In the earlier Middle Ages, Brittany enjoyed a mixed reputation as a region in which to lead a life of ascetic discipline and dedication to God. The (eleventh-century?) Life of Me wan describes Samson and his disciples leaving Britain for a life of spiritual exile. They headed for Brittany because, according to the hagiographer, the region was not only a ‘desert’ where life would be harsher than elsewhere, but also because the ferocity of its inhabitants made it crueller. Others were not so sure whether this was an advantage. Abelard’s tribulations as abbot of Saint-Gildas-de-Rhuys are well known: though himself originating from Bretagne gallo, he complained that the Bretons of Bretagne bretonnante were a barbarian, lawless race, and that the monks of Saint-Gildas were dissolute and uncontrollable. Abelard’s comments echo a long tradition of French, or Frankish, castigation of the Bretons, stretching back at least to the ninth century. This criticism often expresses more than hostility to a gens whose language made them incomprehensible and hence ridiculous: amongst the tensions it reflects are problems of Christian discipline and ecclesiastical authority which the Frankish church was unable fully to resolve. In exploring behind the Bretons’ bad reputation, it is worthwhile investigating both the ascetic practices of early medieval Brittany and the reactions to those practices of the Frankish church. In so doing, I hope to elucidate my juxtaposition of ‘Celtic asceticism’ and ‘Carolingian authority’ by showing how Breton ascetic traditions were modified under the impact of Carolingian political circumstances.