Here, at the time of the Saint Anne apparitions, in this small hamlet called Keranna, with about fifty inhabitants, heaven touched earth. In this place, it is our privilege to see and hear the wonders which the Lord has done for his people and which have been experienced in this Church for almost four centuries, from the March 7th , 1625 when Yvon Nicolazic discovered the statue of St. Anne, buried since the first chapel fell to ruins in the 6th century.
Yves Nicolazic, the witness of the apparitions
We know nothing about the childhood and the youth of Nicolazic. As an adult, he was a just and upright, honest and hardworking man. A man of peace, his wisdom was often called upon to ease conflicts that could arise between the inhabitants of Keranna, his village.
He was also known for his piety and his special devotion to St. Anne "his benevolent patroness". He often received Communion- a rarity at the time - and made regular confession with the Capuchin friars in Auray. He was what we call "a good Christian", living the beatitudes with simplicity and always confiding in "God and Madame Sainte Anne".
At the time of the apparitions, Yves Nicolazic was thirty years old. He had been married for almost ten years to Guillemette Le Roux, and both were grieved by their childlessness.
In the field of Bocenno
One of Nicolazic's fields was called “le Bocenno”. Tradition holds that there was formerly a chapel dedicated to St. Anne. This field seemed moreover to be blessed: all the harvests abounded, and it was not necessary to let it lie fallow as with other fields.
Another strange fact remains that oxen had always refused to pull the plow there. Nicolazic himself had, in one single day, broken two harnesses. Work had to be done by hand.
One summer evening in 1623, Nicolazic was praying to his "benevolent mother” when suddenly a torch lit the room. The phenomenon was repeated several weeks later. It was thus in a family home that St. Anne chose to appear first , discreetly, honouring what Pope John Paul II called the "domestic church" and inviting all of us to rediscover our home as the first instance of conversion and evangelization.
But these early events are not yet apparitions, they are just the announcement, the prelude, and this is how St. Anne prepared Nicolazic's soul for her coming.
The first apparition took place at the fountain in August 1623. After work, Nicolazic was leading his oxen to water when, accompanied by his brother-in-law, Le Roux, he saw a majestic lady, radiant with light, smiling but she did not speak. The following month, St. Anne appeared many times to Nicolazic either at the fountain, or at his home, or near the cross on the road to Pluneret, since referred to as as "Nicolazic's Cross."
Encouraged by his rector, Nicolazic asked the majestic lady her name. She revealed herself on the night of July 25th , 1624:
" Yvon Nikolazig, ne zoujet ket : me zo Anna, Mamm Mari ;
laret d'ho person éh és bet gwéharall,
én tamm douar anùet er Bossenneu,
kent ma oé amañ kér érbed, ur chapél,
er getañ e zo bet gloestret
dein é bro er Vretoned.
Boud zo hiniù naù hant peùar
blé àrn-ugent ha hwéh mizmen dé bet diskaret.
Me garehé ma vehé saùet a-neùé d'er prontañ,
ha ma um soursiet hwi mem a gement-sé.
Doué e fal dehoñ ma vein inouret énni."
"Yvon Nicolazic, fear not: I'm Anne, Mother of Mary,
tell your rector that there was once in the piece of land
called the Bocenno, even before the village,
a chapel, an earlier one dedicated to me
in the country of the Bretons.
Today it has been in ruins
for nine hundred and twenty four years and six months .
I want it to be rebuilt as soon as possible,
and I want you personally to attend to it.
It is God's wish that I be honoured here. "
By the action of St. Anne, the message in these places, goes beyond the apparitions to Yvon Nicolazic. While Sainte Anne uttered no call to repentance or conversion during her apparitions, she chose another very forceful method, however, : the living example of Pierre de Keriolet, a native man and converted bandit.
Pierre de Keriolet Auray was born on July 14th, 1602. The youngest of four children and the only boy, he spent his childhood in the château de Kerlois, in the town of Pluvigner. Despite a Christian education, as a child, he proved troublesome for his parents through his wickedness and violence, and so they decided to enroll him at the Jesuit college in Rennes. But Pierre de Keriolet preferred to live the life of a libertine and brawler.
The bandit of Kerlois
He was about 22 years old when, after robbing his own parents, he fled from home. Thus began a life of inconceivable adventure.
