Here I am in Châteauneuf-du-Faou, this charming little town in the centre of Finistère, on the site of the sanctuary whose spire dominates the skyline. The coats of arms of the surrounding parishes and the bishoprics of Brittany are raised, the blue and white flags floating in the wind and holy music pours forth from the speakers.
In the chapel there is a muted atmosphere. Around the Virgin and child, dressed for the occasion in their most beautiful crowns and gold-embroidered attire, pilgrims and visitors queue to light candles or night lights. I learnt that the previous day there had been a celebration for the elderly and sick.
At 8pm I arrive on the promenade to attend mass followed by a torch light procession. The chiming of the bells announces the festivities as does the music from the merry-go-round. But as soon as the crowned Virgin appears, carried by a group of 50 year-old men, the fervour increases in the crowd of pilgrims but as night falls the atmosphere becomes reverential, the solemnity occasionally interrupted by songs in both French and Breton, as we walk slowly along the village streets.
The following day, a group of 50 year old women carry the statue, their beautiful traditional costumes and the magnificent cross and banners from different chapels and many delegations on display. Along with other holiday makers, I am asked if I want to carry a banner. A little surprised at being asked and a little worried, but mostly feeling honoured, we join the procession. Afterwards, we are invited to partake in the coffee and cake at the end of the celebration.
The experience was unique and unforgettable.