Print

Print


medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Like many of his fellow Breton saints Armel (d. later 6th cent.?; in English also Armagil and Ermyn; in Latin, Armagilus and Arzelus; in Breton, Arthmaël and Arzel; in French also Arzel and Ermel) has a rather late and legendary Vita (two versions: BHL 678 and 679; thought to be not earlier than the thirteenth century).  This makes him a native of Great Britain who becomes a priest there and who then travels to Brittany as a missionary, where he is favored by a king of Franks named  Philibert (usually taken to be Childebert I [d. 558]), is given two parishes in the district of Rennes, and establishes an oratory there.  In a narrative clearly symbolic of his evangelistic prowess, he frees the locals from the lethal attentions of an enormous fire-breathing serpent that he first tames with his stole and then casts down dead from the top of a steep mountain into a river below.  The river's name is not preserved in BHL 679 as printed in the _Acta Sanctorum_ (where one reads _in quemdam fluvium_); Armel's fifteenth- or sixteenth-century window in the église paroissiale Saint-Armel at Ploërmel identifies it as the Seiche.

Still according to the Vita, Armel operates other miracles, baptizes many, forms a religious community, is told by an angel that he will go to Heaven on the second day after the Assumption of the BVM, and, having recited the divine Office, does indeed die on the predicted day (using the inclusive numeration characteristic of the Roman calendar, this works out to 16. August).  Today (16. August) is Armel's feast day in various places in Brittany and his day of commemoration in the Roman Martyrology.

Armel is the eponym and traditional founder of Plouarzel (Finistère) and Ploërmel (Morbihan).  His cult was widespread in the later Middle Ages in Brittany and in adjacent parts of France.  Henry VII and others around him seem to have brought it to England.  For more on Armel's cult in Brittany and in England, see this French-language account by André-Yves Bourgès:
http://www.hagio-historiographie-medievale.org/2007/11/la-dimension-arthurienne-de-saint-armel.html


Some period-pertinent images of St. Armel:

a) as thrice depicted in a full-page illumination in the earlier fifteenth-century Hours of Jean de Montauban (ca. 1430-1440; Rennes, Bibliothèque de Rennes Métropole, ms. 1824, fol. 126r):
http://tinyurl.com/hrd7jow

b) as portrayed (scenes) in his fifteenth- or sixteenth-century window (restored, 1602 and 1862) in the église paroissiale Saint-Armel in Ploërmel (Morbihan):
http://tinyurl.com/hgy5j7a
Detail view:
http://tinyurl.com/gmgt8xg

c) as depicted in a probably early sixteenth-century glass fragment (1503?) in a window in the Church of Our Lady, Merevale (N Warks):
http://tinyurl.com/2elsxfa

d) as portrayed (at center) in an early sixteenth-century statue in Henry VII's funerary chapel (betw. 1503 and 1509) in Westminster Abbey:
http://tinyurl.com/hffwrhg
There's a better photograph of the statue, taken from a different angle, in the article linked to in item e), below.

e) as portrayed in relief in two late medieval pilgrim badges from London findspots shown and discussed in Hanneke van Asperen, "Saint Armel of Brittany: The identification of four badges from London", _Peregrinations_, vol. 2., no. 1, pp. 33-40:
http://tinyurl.com/5rkjzt

f) as depicted (at right, taming the great serpent) in the sixteenth-century frescoes in the église Saint-Denis in Saint-Denis-d'Anjou (Mayenne):
http://tinyurl.com/24axf4n

Best,
John Dillon
**********************************************************************
To join the list, send the message: subscribe medieval-religion YOUR NAME
to: [log in to unmask]
To send a message to the list, address it to:
[log in to unmask]
To leave the list, send the message: unsubscribe medieval-religion
to: [log in to unmask]
In order to report problems or to contact the list's owners, write to:
[log in to unmask]
For further information, visit our web site:
http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/medieval-religion