These excellent Galettes Bretonnes were another offering from my friend Olivia and if you get the chance to make their acquaintance too I thoroughly recommend it. Given the French are better known as coffee than tea drinkers I had thought to pair them with a cafetière of French coffee, but the glowing write-up they received on A Nice Cup of Tea and A Sit Down encouraged me to put them through their paces with a nice cup of tea instead:

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As the name suggests, these Galettes are based on a traditional recipe from Brittany and I must confess to chomping my way through five in succession as soon as my iPhone had captured their likenesses. They are very buttery indeed with a croissant-like sheen and like a croissant the grease has a tendency to rub off on your fingers. While this might sound off-putting they really do taste as delicious as proper croissants too, and impressively so given that they had already been left to sit on the shelf for several weeks. Frankly, if this is what mass-produced Galettes taste like, I can only imagine the bliss awaiting those destined to eat the freshly baked version in a Breton kitchen…

Brittany was sometimes called Little or Lesser Britain in the Middle Ages to distinguish it geographically from Greater Britain and you can see a nod to its Celtic heritage in the Galette’s three-spiralled Triskelion. It was the Celts of Greater Britain who first brought Christianity to Brittany after the Fall of the Rome, and like those of Wales and Cornwall (whose language is closer to Breton) went on to shape its art and history in radical ways. The Christian faith may not have seemed entirely strange to the pre-Christian Celts given that both cultures shared a belief in immortality and a spiritual world infusing and underpinning the material one. You might even argue that, in their own distinctive blend of poetry and mysticism, the Celtic pagans had already created an imaginative space for the new faith to enter long before its missionaries did.

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The Triskelion itself offers one intriguing possibility of this as a prefiguring of the idea of Divinity as Trinity. In Celtic mythology ultimate realities are always triune or triad – one reason early Celtic Christians would, I suspect, have had no problem with the idea that the Trinity had always existed outside of time and before the birth of Christ. 

“There are four things I like about the Trinity. First, I love having a father in God. Second, I love having a friend and brother in Jesus. Third, I love having a comforter and guide in the Holy Spirit. And fourth… I love the fact that it’s a mystery. God in three persons. Three persons – one God. It’s a mystery and I love it. Why would I want to spoil things by trying to explain it?”  (Adrian Plass)

I like these things too, and find it cheering that a point of doctrine that proved so difficult for theologians to wrestle with could be simply and instinctively embraced by a bunch of Celtic bards. Each tradition has its own strengths, but perhaps the greatest lesson Celtic Christianity has to teach us is to be good stewards of mystery. If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, perhaps a respect for mystery is the beginning of love. 

Further Delectation

Intrigued by the Christian and Celtic? Peruse the incomparable Book of Kells (now digitised and available to read online from Trinity College Dublin) or listen to this setting of a Celtic Prayer by John Michael Talbot, a modern music-making monk.

Can’t get over to the sunny coasts of Greater and Lesser Britain right now? Have a go at making your own Breton biscuits or book yourself a magical, mysterious evening in with Marie de France’s Breton Lays.

It’s hard to write about French medieval culture today without thinking of the fire in Notre Dame recently and the brave pompiers who worked so hard to save her. Courtesy of the Met Museum, here’s a beautiful image of the cathedral in its medieval prime from my favourite fifteenth-century manuscript, Jean Fouquet’s Hours of Etienne Chevalier:

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If you would like to see more entries more regularly and help keep this bestiary free of ads, you are welcome to contribute to the Biscuit Jar

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