Diocese of Quimper includes the Department of Finistère; as re-established by the Concordat of 1802 it embraces a large portion of the ancient Diocese of Quimper, also known as the Diocese of Cornouailles, the whole of the Diocese of St. Pol de Léon, and a small part of the Dioceses of Tréguier and Vannes. From 1802 to 1859 it was suffragan of Tours, and since 1859 it has been a suffragan of Rennes.
We have two versions of the catalogue of the bishops of Quimper: one in the Cartulary of Quimperlé, of the twelfth century; the other preserved in a Quimper cartulary of the fifteenth century. Both mention a St. Corentinus as first Bishop of Quimper; his biography is of very late origin. Nothing accurate is known about him, but he is supposed by some to have been ordained by St. Martin in the fourth century, while others claim that he was a sixth-century monk. Duchesne has proved that the Diocese of Quimper must have been represented at the Council of Angers (453) by one of the four prelates, Sarmatio, Chariato, Rumoridus, and Viventius, and at the Council of Vannes (c. 465) by one of the two prelates Albinus and Liberatus. He puts little credence in the traditions that make St. Gonoganus (Goennoc) or St. Allorus (Alori) successors of St. Corentinus. Among the bishops my be mentioned: Philippe de La Chambre, Cardinal de Boulogne (1546-50); Nicholas Cajetan (1550-60); Cardinal de Sermonetta, in 1536.
The Christian religion seems to have been preached in Léon twenty years before the evangelization of Cornouaille, but ancient Breton chronology is very uncertain. The legend of St. Paul Aurelian, written in 884, shows that the Breton monks believed the See of Léon had been founded in the Merovingian epoch. Paul Aurelian, a Gallic monk, founder of monasteries at Ouessant on the north-west coast of Brittany and on the Island of Batz, was believed to have founded in an abandoned fort a monastery which gave origin to the town of St. Pol de Léon, afterwards the seat of a diocese. He was the first titular of the see, a wonder-worker and prophet, and was held to have died in 575 at the age of 140 years, after having been assisted in his labours by three successive coadjutors. Some of the legends give the names of three saints among his successors: Golvinus (Goulven), Tenenanus (Thénénan), and Guesnoveus (Gouesnon). Duchesne accepts as certain that the monastery of Léon was founded by Paul Aurelian during the sixth century. As for the see it would appear that the civitas of the Ossismi to which the territory of Léon belonged, was represented at the Council of Angers (453) and of Vannes (c. 465) by a bishop ; but the chief town of that civitas (afterwards known as Carhaix) was soon after included in the Diocese of Quimper; and this ancient Diocese of the Ossismi, from which the chief town in the civitas was thus cut off, was translated to St. Pol de Léon at an uncertain date. Duchesne thinks that the Lithardus Uxomensis (not Oximensis) who assisted in 511 at the Council of Orléans was a Bishop of Séez and not of Léon. It is at least certain that there are traces in history of a Diocese of Léon as far back as the middle of the ninth century.
Jean François de La Marche , Bishop of St. Pol de Léon from 1772, took refuge in England in 1792, and organized material assistance for the émigré clergy, as well as spiritual comfort for the French prisoners detained in England ; he obtained a grant of the Castle of Winchester for the French priests, and gathered there no less than eight hundred of them. He died in 1806.
The hermit, St. Ronan, a native of Ireland, often held to be one of the 350 bishops consecrated by St. Patrick, was in the fifth century one of the apostles of Cornouailles and the neighbourhood around Léon. In his honour, every six years, on the second and third Sunday of July, the "Great Tromènie" is held, an immense procession of fifteen or twenty thousand persons, through 5 parishes, halting at 12 improvised chapels. It was mainly the Dioceses of Quimper and St. Pol de Léon that saw the zeal of the great apostles of Brittany in the seventeenth century: the Dominican Michel Le Nobletz (1577-1652), who has been declared Venerable, native of Plouguerneau in the Diocese of Léon, and who preached the catechism in the churches and in the public squares with the help of symbolical painted charts; and his famous disciple, the Venerable Julien Maunoir, S.J. (1606-83), whose sermons were extremely popular. The Dominican Albert Le Grand, born at Morlaix, assisted this great religious revival by his "Lives of the Saints of Brittany" (1636). Maunoir found time to publish a Breton dictionary, and some devotional works in Breton. He was the founder of Breton philology.
The cornerstone of Quimper Cathedral was laid in 1424, but the building was still unfinished at the beginning of the sixteenth century. When Alexander VI granted that church the same indulgences as could be gained at the Roman Jubilee, funds came in which allowed its completion.
The Cathedral of St. Pol de Léon was built between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. The church of Notre Dame de Creisker, in the same town, restored in the fourteenth century, has a belfry which the Bretons claim to be the handsomest in the world. Formerly Quimperlé had an important Benedictine abbey, Sainte Croix, founded in 1029, and where the Benedictines of St. Maur took up their residence in 1665. It was suppressed by the Revolution. Brest, one of the great fortified harbours of France, is in the diocese.
Among saints specially honoured in the diocese are St. Hiltutus (Iltut or Ydeuc), disciple of St. Cadoc and founder of the monastery of Lan-Iltut, where he had for disciples St. David, St. Gildas the Albanian, St. Samson , St. Magloire; St. Guengalaenus (Guénolé), founder and first Abbot of Landevennec, who died, according to some, about 448, according to others in 532, or as others compute in 616; St. Gildas, founder and flrst Abbot of Rhuys and many other monasteries in Cornouailles (sixth century); St. Guevroc, Arch-deacon of St. Pol de Léon, disciple of St. Tudgual, and founder of the church of Notre Dame de Creisker (sixth century); the hermit, St. Hervæus (sixth century); St. Melorius (Melar), a Breton prince, a victim of a political conspiracy, and honoured as a martyr (sixth century); the Cistercian St. Maurice (d. 1191), founder of the monastery of Carnoët; St Jean Discalceat (d. 1349), founder of the convent of St. Francis at Quimper.
Among those born in the Diocese of Quimper are: the Jesuit Bougeant (1690-1743), author of the "History of the Treaty of Westphalia "; the Jesuit Hardouin (1646-1729); the critic Fréron (1719-71), who opposed Voltaire; Abbé Legris Duval (1765-1819), who under the Revolution directed the "Congrégation" for a time, after having founded many charitable and philanthropic institutions.
The principal shrines of the diocese are: Notre Dame de Folgoet, near Lesneven, a pilgrimage dating from 1419; Notre Dame de Loemaria at Quimper, a church which dates from the eleventh century, when the Abbey of Loemaria was founded by Count Alain Canihart (1013-40); Notre Dame de Rumengol, near Faou, a chapel founded 1500 years ago, replaced in 1536 by a large church where the unique religious festivals known as "Great Pardons" take place.
Before the application of the Associations Law (1901), there were in the diocese Jesuits, Benedictines of the "Pierre qui vire", and many teaching orders of brothers. An important religious community for women originated in the diocese, the Religious de la Retraite du Sacré-Coeur. In 1899 the religious congregations in the Diocese of Quimper had charge of 1 foundling hospital, 35 nurseries, 1 orphanage for boys, 9 orphanages for girls, 10 workrooms, 4 refuges, 29 hospitals, 166 district nursing houses, and 8 houses of retreat. In 1905 there were in the Diocese of Quimper 773,614 inhabitants, 48 parishes, 262 auxiliary parishes, and 280 curacies supported by state funds.
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