: Breton Legends

In the old times, it is said that the city of Vannes was far larger

and finer than it is in our days, and that instead of a prefect,

it was ruled by a king, whose will was law. I do not know what his

name was; but from all I have heard, it seems that he was a man who

lived in the fear of God, and of whom no one had ever found occasion

to speak an evil word.

He had been early left a widower; and he lived h
ppily with his

only daughter, said to be the most beautiful creature in the whole

world. She was called Tryphyna, and those who knew her have asserted

that she came of age unsullied by a single mortal sin. So that the

king her father would have willingly sacrificed his horses, castles,

and farms, rather than see Tryphyna made unhappy.

However, it came to pass, that one day ambassadors from Cornouaille

were announced. They came on the part of Comorre, a powerful prince

of those times, who ruled over the land of Black-Wheat as Tryphyna's

father ruled that of the White.

After offering presents of honey, flax, and a dozen of little pigs,

to the king, they informed him that their master had visited the last

fair at Vannes disguised as a soldier, and there beholding the beauty

and modesty of the young princess, he had determined at all hazards

to have her in marriage.

This proposal filled both the king and Tryphyna with great grief;

for the Count Comorre was a giant, and said to be the wickedest man

that had ever been on the earth since the days of Cain.

From his earliest youth he had been used to find his only pleasure in

working mischief; and so malicious was he, that his mother herself had

been accustomed to run and ring the alarm-bell whenever he left the

castle, to warn the country people to take care of themselves. When

older, and his own master, his cruelty was greater still. It was

said that one morning, on his way out, he tried his gun upon a lad

tending a colt at pasture, and killed him. And at other times, when

returning unsuccessful from the chase, he would let loose his dogs

upon the poor peasants in the fields, and suffer them to be pulled

down like beasts of prey. But, most horrible of all, he had married

four wives in succession, each of whom had died off suddenly without

receiving the last Sacraments; and it was even said that he had made

away with them by the knife, fire, water, or poison.

So the King of Vannes replied to the ambassadors that his daughter was

too young and too weak in health to think of marrying. But Comorre's

people answered roughly, after their manner, that the Count Comorre

would listen to no such excuses, and that they had received orders,

if the young princess was not sent back with them, to declare war

against the King of Vannes. The king replied, that they must do as

they liked about that. Then the most aged among the envoys lighted a

handful of straw, which he flung to the winds, declaring that thus

should the anger of Comorre pass over the country of White-Wheat;

and so they departed.

Tryphyna's father, being a courageous man, did not allow himself to

be disheartened by this threat, and called together all the soldiers

he could muster to defend his territories.

But in a few days he heard that the Count of Cornouaille was advancing

upon Vannes with a powerful army; and it was not long before he came

in sight with trumpets and cannons. Then the king put himself at the

head of his people, and the battle was on the point of beginning; when

St. Veltas came to find Tryphyna, who was praying in her oratory.

The saint wore the cloak which had served him as a vessel for crossing

the sea, and carried the walking-staff which he had fastened to

it as a mast to catch the wind. A halo of glory hovered round his

brow. He announced to the young princess that the men of Vannes and

Cornouaille were on the point of shedding each other's blood, and

asked her whether she would not stay the death of so many Christians

by consenting to become the wife of Count Comorre.

"Alas, then, God demands from me the death of all my peace and

happiness," cried the young girl, weeping. "Why am I not a beggar? I

could then at least be wedded to the beggar of my choice. Ah, if it

is indeed the will of God that I espouse this giant, whom I dread so

much, say for me, holy man, the Office for the Dead; for the count

will kill me, as he has his other wives."

But St. Veltas replied,

"Fear nothing, Tryphyna. See here this ring of silver, white as milk;

it shall serve you as a warning; for so surely as Comorre is plotting

any thing against you, it will become as black as the crow's wing. Take

courage, then, and save the Bretons from death."

The young princess, reassured by this present of the ring, consented

to St. Veltas's request.

Then the saint hurried without loss of time towards the opposed armies,

that he might announce the good tidings to their chiefs. The King of

Vannes, notwithstanding his daughter's resolution, was very unwilling

to consent to the marriage; but Comorre promised so fairly, that at

last he accepted him as son-in-law.

The nuptials were celebrated with such festivities as have never

been seen since within the two dioceses. The first day six thousand

noble guests sat down to table; and on the second they received as

many poor, whom the bride and bridegroom, forgetful of their rank,

waited on at table, with napkins on their arms. Then there was

dancing, at which all the musicians of Lower Brittany were engaged;

and wrestling-matches, in which the men of Brevelay contended with

those of Cornouaille.

