Discovering the Breton Saints. December 27 is Saint Yann (Jean)

In this section, we invite you to discover the history of the Saints Bretons. The Breton saints designate Breton personalities venerated for the exemplary character of their life from a Christian point of view. Few of them were recognized as saints by the canonization procedure of the Catholic Church (implemented several centuries after their death), but were designated by the people, their very existence not always being historically attested. Most of the vitae of Breton saints that have come down to us date from the ninth and tenth centuries or were rewritten in the context of the Gregorian reform which sometimes led clerics to remodel hagiographical documents, derived from oral traditions transmitted both in the old popular background than in scholarly circles, in their interest (legitimization of the episcopal figure, of the merits of a reform of a monastic community). The development of the cult of these saints develops in the late Middle Ages when several families of the Breton aristocracy appropriate the hagiographical legends by justifying by genealogical arguments, the particular protection of a saint or his adoption as a substitute ancestor. in their lineages.

Current historians still have great difficulty in distinguishing between imaginary and reality. The historicity of the episodes of the life of these saints thus often remains doubtful because these episodes are found in hagiography as they appear in customs or folklore. The very structure of the narrative of the vitae is found in other Lives of Saints whose authors generally take up “literary conventions of a biblical model which shaped their modes of thought and expression”.

In 2022, around 170 Breton saints are represented, each by a statue, in the Valley of the Saints, in Carnoët.

December 27 is Saint Yann’s Day

According to the Gospels and the book of Acts of the Apostles, John is one of the twelve apostles of Jesus. His father’s name is Zébédée. His mother is Marie Salomé and his brother is another apostle: Jacques le Majeur.

He is called John the Apostle or John the Evangelist or John the Theologian to distinguish him from John the Baptist, precursor and prophet of Jesus. He is credited with the Gospel that bears his name, the “Fourth Gospel”, to distinguish it from the three others, known as the “Synoptic Gospels”, as well as the Book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse of John.

He is represented with a cup surmounted by a snake or with a boiler filled with boiling oil. However, because of his work as a writer, the youngest of the apostles carries the Gospel book. As an evangelist, he is often symbolized by an eagle because the prologue to his gospel has been attributed to a voice from heaven (see the article Tetramorph).

It is celebrated by Catholics on December 27 and by the Orthodox Church on September 26 (dormition) and May 8.


The apostle Like Andrew, he was a disciple of John the Baptist until the moment when the latter designated Jesus to them by these terms: “Behold the Lamb of God”. Leaving John the Baptist, after the Baptism and the coming of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and when Jesus came to him, he immediately abandoned everything to follow him with his brother James.

A tradition holds that he remained a virgin all his life, having been chosen as an apostle when he was about to marry. He would have loved virginity and asceticism so much that he would also have borne the name of virgin.

Often called “the beloved of the Lord,” or the one whom Jesus loved, John is considered Christ’s favorite apostle. Many representations of the Last Supper show us at the side of Jesus, listening attentively to the words of the Lord, his eyes sometimes closed to better listen (The Last Supper painted by Dirk Bouts). In fact, in the Gospel attributed to Saint John, he reports with great precision the words spoken by Jesus during the Last Supper (Discourse on the Last Supper, chapters 14 to 17), and in particular the sending of the Holy Spirit or Paraclete by the Father [1][2].

John was one of the three apostles (along with Peter and James) to ascend Mount Tabor, to witness the Transfiguration, where they contemplated the divinity of the Word resplendent in the body of Jesus, when the Father said: “He -this is my beloved son, in whom I have put all my pleasure: listen to him » [3].

When Jesus was arrested by Roman soldiers, he followed him to the court of the High Priest, and witnessed the crucifixion and his agony in Gethsemane. Later writings also tell us that Christ on the cross, before dying, gave John the mission of watching over his mother, the Virgin Mary. He welcomed her into his home and was the last to remain in Jerusalem to serve her.

The writer

After the Resurrection, it seems that John went to Samaria to preach with Peter, where he showed great ardor in organizing the young Church of Palestine. Fleeing the persecutions of the Romans, he left Palestine, and took refuge in Ephesus where he performed miracles and baptized many people.

Brought to Rome to be presented to the Emperor Domitian who had sent for him, he showed him that his faith in Jesus Christ was stronger than all earthly powers. Tertullian tells us that he would have suffered the torture of boiling water in Rome, from which his virginity would have enabled him to emerge unscathed.

The emperor sends him into exile on the island of Patmos, where he is said to have written the Apocalypse. At Patmos, a mountainous island, which was luxuriant at the time, John receives a vision of the Christ of the Apocalypse, majestic in appearance, dressed in white, the sword of the Word in his mouth. John kneels down and is blessed by the apparition who says to him: “Write down what you have seen, the present and what must happen later” [4]. Then he would have revealed to him in grandiose visions what must happen at the end of time: the increase of iniquity, the coming of the Antichrist, his fight against the faithful and his ultimate struggle which will finally throw him forever into Hell with the devils and his evil angels. He also contemplated the upheavals of the World, the consumption of everything under divine fire, and, finally, the triumph of the Son of Man, the resurrection of all and the last judgment, and finally the descent to earth of the heavenly Jerusalem, holy and eternal city, where God will dwell forever with men.

After Domitian’s death in AD 96, Emperor Nerva allowed John to return to Ephesus, much to the chagrin of the people of Patmos whom he had converted in great numbers.

Then tradition makes him live for many years in Ephesus, the city where he composed his three Epistles and the fourth Gospel or Gospel according to John (the oldest trace of which is Papyrus P52), in the year 97.

Photo credit: DR

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Discovering the Breton Saints. December 27 is Saint Yann (Jean)

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