Le Chêne á la Vierge
Rannée, Brittany, 35130, France
About the Artist/Site
Over the course of two centuries, a large oak tree situated in the middle of the forest between the villages of La Guerche-de-Bretagne and Rannée become a devotional site for an untold number of believers. Legend holds that during the period known as the Terror, in 1791 or 1792, local priests refused to preach in support of the revolution, so they were condemned to exile or prison. Some hid out, and, within the dense forests of the region, celebrated illegal masses for their followers. It is said that one day a young girl was surprised by republican soldiers while she was praying in front of a statue of the Virgin, hidden within a niche in the oak; they demanded to know the identity and whereabouts of the priest who had made this a sacred space. When she refused, she was seized and then shot at the base of the tree, without due process. Following this martyrdom, the oak became a site of popular devotion and pilgrimage.
As the years passed, dozens of small wooden niches, containing statues of the Virgin, Jesus, or other saints, along with various ex-votos, were attached to the tree trunk. It was cared for faithfully, and, unlike other popular devotional sites, did not manifest assorted representations of cures or prayers, such as crutches, items of clothing, or empty boxes of medicine. Many of the wooden niches were painted in a deep green, which harmonized well with the surrounding forest; the tree itself, symbol of life, in perpetual evolution as it reaches toward the sky, held the dreams and prayers of its anonymous believers. It was revered as the religious patrimony of the region.
Shockingly, in July, 2018, the tree burned in the middle of the night. Although the firefighters responded quickly, the trunk was left completely black, with only the remains of the various niches broken at its base. As of this writing the cause of the blaze had not yet been determined, and the future of the devotional site is now uncertain.
~Jo Farb Hernández, 2018
Map & Site Information
Rannée, Brittany, 35130 fr
Latitude/Longitude: 47.9239419 / -1.2417609
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