At last, when all was over, every one went home to his own country;

and Comorre carried off with him his young bride, as a sparrow-hawk

that has pounced upon a poor little yellow-hammer.

However, during the first few months his affection for Tryphyna

softened him more than might have been expected. The castle-dungeons

remained empty, and the gibbets held no pasture for foul birds of

prey. The count's people whispered low,

"What ails our lord, then, that he thirsts no more for tears and

blood?" But those who knew him better waited and said nothing. Tryphyna

herself, notwithstanding the count's kindness towards her, could

never feel easy or happy in her mind. Every day she went down to the

castle-chapel, and there, praying on the tombs of Comorre's four dead

wives, she besought God to preserve her from a violent death.

About this time a grand assembly of Breton princes took place at

Rennes, and Comorre was obliged to join it. He gave into Tryphyna's

keeping all the castle keys, even those of the cellars; told her to

amuse herself as she liked best, and set out with a great retinue.

It was five months before he returned, full of anxiety to see Tryphyna,

of whom he had thought often during his absence. And in his haste,

unwilling to lose time by announcing his arrival, he rushed up into

her room, where she was at that moment engaged in making an infant's

cap, trimmed with silver-lace.

On seeing the cap, Comorre turned pale, and asked for what it was

designed. The countess, thinking to rejoice his heart, assured him

that they would shortly have a child; but at this news the Prince of

Cornouaille drew back in horror, and after looking at Tryphyna with

a dreadful countenance, went suddenly out, not speaking a word.

The princess might have taken this for one of the count's frequent

caprices, had she not perceived, on casting down her eyes, that the

silver ring had turned black. She uttered a cry of terror; for she

remembered the words of St. Veltas, and knew that she must be in

imminent peril. But she knew not wherefore, neither could she tell

how to escape it. Poor woman! all day long, and during part of the

night, she employed herself in pondering what could be the reason

of the count's displeasure; and at last, her heart growing heavier,

she went down into the chapel to pray.

But scarcely had she finished her rosary, and risen to depart,

when the hour of midnight struck. At that instant she beheld the

four grave-stones of Comorre's four wives rise slowly up, and they

themselves come out swathed in their funeral shrouds.

Tryphyna, more dead than alive, would have escaped; but the phantoms

called to her:

"Take care, poor lost one; Comorre waits to kill thee."

"Me!" cried the countess; "and how have I offended, that he seeks

my death?"

"You have told him you will shortly be a mother; and he knows, thanks

to the evil one, that his first child will be his destroyer. Therefore

it was that he took our lives also."

"My God! and have I fallen into hands so cruel?" cried Tryphyna,

weeping. "If it is so, what hope remains for me? what can I do?"

"Go back to your father in the land of White-Wheat," said the phantoms.

"How can I fly?" returned the countess; "the giant dog of Comorre

guards the gate."

"Give to him this poison, which killed me," said the first.

"How can I get down the high wall?" asked the young wife.

"Let yourself down by this cord, which strangled me," replied the


"But who will direct me through the darkness?" asked the princess.

"This fire, which consumed me," replied the third.

"How can I take so long a journey?" once more asked Tryphyna.

"Make use of this staff, which crushed my temples," said the last.

Comorre's wife took the staff, the torch, the cord, and the poison. She

silenced the dog, she scaled the lofty wall, she penetrated the

darkness, and took the road to Vannes, where her father dwelt.

Comorre, not being able to find her the next morning when he rose,

sent his page to search for her in every chamber; but the page returned

with the tidings that Tryphyna was no longer in the castle.

Then the count went up the donjon-tower, and looked out to the

four winds.

To the north he saw a raven that croaked; to the sunrise a swallow on

the wing; to the south a wailing sea-mew; and to the west a turtle-dove

that sped away.

He instantly exclaimed that Tryphyna was in that direction; and having

his horse saddled, set out in pursuit.

His unfortunate wife was still upon the border of the wood which

surrounded the count's castle; but she was warned of his approach by

seeing the ring grow black. Then she turned aside over the common,

and came to the cabin of a poor shepherd, whose sole possession was

an old magpie hanging in a cage.

The poor lady lay concealed there the whole day, bemoaning herself

and praying; and when night came on, she once more set forth along

the paths which skirt the fields of flax and corn.

Comorre, who had kept to the high road, could not find her; and after

travelling two days, he returned the same way as far as the common. But

there, as ill-luck would have it, he entered the shepherd's hut,

and heard the magpie trying to recall the melancholy wailings it had

listened to, and murmuring, "Poor Tryphyna! poor Tryphyna!" Then

Comorre knew the countess had passed by that way, and calling his

hunting-dog, set him on the track, and began to pursue her.

