“Unless The Lord watches over the city ….”


From September 2012 to September 2013, 729 inhabitants ofRenneBurnss, France,took turns to watch over the town for an hour at sunrise and sunset in a shelter situated on the roof of the Chamber of Trades.

Sr Rhona Burns, who took her turn, gives some newsflashes of this novel project.



AbriHaving subscribed to the “Watchmen of Rennes” project simply to admire the view I found myself launched on an artistic adventure that gave rhythm to my life over a whole year. At the end I had participated in:

  • My hour’s watch
  • The creation of a piece of corporal theatre in the public space
  • The accompaniment of other watchmen / women for a week
  • The Final Dance that brought together all the watchers to celebrate the end of the project

With the result that my perspective on the town has widened and taken an unexpected turn.

Box des Veilleurs

The quality of a presence

We were asked to watch without watch or any electronic devices, outside of time and separated from the world in a small box made of wood and glass. It was a privileged hour, when I experienced an encounter with the space around me – the panorama of tall buildings and construction sites everywhere – and with all the people who hurried beneath my feet. I had to re-question myself on a life timed to the minute, and resituate myself in a landscape that I normally know so well. I discovered a concept dear to the choreographer Joanna Leighton, the author of the project, that of the quality of a presence. I now ask myself, “What if I, as a Daughter of Jesus, put that concept at the heart of my project …….?”

A human chain

Each watcher received a small souvenir in the form of a badge with his or her number. I was number 373 in a sort of human chain that took in the whole town. As many men as women took up the challenge. The oldest, a resident in an old people’s home, was 82 years old. The youngest was only 12 days old when she watched in her mother’s arms on Christmas Eve. We created links with each other throughout the whole project. On the morning of The Last Dance we let go of each other’s hands and the chain was finally broken. But is it? I think rather that this intimate experience will leave its traces in my mission.


logo des veilleurs et rencontre

Good will

Each watcher in the chain had his or her own unique take on the town. You can read our impressions on the blog (www.lestombeesdelanuit.com). In French you find the word veiller (watch over) in the word for good will. Each watcher wished well in the sense that he or she showed himself or herself attentive to the good of the town and its inhabitants. I re-found the motto of Edinburgh, the city of my youth.

“Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” (Ps 127)

From now on it’s up to me to apply that to my present town, Rennes.


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