What is a “Pardon”?
A "pardon" (forgiveness) is a typically Breton form of pilgrimage and one of the most traditional expressions of popular faith in Brittany. Springing from ancient origins, since it is more than likely related to the evangelization of the country by the Celtic monks, as early as the fifth century, it falls into the same category as the St Patrick's Day"parades" in Ireland or New York.
A “pardon” is part of a penance, Christians go on pilgrimage to a saint's tomb, or to a place dedicated to one, or due to an apparition as in the case of Sainte-Anne d'Auray.
The act of moving to the site, in a procession, reflects the desire to begin the process where the pilgrim asks the saint to intercede for him, offering up the fatigue of the journey sometimes made on foot. This can be seen as as a pilgrimage to the Kingdom of Heaven, where he recognizes his sinfulness and begs for "forgiveness".
The “Pardon” of Sainte Anne d'Auray is called a "Great Pardon", probably because of its importance - around 20,000 pilgrims every year - but also because it celebrates St. Anne, patron saint of Brittany.
The celebrations of St. Anne
On the night of 7th to 8th March 1625, St. Anne appeared again to Yvon Nicolazic. She held a torch in hand, but she carried another light : that of hope. To the humble farmer who begged her, "Show me a miracle, my good mistress ..." St. Anne replied:
"The masses of people coming to honour me in this place will be the greatest miracle of all."
And since July 26th , 1625, when the parish of Riantec (Morbihan) opened the long list of pilgrimages, there have been millions of pilgrims and visitors coming to this important spiritual site; there are on average 600 to 700 000 pilgrims per year.
150,000 people attended the pilgrimage of John Paul II in 1996. The message given to Nicolazic is addressed to everyone, Breton or not. This is why John Paul II considered Sainte-Anne d'Auray an important spiritual site.
The crowd, prayerful and and contemplative during the two days of celebration dedicated to St. Anne, is proof of St. Anne's prediction. On July 25th , the bell for First Vespers of St. Anne marks the opening celebration. And it is during the evening at the candlelight procession, that those first "steps in the light" are relived, when Yvon Nicolazic and men of the village of Keranna followed the torch of St. Anne. July 26th fully reveals the triumph of Saint Anne.
And since this is a Pardon , the pilgrims seek reconciliation in the sacrament of penance and then, after a procession led by the statue of "Lady Saint Anne," after which solemn Mass is celebrated at the Memorial. The festival concludes after the Marian prayer and pontifical vespers.
Once reconciliation occurs, given that there is no forgiveness without festivities, the pilgrims meet in the basilica square to hear the joyful sounds of Breton musical instruments.