Meanwhile Tryphyna, pressed by terror, had walked on unresting,

and was already drawing near to Vannes. But at last she felt herself

unable to proceed; and turning into a wood, lay down upon the grass,

where she gave birth to a son miraculously lovely, who was afterwards

called St. Trever.

As she held him in her arms, and wept over him, half sorrowfully

and half in joy, she perceived a falcon ornamented with a collar of

gold. He was perched upon a neighbouring tree; and she knew him for

her father's bird, the king of the land of White-Wheat. Calling him

quickly by his name, the bird came down upon her knees; and giving him

the warning-ring she had received from St. Veltas, she said, "Fly,

falcon, hasten to my father's court, and carry him this ring. When

he sees it, he will know I am in urgent danger, and will order his

soldiers to horse. It is for you to lead them hither to save me."

The bird understood, and taking the ring, flew like a flash of

lightning in the direction of Vannes.

But almost at the same instant Comorre came in sight with his

stag-hound, who had incessantly tracked Tryphyna; and as she had no

longer the ring to forewarn her of approaching danger, she remained

unconscious of it till she heard the tyrant's voice cheering on

his dog.

Terror froze the marrow in her bones, and she had only just time to

wrap the infant in her mantle and hide it in the hollow of a tree,

when Comorre appeared upon his horse at the entrance of the pathway.

Seeing Tryphyna, he uttered a cry like that of a wild-beast, and

throwing himself upon the unhappy victim, who had sunk upon her

knees, he severed her head from her shoulders by one stroke of his


Believing himself now at once rid of mother and child, he whistled

back his dog, and set off on his return to Cornouaille.

Now the falcon arrived at the court of the King of Vannes, who was

then dining; and hovering over the table, let fall the silver ring into

his master's cup. He had no sooner recognised it, than he exclaimed:

"Woe is me, some misfortune must have befallen my daughter, since

the falcon brings me back her ring. Let the horses be made ready,

and let St. Veltas be our companion; for I fear we shall but too soon

stand in need of his assistance."

The servants obeyed promptly; and the king set forth with the saint,

who had come at his prayer, and a numerous retinue. They put their

horses to their full speed, and followed the course of the flying

falcon, who led them to the glade where lay the dead Tryphyna and

her living child.

The king then threw himself from his horse, and uttered cries that

might have made the very oaks to weep; but St. Veltas silenced him.

"Hush!" said he, "and join with me in prayer to God; He can even yet

repair all."

With these words, he knelt down with all those who were present, and

after addressing a fervent prayer to Heaven, he said to the dead body,


Tryphyna obeyed.

"Take thine head and thy child," added the saint, "and follow us to

the castle of Comorre."

It was done as he commanded.

Then the terrified escort took horse once more, and spurred onwards

towards Cornouaille. But however rapidly they rode, Tryphyna was

ever in advance; holding her son upon her left arm, and her head on

her right.

And thus they came before the castle of the murderer. Comorre, who

saw them coming, caused the drawbridge to be raised. St. Veltas drew

near the moat, and exclaimed, with a loud voice,

"Count of Cornouaille, I bring thee back thy wife, such as thy

wickedness has made her; and thy son, as God has bestowed him on

thee. Wilt thou receive them beneath thy roof?"

Comorre was silent. St. Veltas repeated the same words a second,

then a third time; but still no voice replied. Taking, therefore,

the infant from his mother's arms, he placed him on the ground.

Then was beheld a miracle which proved the Omnipotence of God; for

the child walked alone, and boldly, to the edge of the moat, whence

gathering a handful of the sand, he flung it towards the castle,

crying out,

"God is just!"

At that instant the towers shook with a great tumult, the walls gaped

open, and the whole castle sank down in ruins, burying the Count of

Cornouaille, and all those who had abetted him in sin.

St. Veltas then replaced the head of Tryphyna on her shoulders, and

laying his hands upon her, the holy woman came back to life; to the

great content of the King of Vannes, and of all who were there present.


According to the legend of Albert de Morlaix, Comorre was not buried

in the castle ruins, but succeeded in making his escape; but, at the

instance of Guerok, the Breton Bishops met in council "to cut off

this rotten branch from the body of the Church. They assembled at

the mountain called Menez-Bree, near Louargat, between Belle Isle

and Guingamp, not daring to meet in any town, through the terror

inspired by this tyrant; who, having killed King Johava, and his son

Jugduval, did what he pleased throughout the whole of the Low Country"

(Basse Bretagne).

The Bishops thundered from their place of meeting a deadly

excommunication against Comorre; who shortly after, according to the

historian Le Bault, suffered the punishment of Arius; or, as others

say, "vomited forth at the same instant his blood and his soul."