Saint Herle. I have never heard of him. It seems few have. He is known in Brittany, France. It seems he is known nowhere else. He is the namesake for the Church of St. Herle of Ploare in Douarnenez. A gothic church on a hill in the center of an ancient fishing village seemingly overrun with ghosts, some of which I brought myself.
I stumbled into Herle’s church on a drizzly day after weather forced our boat into this sleeping harbour. We will be held up here for three days waiting for a storm to pass. I was bored and restless, tired of inventing things to do. I have felt far away from myself during these travels. So I followed the steeple with gargoyles, wandering up streets and through cobblestone alleys until I came to the church. I hoped I might find my way back to something it seems I have lost.
Inside the sanctuary music played lightly and two women puttered around arranging chairs and flowers. I took a seat by some burning candles and tried to pray. Unable, I puttered about like the women. I even helped them rearrange chairs.
I followed one of them into a storage room. Here is where they keep the brooms, the extra plants, and the extra angels and saints. And even an extra Savior. I found the room comforting. There is something about the mundane that helps me accept the mundane in myself. Even a temple needs a broom and and someone to move the chairs and water the plants.
I walked around the church observing not the majesty but the mundane. Rows of old chairs. A gate. A dismantled altar stacked in a corner. It brought the majesty into a clearer relief. I looked up at Mary being looked upon by a boy and girl. I focused on the head of the little girl. I thought of you. You who I cannot name.
So the rest of the day was colored by the thought of you. I thought, she would like this place. I thought, she would want to walk around the town. So I walked around the town.
I looked at the details there. A dog in a farmer’s market. Old stone streets. Old stone dock. Old city. I wandered down footpaths that serve as alleys leading to hidden house fronts. So many doors down so many narrow passages.
It began to rain and I made my way–by accident actually–back to Saint Herle’s church. I thought of her and the other, the one we share, and I lit a candle for them. The fire became my prayer.
Dear God and Saint Herle (whoever you are), don’t forget these two girls. I know my two candles don’t mean a lot, but can you accept the two little fires as prayers? I don’t have any other words. Thank you. Amen.
As I was leaving I noticed one more detail. The saint is holding a sea shell. So I said one more prayer. This one for myself. Dear God and Saint Herle, protect us on our small boat. We have a lot of miles to cross before I see my loved ones again. Bring me back safely to my home. Amen.