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Musings on…the priesthoods of Bretonnia, part 4: The Unified Church of Bretonnia PDF Print
Monday, 10 February 2014
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Musings on…the priesthoods of Bretonnia, part 4: The Unified Church of Bretonnia
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chat.pngSo far I've speculated on the religious customs and beliefs of the Bretonni before and during the Unification of Bretonnia, and how the various cults reacted to Unification. Now it's time to consider how the cults function after Unification, both in their role as holy figures and advisors to the people of Bretonnia.

Marriage without a minister

First of all, I want to expand on the second-to-last chapter in my previous article; about how the various priests agree that the Lady of the Lake is the superior deity. In turn their cults are sanctioned by the state and they may form a council of priests to advice the King of Bretonnia. While I believe I put forward some good arguments for that development, there was another reason behind it. The WFRP book Knights of the Grail has a few words about marriage and funerals, on how people get hitched and buried in the land of chivalry[1]. When I read it I had the niggling feeling that something was missing. It took me a while, but eventually I realized that there was no mention of ministers; of (religious) officials who recognize the wedding, funeral or other ceremony and imbue it with holy meaning. It can't be the Damsels of the Lady of the Lake who administer the ceremony. They're aloof in nature, have strange magical powers and are both feared and revered by peasants, nobles and everyone in between. "Damsels never apologise and never explain. They never seem surprised by the outcome of events, and they often know things it seems that that they could not have learned by mundane means. Player characters should feel respect tinged with fear for these figures."[2] I think neither the Grail Damsels nor the populace would find these devoted ladies conducting the ceremonies a good idea. There are a few sources, such as the description of the Damsels in the sixth edition Bretonnia army book[3], that say otherwise, but that would imply that there are enough Damsels to administer all the nuptial or final rites for every single person in Bretonnia. The Grail Knights are also unfit to be ministers, both because they're too few in number and because I imagine at least some of these living saints would have issues with sanctifying the weddings and funerals of lowly mud-encrusted peasants. There's a mention of Grail Knights and Grail Pilgrims giving sermons in Grail Chapels. "At an attended Chapel, the Grail Knight gives a short sermon every Ladyday (the name for Holiday in Bretonnia), and those who live nearby are expected to attend. Grail Knights are not selected for their oratorical abilities, but many feel that they ought to make an effort, and thus long, rambling, pointless sermons are extremely common. (...) Some Chapels are attended by [Grail Pilgrims], often venerating the reliquary of the Grail Knight who founded the Chapel. These operate much the same way as those attended by Grail Knights, except that the sermons tend to be better; the leaders of Grail Pilgrims are chosen on the basis of oratorical ability."[4] However, there's a huge difference between giving a sermon - as in a written or spoken address on a religious or moral matter - and being authorized by state and God(s) to lead two people into holy wedlock.


This leaves us with the only holy figures remaining in Bretonnia: the clergy of the traditional Old World deities. But I imagine the ruling class, or at least King Gilles le Breton and his Grail Companions, would have qualms over being married or buried in the name of a deity they don't worship. This means that the ruling class would want their ceremonies - at least partially - dedicated to the Lady of the Lake. This in turn means that the cults, Damsels and the nobility come to some kind of arrangement. Having the priesthoods claim that the Lady is stronger than their particular God(s) and devoting ceremonies to her, in turn of their cults being sanctioned by the state seems like a plausible solution. So let's say that the Old World faiths in Bretonnia proclaim the Lady as the Queen of Heaven, the ruler of the Gods in the Old World pantheon.


We can see a possible precedent of this supposed arrangement between religions in the novel Savage City. In this story there's a wedding that is administered by a priest of unknown denomination. Not only does he dedicate the ceremony to the Goddess of Chivalry, in the same breath he mentions the Lady and Shallya. "...and even as the Lady herself looks down upon us here today, so we ask Shallya to also look down, and to gift these two young people with the life and fecundity with which she..."[5] This to me reinforces the idea that the Cult of the Lady and the priesthoods of the Old World pantheon work together in some manner. Another example is the cooperation between the cults in the Empire. "While each cult operates independently from the others, and has its own goals, agendas and methods, there is a great deal of unity between cults. A priest that understands this may politely and gently guide a wayward worshipper to the priest of another cult if the advice sought falls outside the realm of the priest's experience or sphere of influence. In theory, all priests must follow the festivals, rites and practices of the other cults, and it's considered bad form to criticise the rites of other cults, although it's done on a daily basis."[6] It stands to reason that the various faiths in Bretonnia come to a similar, if not more binding agreement. It is after all a feudal society, where quite literally nobles rule and peasant drool.


Unification of the cults

Now I've both solidified an earlier concept and thought of how the ceremonies of the Bretonnians are administered, let's continue with how the cults of the Old World pantheon would get there and change with the passage of time. At first glance one could imagine that they would have much power in Bretonnia. In the beginning, right after Unification, their cults had been sanctioned by the newly formed and secure state. The leading figure of each (Bretonnian chapter of the) cult would receive a place in a council that advised the King of Bretonnia on the will of the Gods. Some orders or chapters of the cults would most likely be displeased by this development. For example: Ar-Ulric, the spiritual leader of the Cult of Ulric. Not only would he lose control over the (Imperial) Ulrican clergy in Bretonnia, those same men of the cloth would now claim that a mystic water deity was superior to Ulric. But with King Gilles le Breton, his Grail Companions and the Lady of the Lake watching over the now united country, Ar-Ulric and also the leading figures of the other cults would have to console themselves with the knowledge that they each had one of their own at the King's side, singing the praises of their particular deity.


