[i]n a country where all the men are sailors, the sea demands a tribute of many of this people. The corpses which one always finds have their humble mausoleum somewhere, be that at the extreme edges of the world. But the list is long of those that the Ocean never returns, those it keeps, tossed about at the whim of the waves, an infinite and moving burial. They are the absent eternal ones, lost ‘without news’, sunk with their ship or their boat, body and goods. One resigns oneself with difficulty, in Brittany, with the thought that the ‘missing’ will never taste in the blessed earth the peace of the last rest. The anguish of the survivors seems to take on, in Ouessant, an even more obsessive nature than elsewhere in Brittany. So, as a sort of pious subterfuge, Ouessantines have invented a simulacrum of burial designed to give to the spirits of the dead the appearance of satisfaction. This is the proëlla. (1895, 195).
|Jean Chièze, from Finis Terrae 1960|
Le Braz fictionalizes the essentials of this ritual in his melodramatic short story of 1901, ‘Le Sang de la Sirène’ (The Blood of the Siren). In this tale, the ominous veilleuse incants: ‘the bad waters have kept your remains, your bones will not rest in the soil of Ouessant. But your soul is here, in our midst. We feel your breath on our faces’ (1994, 200). A mass was held the day after the wake in the village church, with the cross again standing in for the body. It was then transferred to an urn mounted on an interior wall of the church; the crosses that accumulated in this urn were later transferred (either on All Souls’ Day or on the occasion of a bishop’s visit to the island) to the miniature mausoleum (built in 1868) in the cemetery.
|Yvonne Jean-Haffen, 1925|