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Ken Follett visits Brittany cathedral he is helping to restore

The Welsh author used book royalties to help fund renovations at the building whose name pays reference to a monk from Cardiff

Ken Follett visited Dol-de-Bretagne and its cathedral on July 31 Pic: Mairie de Dol-de-Bretagne

Welsh writer Ken Follett has been awarded ‘honorary citizenship’ of the Brittany town of Dol-de-Bretagne (Ille-et-Vilaine) in honour of his help with the renovation of a local cathedral.

The author, whose best-selling 1989 medieval blockbuster The Pillars of the Earth was centred on the building of a cathedral, was given the title during a trip to the area on July 31.

The honorary citizenship was one of several gifts given to thank Mr Follett for the €148,000 he donated towards renovation work on the thirteenth-century Cathédrale Saint-Samson.  

Mr Follett had never been able to visit the cathedral – which received the funds over two years ago – but knew that the Samson who gave his name to the ancient site was a Welshman.

“We wanted to invite Mr Follett so that he could see the cathedral for the first time,” said Xavier Coadic, Dol-de-Bretagne’s deputy mayor in charge of heritage, tourism and business.

The author took part in a visit to the cathedral, which is in its third stage of renovation. This will involve the construction of a new wooden framework above the nave as well as renewal of the existing structure.

“I am doing this for us, because it is beautiful and we love it. But also for our children and grandchildren,” said Mr Follett in “perfect French”, as noted by Mr Coadic. “We do it for the future hoping it will exist in the next 800 years,” he added.

The mairie offered him a slate with his name written on it which he placed onto the cathedral’s roof.

Credit: Mairie de Dol-de-Bretagne

He was also awarded a medal from the town, Mr Coadic told The Connexion

Mr Follett attended a mass in the morning before he took part in the fêtes folkloriques de Saint-Samson, traditional regional celebrations involving parades led by a ‘bagad’, a Breton band playing bagpipes and drums.  

He was spotted holding a Brittany flag during the festivities. 

The donation came from royalties paid to Notre-Dame: A Short History of the Meaning of Cathedrals, a book he wrote following the fire which destroyed the Paris cathedral’s spire in 2019, an event that he found particularly moving. 

The money was initially meant to finance repair work on Notre-Dame, but Mr Follett eventually offered it to four other cathedrals when the Paris cathedral was flooded with donations. 

Read more: €50million Notre-Dame Cathedral landscaping project approved in Paris

Mr Follett has previously expressed his love for France but told The Connexion he could not live as an expat long-term in an interview. He was speaking after living near Grasse above the Côte d’Azur for three years.

Read more: Ken Follett: I love France but I couldn’t be an expat there

The Dol-de-Bretagne cathedral renovation is expected to cost €2.5million and to be completed by 2024. It comprises five stages of work each taking eleven months.

The cathedral was founded in 548 by Samson de Dol, a monk from Cardiff, and first used as a monastery. 

Over the centuries, the site was seized by different factions, from the Bretons to the Vikings, until John I of England burnt the Romanesque cathedral during his occupation of Dol. 

Then, fearing for the fate of his soul, he charged bishop Jean de Lizaunet with reconstructing the church.

Building work continued for several centuries, but it is the structure ordered by King John which can be seen today.

The cathedral was listed as a Monument historique, a designation given by the state to national heritage sites, in 1840.

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