He decided to join the Grand Turk (Suleiman the Magnificant) and become a Mohammedan. To do this, he took a boat on the Danube, but could not get beyond Hungary. He attempted to sail for Constantinople from Venice, but in vain. He then settled in Paris and threw himself into a life of debauchery and witchcraft.
When he decided to return to Brittany, he was even more violent than ever and quickly made many enemies. His thirst for duelling, despite prohibition by the king, led him so far as to provoke the soldiers of the governor of Brittany. This rage led him to become a soldier and thus to participate in the Italo-German wars. But chafing at military discipline, he shook off the uniform a mere year after enlisting.
His father died at that time, leaving him and his sisters an important legacy. Pierre de Keriolet then became a Huguenot and obtained from his family significant benefits to his inheritance in exchange for his return to the Catholic Church and so gained control of an immense fortune.
Later, he had the ambition to become a magistrate in the parliament of Brittany, the highest court in the province. He bought his way into office, sat a small exam which he could not avoid and passed! It was an enormous scandal. Keriolet, judging others! He could, whenever it pleased him, create division, souring the cases to the extent that they ended up being settled by the sword.
At the same time he multiplied his conquests, delighting in "spoiling the prettiest and deceiving the silliest." When he entered any church it was to mock the faithful, ape the priest and to treat all things sacred with derision.
And yet, he showed kindness to the poor, never refusing alms though he did not allow them thank him or call down God's blessing. He also recited a "Hail Mary" every day: but was this out of childhood habit , superstition, or a promise to his mother?
One night he had a vision of hell that troubled him deeply, he went to confession, began attending church and even entered a monastery, the Chartreuse d'Auray. But after a week he came out and became worse than before.
This was in 1635. Pierre de Keriolet was leading a rich and glorious life: full of impiety, debauchery and denial. It was then that he heard of strange events happening in the town of Loudun. It was rumoured that all the nuns in a convent were possessed by the devil and that there were exorcisms. Out of curiosity, Keriolet hurried there with two fellow libertines. For four days he attended the exorcisms and was impressed. On the fifth day, he was taken to task by a lay sister who was being exorcised. She spoke to him and related specific facts from his life, reminding him of his unfulfilled vow to go on a pilgrimage to Notre-Dame de Liesse and of his stay in the Chartreuse monastery.
Intrigued, Keriolet asked: "Why did I leave the Chartreuse monastery?"
"God could not bear so impure a man in such a holy house. Blasphemer and atheist! Is it possible for such a man to receive mercy? " came his answer.
Defeated, Keriolet made a public confession and confessed to Father Archange, the exorcist of Loudun. It was January 3rd, 1636, Keriolet was 34 years old and had been touched by grace. On the way back to Brittany, Keriolet travelled as a beggar, and once home in the château de Kerlois, he led an austere life of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Eleven years after the apparitions of St. Anne to Nicolazic, the pilgrimage was in full boom and Keriolet was to help its development by his generosity.
Keriolet : Chaplain to the poor
On March 7th, 1637, he was ordained deacon, and on March 28th of the same year, Bishop Rosmadec ordained him priest. The impossible became reality: the bandit Kerlois became a priest.
His home became a veritable hospital for beggars. He gave special attention to the sick and infirm, seeing Christ in every one.
The years passed, and where Keriolet had inspired fear before, he now inspired respect and veneration. People wanted to see him, to consult him but he always avoided this, preferring to remain chaplain to the poor. He always wanted to comfort and soothe and was filled with compassion for sinners.
In 1658 he fell ill. It was a severe test, for although moved by grace, he still feared to appear before God because of his past life which tormented him incessantly. His health improved and he continued his mission despite severe fatigue. He came more and more often to the Shrine of St. Anne, where the Carmelites had kept him a cell.
On the night of 21st to 22nd September 1690, he became seriously ill. On October 5th he received the sacrament of the sick, and died on October 8th. He was 58 years old. From all around people flocked to his funeral. He was buried in the chapel of St. Anne, between the gate of the choir and the altar steps. Engraved on his tomb we read:
"Here lies Pierre de Keriolet, conquest of Mary.
He was a faithful and zealous servant. "
When the chapel was destroyed to make way for the current basilica, his remains were deposited under the altar at the back of the basilica, on the north side, opposite the tomb of Yvon Nicolazic.