But then the Fay Enchantress came along with the Damsels of the Lady, and suddenly there was competition in the religion racket. A competition the women of the Lady were assured to win thanks to their immense magical powers. It's hard to amaze the people with miracles and prophecies from your deity when another can do the same thing with a flick of her fingers. That's to say nothing of the rise of the Grail Knights. Keep in mind that aside from their skill at arms and the divine aura's that surround them, only a Grail Knight can become the King of Bretonnia. For the ruling class, devotion to the Lady of the Lake would not be acceptable; it would be unavoidable. "While the Knights do not ignore these older Gods (that would be asking for trouble), their lives are dedicated to the protection and veneration of the Lady of the Lake who founded the nation."[7] It's therefore inevitable that the Grail Damsels seize the reins of religious power in the country. Particularly because the priests of the Old World Gods proclaim that the Lady of the Lake is the Queen of Heaven, the Goddess who rules not only the people of Bretonnia but also the deities of Bretonnia. Gradually the cults would lose power, influence and followers. Some more than others, but I'll talk about that later. Suffice to say that around 2500 I.C., the faiths of the Old World pantheon in Bretonnia would be a sad remnant of their former glory. I think the ruling class, or perhaps the cults themselves, would slowly but surely institute the clergy into a single Unified Church of Bretonnia. Both because it's a sign of another victory of Unification in uniting these separate faiths, and because of the convenience to the nobility who want to show respect to the Old World Gods but don't want to waste much time on it. The cultists would go along with it, if only because of their increasing lack of relevance and decrease in followers and funds. In reality there would be conflicts and competition between the cults, but this way they can put their priests, laymen and other assets there where they are the most useful, and thusly survive in the land of chivalry.


Structure(s) of the Church

First of all we have to consider where the beggarly priests would be practicing their trade. With the nobility neglecting the cults and the peasantry being too poor and overworked to donate or pray much, I don't see many temples surviving in modern-day Bretonnia. Especially not when only the nobility is allowed to build with stone[8], which means that the clergy would either have to gain the permission and support of a noble lord or else use other materials. The temples in the cities would likely survive more or less intact to the 25th century, since if the omnibus The Adventures of Florin & Lorenzo[9] is to be believed, the urban Bretonnians are more cosmopolitan and prosperous than their counterparts in the countryside. These places of worship could count on the generosity of merchants and the rest of the middle class, most of them being peasants and thusly more inclined to the Old World Gods than the Lady of the Lake. But in the end the bourgeois have little power nationwide, and the clergy in the countryside would have few funds and followers to work with. "Bretonnia has not developed a middle class as powerful as that of the Empire. There is thus no moderating force to keep the nobility in check."[10] This means that after fifteen thousand years of decline relatively few new temples would have been built and many existing ones would have fallen apart. The same does not go for monasteries; in fact I think that most of the holy structures of the Church of Bretonnia would be or become monasteries. The reason for that is that monasteries, as religious communities, are more self-sufficient (either by agriculture or providing products or services) because they've monks and/or nuns walking around whom besides praying have little else to do. In the real world not all monasteries are self-sufficient, but we're not talking about the real world here. "In most cases, the monastery is self-sufficient, with gardens, fields, orchards, and possibly some additional method of generating income, such as a winery or scribing services."[11] This would make them attractive for all classes. The nobles don't have to worry about fanatics of faiths they don't fully understand, and can give the occasional contribution to signify their respect for the Old World Gods without hampering their devotion to the Lady of the Lake. The peasants in turn get a community of monks that can provide useful services (aside from the usual religious needs of the peasantry) and a place where they can dump offspring they can't or won't feed, safe in the knowledge that the monks are looking out for them. The merchants, scholars, artists and other people of the middle class would appropriately be in the middle and reap the benefits of both classes.


Now I've determined that monasteries would make up a large chunk of the cults' real estate, we know that monks would make up a large chunk of the cults' ranks. But the monks, by their very definition of cloistered ascetics, are not in a position to fulfil the religious needs of everyone in Bretonnia. Considering the decrease of power and followers (and thus new initiates), there would be many villages that don't have a temple or monastery close by. Of course Knights of the Grail established that Bretonnians like to go on a pilgrimage to a holy site for their weddings, but what about their funerals, festivals and other local customs and ceremonies? They would need a nearby priest to guide the proceedings. I think friars and other travelling priests are a good answer to this problem. (To clarify, a friar is a monk that commits himself to a particular geographical area, travelling from community to community and has taken a vow of poverty, only relying on the charity of others.) The reason for that is that peasants, who make the majority of the followers of the Old World Gods, are property of the nobility and need permission of their master(s) to leave their lands. Again, according to the stories of The Adventures of Florin & Lorenzo those common-born who live in cities are better off than their counterparts in the countryside, but the land of chivalry isn't blessed with many great cities. But peasants who go on a pilgrimage can easily leave the domain of their rightful lords. "Even the meanest lord, however, can hardly refuse permission for a wedding pilgrimage. (...) A Grail Pilgrim, as long as he follows his Grail Knight, accepting the hardships of life on the road, is deemed to be on pilgrimage and thus cannot be seized by his lord."[12] I don't think anyone of the ruling class would mind that friars, being wandering priests who have taken a vow of poverty, are deemed as harmless pilgrims. And certainly not when the alternative is having no priest of any denomination nearby, which could result into the peasants revolting. So if there are no priests close on hand and a pilgrimage to a temple or shrine is out of the question, the village can simply wait for a friar to come along to administer their ceremonies.


Last Updated ( Tuesday, 11 February 2014 )
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