Our Lady of the Forest

June 17: Our Lady of the Forest

Brittany is a land noted for its pilgrimages, and that of Folgoet is one of the foremost of them. In the year 1419 a church took the place of a small chapel of Our Lady in the Forest of Lesneven, and it became the center of a big ecclesiastical establishment, with a famous pilgrim-shrine.

In 1380 there lived near Lesneven a good old man named Salaun or Solomon. He had no one to care for him, lived alone, and did not associate with any person; he walked with his eyes to the ground, but his heart in Heaven.

As the years went by, old and crippled as he was, he might be seen every evening hobbling toward the chapel of the Blessed Virgin where he spent most of the night in prayer after the villagers had returned to the warmth and security of their own homes. He was a simple man of the woods, and here where the chapel of Our Lady of the Forest was later built he slept in the open under an oak tree near a fountain.

Solomon loved to swing from the branches of a tree that hung over the fountain, all the while singing his praises to “Ave Maria!” at the top of his lungs. He begged for bread each day to obtain his meals, and in doing so he was often laughed at, jeered at and otherwise mistreated by the small boys. He was commonly known to one and all as “The Fool of the Wood.”

One day, while the villagers were on their way to the chapel, they found the old man in the snow dying of exposure. They tried to help him, but it was too late for their kindness, as the old man soon died with the words “Ave Maria” on his lips. The fool of the wood had finally gone to his Queen in Heaven. Legend further relates that he was buried in an out-of-the-way place in Lesneven, for he had no family to mourn him.

When spring came, a snow-white lily rose from the outcast’s grave, and on the delicate petals of the lily, in letters of gold, the words “Ave Maria!” could be seen. The grave was opened, and it was soon discovered that the lily had taken root in the mouth of the penniless old hermit. News of the miracle drew crowds to the scene, and a church was built to honor Our Lady of the Forest. The gravesite of the simple hermit can still be seen nearby, and visited even in our day. It is marked by four simple stones.

After a chequered history, the shrine fell into decay and was destroyed by fire during the French Revolution. It was restored by the people in 1818 and the venerated image of Our Lady was brought back and crowned in 1888. The pilgrimage has grown in popularity ever since.

*from The Woman in Orbit and other sources

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