have had at its head from time to time abbots with episcopal jurisdiction, but that Dol was not the seat of a diocese. Under Charlemagne and Louis the Pious, the Vicariate of Dol and the monastery of St. Méen were still included in the Diocese of Aleth; so that the first Bishop of Dol was Festianus (Festgen) mentioned for the first time between 851 and 857, and installed by King Nomenoë. Among the bishops of Dol are: Baudri (1107-30), author of a poem on the conquest of England by William the Conqueror ; Alain, Cardinal de Coetivy (1456-74), as legate of Callistus III, brought Charles VII to assist the Greeks against the Turks who were besieging Constantinople; Urban René de Hercé (1767-95), emigrated to England during the Revolution, but accompanied to Brittany the royalist troops who attempted to land at Quiberon. He was arrested with his brother, and shot at Vannes, 3 July, 1795. There was a struggle from the ninth to the eleventh century to free the Church of Brittany from the Metropolitan of Tours. It is important to consider the point closely.

    From a comparison made by Mgr Duchesne between the Life of St. Conwoion, the "Indiculus de episcoporum Britonum depositione", and an almost completely restored letter of Leo IV, it would appear that shortly before 850, Nomenoë wishing to be anointed king, and finding opposition among the prelates of Brittany, sought to get rid of them by charging them with simony. Their only fault was perhaps that they demanded eulogia from their priests when the latter came to synods. After listening to a deputation of Breton bishops and to St. Conwoion, founder of the Abbey of St-Sauveur at Redon, who had been sent to Rome by Nomenoë, Leo IV declared that the charge of simony must be adjudicated by a competent tribunal of twelve bishops, and must be attested by seventy-two witnesses, thereby disputing Nomenoë's claim to a right to depose bishops. But Nomenoë did depose, and in a brutal manner, the four bishops of Vannes : Aleth, Quimper, and St. Pol de Léon, and made seven dioceses out of their four; one of the new dioceses had its seat in the abbey of Dol and became straightway an archdiocese. The remaining two were in the monasteries of St. Brieuc and Pabu-Tutual (Tréguier). At the end of 850 or beginning of 851 the bishops of the four provinces of Tours, Sens, Reims, and Rouen, wrote a letter of reprimand to Nomenoë and threatened him with excommunication. He paid no heed to them and died 7 March, 851. Salomon, Nomenoë's second successor, requested Benedict IV in vain to regularize the situation of the Breton hierarchy. In the name of the Council of Savonnières (859) the seven metropolitans of the three kingdoms of Charles the Bald, of Lothaire II, and of Charles of Provence, wrote to the Bishop of Rennes and to the bishops occupying the new Sees of Dol, St. Brieuc, and Tréguier, reproaching them with lack of obedience to the Metropolitan of Tours. This letter was not sent to the Bishops of Vannes, Quimper, Aleth, and St. Pol de Léon who wrongly occupied the sees of the legitimate bishops illegally deposed by Nomenoë. It achieved nothing. In 862 Salomon dealt directly with Nicholas I, and at first tried to mislead the pope by means of false allegations and forgeries; then he restored Felix of Quimper and Liberalis of Léon to their sees, but still kept Susannus of Vannes and Salocon of Aleth in exile. Nicholas I died in 867. Adrian II (867-72) and John VIII (872-82) continued to uphold the rights of the Metropolitan of Tours. Then came the deaths of Salomon and of Susannus, and a conciliatory mood developed. There was no formal act on the part of the Holy See recognizing Dol as a new metropolitan church; it never had control over Rennes or Nantes, and it was mainly over the new Sees of St. Brieuc and Tréguier that it exercised ascendancy. Finally in May, 1199, Innocent III restored the old order of things, and subordinated anew all Brittany to Tours but did not interfere with the diocesan boundaries set up by the daring Nomenoë, and they remained in force until the Revolution. The Bishop of Dol retained until 1789 the insignia of an archbishop, but without an archbishop's privileges.

