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Pays Pagan (Traditional district, Brittany, France)

Bro Pagan

Last modified: 2016-11-11 by ivan sache
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Flag of Pays Pagan - Image by Mikael Bodlore-Penlaez, 6 March 2016


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Presentation of Pays Pagan

Pays Pagan (in Breton, Bro Pagan; pagan means "pagan" in Breton) is a traditional district located on the north-western coast of Brittany, in the traditional province of Léon. The district is limited by the villages of Plouguerneau (west) and Goulven (east). The region is quite isolated and navigation is made difficult by storms, rocks and cliffs; accordingly, its inhabitants were considered as corsairs, pirates, smugglers, or even wreckers, therefore their nickname of "pagans".

Bristled with rocks and cliffs, the coast has been the site of several wrecks, the most (in)famous wrecked ship being the Amoco Cadiz, sunk off Portsall on 16 March 1978; the wreckage resulted in the largest oilspill of that kind ever recorded. Like the inhabitants of other dangerous coasts of Brittany (for instance, Pays Bigouden and the islands of Molène and Ushant), the "pagans" have been traditionally described as wreckers.
There is indeed historical evidence that the inhabitants of the coasts plundered wrecks and considered everything brought to them by the sea as their property. This "right of wreck", challenged by the local lords, was eventually suppressed by Colbert in 1681; the same Ordinance prescribed the set up of watch posts and rescue stations on the most dangerous places. Louis Gallouédec (Annales de Géographie, 1892) reports the wrecking of the Vendée on 3-4 February 1889, describing "bunches of men, women and children standing on the shore and, nearly blind drunk, drinking from the barrels that had pierced". The author adds that "such events still appear from time to time, in spite of punishment".
The wrecker's black legend was propagated by the renowned historian Jules Michelet (Tableau de la France, 1832): "Not only they expected the wreck, it is asserted they had prepared it. Often, it is said, a cow with a moving lamp tied to the horns, drove the ships to the reefs. God only knows the night scenes! We have seen some who, to get the ring from the finger of a woman about to drown, cut her finger with the teeth." Guy de Maupassant (En Bretagne, 1883) also reported the use of a cow, adding the animal was shackled so that it limped and simulated another ship. The folk culture also reported wrecker's trick. A traditional lament (gwerz) curses the inhabitants of Penmarc'h (Pays Bigouden) who set up a fire atop the village church to lure the seamen.

Ivan Sache, 6 March 2016


Flag of Pays Pagan

The flag of Pays Pagan was designed in 2006 by Mikael Bodlore-Penlaez, with the following description:
"It is pitch dark on Pays Pagan, a Breton country par excellence, stylized by an ermine spot issuing from the ground. A ship sails off the coats on a stormy sea, but the fire on the coast lures her to the wrecker's land."

The flag was eventually produced in 2015 the cloth by Jean-Claude Kerdraon and flown in several places, the Town Hall of Plouguerneau included.
[Bannieloù Breizh, 19 May 2015]

Ivan Sache, 6 March 2016