Article Title

Situating the Holy: Celtic Community in Breton and Cornish Saint Plays


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Although close relationships between Brittany and Cornwall in the later Middle Ages have long been acknowledged in terms of their common linguistic background, reciprocal trade, and changing political affiliations, their mutual dramatic traditions have been given less attention.1 By the later Middle Ages, connections between these two regions dated back a thousand years, to the time of the British migrations to Brittany—popular movements now generally thought to have occurred between the late fourth and early seventh centuries, with particular concentrations of immigrants coming from the Southwest of England in the first half of the sixth century.2 The early Breton and Cornish languages were so closely related that, perhaps not surprisingly, it remains difficult for modern scholars to distinguish between the two in documents written prior to the twelfth century.3 Our understanding of Breton and Cornish medieval dramatic traditions is largely based on a small group of surviving dramatic texts and records from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and limited archaeological evidence. As in much of Europe, for Brittany and Cornwall this was a time of political and cultural upheaval, a time during which both communities felt the need to assert local and Celtic identity—an assertion apparent in their surviving saint plays: the Breton Buez Santez Nonn and Buhez Sant Gwenôlé, and the Cornish Beunans Meriasek.


1L. Feuriot, “Breton et Cornique a la fin du Moyen-Age,” Annales de Bretagne et des Pay de l’Ouest 76 (1969): 705–21. For example, in 1498–99, Breton trade represented 59 percent of the traffic at Salcomb, 24.5 percent at Fowey, 47.3 percent at St. Ives, 54 percent at Penzance, 62.8 percent at Padstow, and 94 percent at Mount’s Bay. On the hot and cold relation of both Brittany and Cornwall to Henry Tudor, see F. W. Halliday, A History of Cornwall (London: Gerald Duckworth, 1959), 152–52, 164–68; C. S. L. Davies, “Richard III, la Bretagne et Henry Tudor (1483–85),” Annales de Bretagne et des Pay de l’Ouest 102 (1995): 33–47. On the large number of Bretons in Cornwall, see Gloria Betcher, “Culture and Society in Fourteenth-Century Cornwall: Textual Evidence in the Cornish ‘Ordinalia’” (Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, 1994), 118–25. The possible connection between Breton and Cornish plays has briefly been remarked upon by Édouard Privat, Documents de l’Histoire de la Bretagne (Toulouse, 1971), 162–65; P Berresford Ellis, The Cornish Language and Its Literature (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974), 37–38; Brian Murdoch, Cornish Literature (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1994), 104.

2Nora Chadwick, Early Brittany (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1969), 162–237. Chadwick sees the immigration as caused by pressure from the raiding Irish from the west, the Anglo-Saxons from the east, and plague. Also see E. G. Bowen, Saints, Seaways and Settlements in the Celtic Lands (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1969), 160–90, and Patrick Galliou and Michael Jones, The Bretons (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), 129–39.

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