Sunday, June 08, 2008

Bénédiction des blés en Artois

Jules Adolphe Aime Louis Breton (1827-1906)
Bénédiction des blés en Artois. (Blessing of the Wheat in Artois)1857
Oil on canvas 130 cm - x 320 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Arras

In the French countryside, Catholicism was closely associated with agricultural life.

These processions for the blessings of seeds, harvests, requests for rain and the like were interrupted during the Revolution but restarted again in the nineteenth century.

Processions outside the church whther it was for the Virgin, Corpus Christi (Fête-Dieu), local saints, were important elements in the culture of the countryside.

These events involved both the clergy and the people at the one time

In the Artois region, pilgrimages to local saints relics were very popular. According to one historian [Y.-M. Hilaire, La Vie religieuse des populations du diocèse d’Arras, 1840-1914, thèse, Paris IV, 2 vol., 1976, p. 924] parish priests in the 1860s embarked on a veritable odyssey to track down the relics of saints for their churches and shrines.

In the Concordat of 1801, these processions were characterised as " manifestations extérieures du culte sur la voie publique ". There were a number of official attempts by the State to crack down on these processions. (For example in Brittany and Nantes in the 1890s) But because of their great popularity, the bans were effectively ignored.