    The pilgrimage of the Seven Saints of Brittany was a widespread devotion during the Middle Ages, and probably antedates the year 1000. Four times a year, at Easter, Pentecost, Michaelmas, and Christmas, crowds of pilgrims on foot paid within thirty days a round of visits to the seven sanctuaries, Dol, St. Brieuc, Tréguier, Léon, Quimper, Vannes, St. Malo. A paved road, that kept up an earlier line uf Roman roads, was followed by these endless pilgrimages, whence arose the present custom of dedicating chapels to the Seven Saints. The ancient Abbeys of St. Melanius, St. Méen, Redon, and Paimpont, the abbeys of Canons Regular of Rillé (founded about 1143), of Montfort (founded about 1152) were very useful in restoring the parochial services after the disorders of the early Middle Ages . Two thirds of the churches in the territory date from the eleventh or twelfth century, and were built by the monks and Canons Regular. The war of succession of Brittany (1341-64) between Jean de Montfort and Charles de Blois has an interest for the ecclesiastical historian owing to the fact that Charles de Blois has the title of Blessed. Dom Plaine has shown that the origin of the pilgrimage of Bonne Nouvelle at Rennes had nothing to do, as was often supposed, with a victory of Jean de Montfort over Blessed Charles de Blois. Some of the saints connected with the Archdiocese of Rennes are: St. Mevennus or Méen, St. Armel, St. Sulinus (Suliac), son of Broguenard, Prince of Wales, Abbot of the monastery of St. Suliac (died in 606); St. Judicael (584-658), twice King of the Bretons, twice monk in the monastery founded by St. Méen, and founder of the abbey of Paimpont; St. Geldouin, canon of Dol (died 1076 or 1077), who refused to become a bishop in spite of the appeals of Gregory VII ; Venerable Robert d'Arbrissel, founder of the order of Fontevrault (died 1117), a native of Arbrissel near Rennes; Blessed Ralph de la Futaye, founder about 1096 of the Abbey of St. Sulpice at Rennes, known originally as Our Lady of the Blackbirds; St. Yves (1253-1303), who held an official position in the Diocese of Rennes; Venerable John de St. Samson, blind from birth, a Carmelite of Rennes and the great Breton contemplative, died in 1636, leaving many writings of a mystical character ; Ven. Pierre Quintin (died 1629), a Dominican of Vitre, and one of the collaborators of Ven. Michel de Nobletz in his apostolate. Caradeuc de la Chalotais (1701-85), born at Rennes, procurator of Brittany, was one of the first magistrates to lead the way for the abolition of the Jesuits in France by his comptes-rendus of the constitutions of the Jesuits, read to the Parliament in Dec., 1761, and in May, 1762. Grimm said that the Jesuits might consider Le Chalotais as their destroyer in France.

    Other natives of Rennes are the Benedictine Lobineau (1606-1727), famous for his "histoire de la Brétagne" (1707), and the Jesuit philologian Tournemine (1661-1739). Jacques Cartier (1494-1552), the discoverer of Canada ; the naval commander Duguay-Trouin (1673-1736), who took Rio de Janeiro in 1711; La Bourdonnais (1699-1753), another sailor who fought against the English in India ; the writers Chateaubriand (1768-1848) and Lamennais (1782-1854) were natives of St. Malo. Duguesclin (died 1380), famous during the Hundred Years' War, was born at Château de la Motte de Bron; the Château des Rochers where Madame de Sévigné lived (1626-96) is near Vitre.

    The chief shrines of the archdiocese are: Notre-Dame des Miracles et Vertus, in St-Sauveur's at Rennes, a place of pilgrimage since the siege of Rennes by the English under the Duke of Lancaster in 1357; Notre-Dame de Bonne Nouvelle, at Rennes, a Dominican's shrine, a place of pilgrimage as early as 1466; Notre-Dame des Marais, at Fougères, dating from the tenth century, but particularly famous during the seventeenth century; Notre-Dame de Paimpont; Notre-Dame de la Peinière at Saint Didier, a pilgrimage from very early times. Before the application of the Associations Law in 1901 there were in the archdiocese : Eudists, Recollets, Lazarists, Carmelites, and several orders of teaching Brothers. Among congregations of women originating in the diocese are the Daughters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary , founded in 1640 by Mlle Morel du Verger for the care of incurables, with mother-house at Rennes; The Adoratrices of the Divine Justice, a teaching and nursing order with mother-house at Fougères; the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, a teaching and nursing order founded in 1831 at St. Méen by Père Corvoisier; the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, known as Sisters of the Oaks, or of the Junior Schools, founded in 1850 by Amélie Fristel, a nursing and teaching order with mother-house at Paramé and branches at Halifax and Ste Marie in Canada ; Little Sisters of the Poor , founded in 1842 at Rennes by Jeanne Jugan, Fanchon Aubert, Marie Jamet, Virginie Tredaniel under the guidance of Abbé Lepailleur, and installed through the efforts of Abbé Ernest Lelièvre in all parts of the world. Their motherhouse at St. Pern in the Diocese of Rennes controlled in 1905, 106 houses in France, 51 in Spain, 29 in England, 30 in America, 16 in Italy, 13 in Belgium, 4 in Africa, 3 in Oceania, 1 in Portugal, 1 in Turkey; 33,123 aged and infirm persons were cared for by 4475 sisters. At the close of the nineteenth century the religious congregations in the diocese had charge of 1 crèche, 31 nurseries, 1 home for infirm children, 1 deaf and dumb school, 5 orphanages for boys, 14 for girls, 34 hospitals or infirmaries, 18 district nursing homes, 2 retreat houses, 3 homes for incurables, 1 lunatic asylum. In 1909 the Archdiocese of Rennes numbered 621,384 souls in 60 parishes with 324 auxiliary parishes and 379 curacies.


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