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Rostrenen (Municipality, Côtes-d'Armor, France)

Last modified: 2021-06-20 by ivan sache
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Municipal flag of Rostrenen - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 3 July 2005


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Presentation of Rostrenen

The municipality of Rostrenen (3,059 inhabitants in 2018; 3,217 ha; municipal website) located 20 km east of Carhaix-Plouguer, is the capital of Pays Fisel. A fisel, probably cognate with the French word ficelle (string), is a lace holding a hat, part of the specific costume of the region of Rostrenen, therefore named Pays Fisel. By extension, the local gavotte was named Fisel dance (in Breton, dañs Fisel). The genuine dañs Fisel is performed in 16 municipalities (or parts of them) located east of Carhaix; west of Carhaix, it is replaced by the mountains' gavotte, aka Carhaix-Poullaouen gavotte. Like Carhaix, Rostrenen is a main center of Breton traditional culture, music and dance.
The name of the town is made of the two Breton words roz, "a hill", and draenen, "thorns".

Rostrenen developed around the castle built on the Miniou hill (263 m a.s.l.). In the 7th century, a local lord built a wooden fortress near a pond. A stone keep, surrounded by walls, was built near the pond in the 11th century by the Barons of Rostrenen. The Barony of Rostrenen, depending on the Seneschalry of Carhaix, existed until the French Revolution. The Barons of Rostrenen were very important Breton lords: Riwalon was appointed Seneschal of Brittany in 1068; Geoffroy took part to the Seventh Crusade with King of France Saint-Louis at the end of the 13th century; Pierre VI was a brother in arms of Constable Duguesclin at the end of the 14th century, and Pierre VIII, Lieutenant of the Armies, helped Joan of Arc to drive the English out of France.
At the end of the 16th century, Toussaint de Beaumanoir, mestre de camp of the Royal armies, built a new fortress near the pond of Rostrenen. Its walls were said to be 18-foot thick. During the revolt of the nobles against the royal power known as the League, the Duke de Mercoeur besieged four times the castle in 1592-1594. The castle was eventually seized, looted and burnt down. In 1601, King Henry IV ordered the complete suppression of the castle and its fortifications, which then belonged to Hélène, Toussaint's daughter.
The castle of Rostrenen was rebuilt in the 18th century by the Duchess of Elbeuf, Baroness of Rostrenen. After the Revolution, it was used as a prison and a gendarmerie. During the building of the Canal from Nantes to Brest, the castle was used as an hospital for the convicts(indeed political prisoneers) housed in Glomel. The castle was eventually used as a school.

In December 1300, the inhabitants of Rostrenen noticed a rosebush with leaves and flowers. A statue of the Blessed Virgin was found near the bush. The miraculous statue was solemnly transfered to the chapel of the castle, since there was no church in the village. There were other miracles, especially in the beginning of December. The finding of the statue was celebrated by a pardon (traditional Breton religious festival) and the bod (bush) fair. The chapel of the castle was replaced by the Notre-Dame church in the first half of the 14th century. Its spire, considered as one of the nicest in Cornouaille, was suppressed in 1649 because it was about to fall down. In 1483, Baron Pierre IX obtained from Pope Sixtus IV the erection of the church to a collegiate church. One of the four original bells preserved during the Revolution is inscribed faite en may, l'an 1604, passée par feu et flambe. Le nom de Dieu, je loue, je chante (made in May 1604 through fire and flames. I shall praise and sing the name of God). The church windows of the choir, made in 1867 by Gilbert, recall the miracles: an inhabitant of Glomel, miller Rivoal caught in the wheel of his mill; an inhabitant of Bonen, left paralyzed after a bad fall on the market of Callac; Louise Logeat and another men fallen dawn into a well, were saved after the invocation of the statue.
The pardon of Rostrenen was transfered to mid-August but the bod fair is still celebrated on the first Tuesday of December. At the end of the 18th century, the bod fair was a magnificent celebration: the parishioners dressed as the characters of the Bible and of the ancient medieval mysteries. An ingenious mechanism allowed an angel to fly down from the spire with a torch and to light a bonfire. In 1696, Loyer, Dean of the collegiate church, built a fountain near the miraculous bush; the water of the fountain was of course also a miracle cure.

Rostrenen is the birth town of the painter Olivier Perrin (1761-1832). Perrin studied in Rennes and Paris and came back to Brittany, teaching painting in Quimper. He worked for several Breton churches, his most famous work being the Breton Gallery, a series of drawings depicting the life of a Breton farmer from birth to death. In 1820, he offered his painting "The Blessed Virgin's Assumption" to the church of his birth town.

Ivan Sache, 3 July 2005


Flag of Rostrenen

The flag of Rostrenen (photo, photo, photo, photos), designed by Philippe Rault (photo), is white with a semy of black ermine spots and three horizontal red stripes. The flag is a banner of the municipal arms, "Ermine three fesses gules", which were the arms of the Barony of Rosporden, first recorded in 1279.

The legend says that during a battle against the Norsemen, the lord of Rostrenen was wounded when helping the Duke of Brittany. He put his bloody hand on his chest (or his shield, depending on the versions of the legend). The blood formed three red stripes and the Duke said: "Rostrenen, this shall be your arms."
Similar legends "explain" the origin of the arms of Austria, Aragon and Catalonia. The arms of the Barony of Rostrenen can be seen on a stone used today in the facade of the municipal Multimedia Center, most probably reused from the St. Barbara's chapel.

Hervé Prat, Arnaud Leroy & Ivan Sache, 3 July 2005