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"Ne Jamais Oubliez: Never to Forget"
- Cultural Traditions in Old France/New France

a photo-documentary exhibit by John and Sondra Bromka,

Bells & Motley Olden Music


Artist Statement


The focus for our first " Ne Jamais Oubliez "photo-documentary project was on the France that 17th century missionaries and adventurers left behind when they transported their lives to the French Mission we call "Sainte Marie Among the Iroquois," located on the banks of Onondaga Lake in Central New York. The title comes from a vow given by the first round of French settlers in the New World: " N'oubliez jamais ni Dieu ni la France: " -- Never Forget neither God nor France.

Our first round of photographs, taken in the months of April and May of 1994-1998, attempt to capture remnants of unusual regional landmarks, architectural survivals, and continuing land-use patterns that can be seen today, that would have been recognizable to Sainte Marie's French sojourners of the 17th century.

We composed those photographs primarily in two regions of northwestern France where two of the 17th c denizens of Ste Marie were documented to have come from: The parish of Louargat in Brittany (home of one notable sojourner, Henri PERRIN) and the Perche region of Normandy (home of Jean VALLIQUET dit  LAVERDURE). Highlights of that trip included an enlightening meeting with historian Guy LE GROS in the village archive, looking over the personal history of Perrin's family, and discovering surprising factors that would have urged him look for opportunity in the New World. Le Gros understood and responded to the concept of our mission instantly, and took us on a tour of the surrounding countryside, to visit the places that would have had personal meaning to Henri Perrin, and that still stand today.

From there, we have worked on expanding the photo-archive in continued annual research trips to these two regions, and have applied these resources to multiple projects. With each project, it is our hope to coax regional folkways, customs, and beliefs to reveal themselves through these photographs, images reflecting a cherished legacy to guide and nourish in the strange daunting lands of Nouvelle France- the New World.


A Selection of Images


Spiral Stairs

Manoir de la Vove, a private residence in the Perche region of Normandy.

The great houses are not built all at once, and many retain architectural elements spanning three centuries. These stairs belong to a 15th c tower annexed to what is primarily a 17th c manoir. Stairs in this beautiful mathematically ordered form would be a familiar sight to anyone who has climbed a bell tower in a church or a guard tower in a chateau. While climbing the endless small steps towards one's goal, windows and lighting are only sporadically encountered, and one proceeds largely on faith.



14th c wood carving decorating one of the supports of a half-timbered town house. Located in Angers, a fortified city of Anjou, formerly marking the easternmost border of the Duchy of Brittany in the Early Middle Ages. Bagpipes are traditional throughout France, with at least a half-dozen completely distinct types. Brittany has a particularly strong piping tradition with its two native bagpipes, the biniou koz  and veuze.  Jean Valliquet was raised in Angers.


Fountaine de la Herse/Aphrodesium

Mineral spring in the Perche region of Normandy. Natural springs throughout France are dressed and finished in stone, providing sources  of drinking and healing water renowned through the centuries. In Brittany especially, the springs are often consecrated and dedicated to various saints. The founders of the Ste Marie Mission would have recognized the salt springs here on the shores of Onondaga Lake as a welcome sign of homecoming. Each of the springs back home in France had their own special properties and healing attributes, depending on the mineral characteristics and stories and legends attached. Many of the legends predate the Church, and have persisted despite repeated attempts by the Church to discourage superstitious behaviors.


Standing Stone

Brittany is rich in neolithic monuments, especially standing stones like this menhir, a salient reminder of Brittany's pre-Christian ancestry. Many of the menhirs have been sanctified and re-dedicated as Christian shrines, while others had been pulled down or turned into construction materials by less appreciative sorts. Louargat had two menhirs in the 17th century, of which one is still standing. 



Stone crucifix in 17th c rustic style, heading south from Louargat.

This is of a type found throughout Brittany in churchyards and crossroads.

Calvaires often depict the entire Calvary scenario of three crosses with additional scenes from the Old and New Testaments.

The bosses  on the supporting column indicate a visitation by the plague.

Henri Perrin of Louargat left France during a year when the plague took away a devastating number of his fellow villagers.


The Stone of Saint Michael

Parish of Louargat, Village of St-Michael, situated at the base of Menez-Bre, the highest point in Brittany. Any resident of Louargat can tell you how this stone was thrown by Saint Michel from the top of Menez-Bre onto the devil, entombed under the stone to this very day.


"N'oubliez jamais ni Dieu ni la France."

Commemorative stained glass window  marking the embarcation in 1640 of 80 families from Tourouvre and the surrounding region in Perche, bound for Canada with Julian Mercer. The parents are depicted saying to their children, "Never forget nor God nor France." This exhortation gave rise to the motto of Quebec: "Je me souviens- I remember."



Traditional embankments separating Breton fields and lining the older roads and pathways. The talus offers protection from wind and keeps grazing animals in place.

Made of stone, sod, branches, debris, and centuries of overgrowth.

This site is located heading south from Louargat.


Hedge Trees

The hedge rows throughout the Breton countryside are dominated by strange and eerie sentinels like these. The hedge trees traditionally have all of their side branches repeatedly cut off, giving rise to vistas of grotesque contorted figures marching into the night. This peculiar cultivation practice allows harvesting of fuel wood while leaving the main trunks to grow into massive timbers for construction. Practical reasons aside, these trees are perhaps even more significant as a keen expression of the Breton imagination, fertile ground for stories of the Korrigans  (the Breton race of faeries) and Ar Ankou,  the familiar figure of Death ferrying souls away in his creaky old horse cart.



Perche region of Normandy.

Is it time already for the entire ancient tree to be harvested? Who will plant the next row?


The Expanded Program: Traditional Historic French Instruments, Music and Songs; Dances; Lecture/Discussion



This exhibit and accompanying workshop and lecture program series was made possible with assistance of an SOS Grant (Special Opportunity Stipend) awarded the Bromkas by the NY Foundation for the Arts. Thanks to Sainte-Marie-Among-the-Iroquois for the opportunity to  collaborate and present these works.


School Programs with Bells & Motley Olden Music and Storytelling:

Specializing in French, Medieval, Renaissance, and Erie Canal multi-disciplinary immersion programs. We link music, history, language arts, and visual arts through a broad spectrum of interactive performance and workshop programs. Teachers, PTA, and PARP, please ask for our catalog.


For more information about Bells & Motley arts-in-education programs, books and recordings, for a calendar of public concerts and events, and to read the Logs from our recent travels in Brittany and France, please visit our web site:




And of course we welcome you to write or call: John & Sondra Bromka, 36 South St, Marcellus, NY 13108.