Situated 48 kilometres from Rennes, 51 kilometres from Saint-Malo, 29 kilometres from Fougères and 12 kilometres from Pontorson, the village of La Fontenelle is part of the canton of Antrain in the administrative district of Fougères, département (county) of Ille-et-Vilaine. There are 528 inhabitants, of whom 514 live in the actual village.
La Fontenelle comes from the Latin “fontanella”, meaning a little fountain. There are references to it as a parish in the 6th century. Indeed, a church was given by King Childebert I to Saint Samson, Bishop of Dol, around 553. Today, the Saint-Samson fountain can be found near the Vieux Presbytère (the old presbytery). According to tradition, its water has miraculous healing powers. The Saint-Samson church, a building which replaced a much earlier religious structure, dates from the 16th century.
It appears that Archbishop Hugues Le Roux lived in the territory of La Fontenelle in the middle of the 12th century : moreover, a house in the village of Vieux-Couësnon is called “maison de l’évêque” (the bishop’s house). In 1480, the presence of two noblemen is recorded in the list of feudal landowners in the diocese of Saint-Malo and Dol : Pierre de Vaublen and Guillaume de Vaublen, both of whom had the right to wear chain mail and bear arms.
Under the Old Régime, the land of La Fontenelle was attached to the noble lords of Portes à Bazouges-la-Pérouse. The Champ de la Quintaine (field of the quintain) is situated near the village of La Fontenelle. This was where the lords of la Rivière and Portes en Bazouges-la-Pérouse exercised their right to tilt at lances. After the Revolution, the parish was re-established in 1803, then suppressed and finally re-established once again in 1820.
At the time of the birth of Jean Langlais in 1907, there were 900 inhabitants in la Fontenelle, living in a Brittany that was ravaged by famine and epidemics. Since time immemorial, they worked as stone-cutters (like Jean Langlais’ father) or as farmers. La Fontenelle was a traditional small rural village, with its dark granite houses and slate-grey roofs; in appearance it has hardly changed since. What has changed, however, is that there was an “enclos paroissial” in the centre of the village, an area that its inhabitants considered to be sacred. This consisted of the cemetery, a large stone cross (calvaire) and the church itself, surrounded by a dry-stone wall. Unfortunately, this “enclos paroissial” or enclosed parish was knocked down in 1948. All the graves were removed, a cemetery was built on the edge of the village and the stone cross was given a new position there. All that remains of the old enclosure are two columns in front of the church.