'Madonna of the motorcyclists' draws bikers

16th August 2005, Comments 0 comments

PORCARO, France, Aug 15 (AFP) - Nearly 20,000 motorcyclists gathered peacefully Monday at tiny Porcaro, a northwestern French village tucked away between corn fields and pre-Roman stone obelisks that for nearly three decades has attracted biker pilgrims.

PORCARO, France, Aug 15 (AFP) - Nearly 20,000 motorcyclists gathered peacefully Monday at tiny Porcaro, a northwestern French village tucked away between corn fields and pre-Roman stone obelisks that for nearly three decades has attracted biker pilgrims.

Parked round a statue of the Virgin Mary for an open-air mass, some 7,000 gleaming bikes congregated in the Brittany village under a cloudless sky for the annual benediction that blesses motorcycles.

The ritual began 27 years ago when the abbot of Prevoteau -- himself a biker -- brought the virgin's statue from the shrine of Fatima in Portugal to establish a "Madonna of the motorcyclists".

At first only a couple of dozen turned up but numbers have grown over the years even if not all those attending are regular churchgoers.

"We risk our lives when we ride, we need protection," said Cyril, a 29-year-old biker. Last year 814 bikers died in accidents in France.

"I bought a medallion of the Madonna here in 1997," said Landry, a 37-year-old 'motard'. "Twice since I nearly crashed. I said to myself there was someone there."

Clad in black leather jackets with some also sporting death's-head bandanas, the crowd contrasted sharply with the white-robed clergy officiating the ceremony.

"Bikers come because of their religious convictions, but also with their superstitions," said Andre Herviaux, a farmer and president of an association that helped to organize the event, whose EUR 85,000 price tag is subsidized in part by local authorities.

Glass bottles littered the fields where the motorists had pitched their tents, evidence of a degree of overnight drinking, and weekend rock concerts that had been organized as part of the event.

But Franck Bourges, a motorcyclist and priest at the cathedral in the nearby city of Rennes, insisted that it was divine intervention that served as the primary motive for the congregation.

"They come for the blessing so that they can leave with more peace of mind," he said of the bikers who had journeyed from throughout western France, and often longer distances including from neighboring countries.

Bourges is in charge of coordinating this year's pilgrimage, whose official motto is:  "Remember and be careful".

"Here more than anywhere you feel the camaraderie among bikers," said Beatrice, a 32 year-old motorcyclist from Brittany. The Porcaro pilgrimage is said to be one of the most peaceful biker events in France.

Throughout the festival, bikers lined up to enter into the chapel of the motorcyclist -- the only one of its kind in France -- to leave photos, signs and a thought for loved ones who had lost their lives on the road.

Copyright AFP


Subject: French news, pilgrimage, blessing, motorcycles, bikers, Brittany, Porcaro

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