August 28th, 2007

International Kittens of Mystery

Murder Stone - It's Official

We went along to our first village patrimoine (heritage) society do on Saturday. It was billed as a morning renovating a holy fountain, a lunchtime barbecue and an afternoon trip to see the Pierre Tomberesse (our dolmen and aforeblogged murder stone - yes, our dolmen really does have a name)

As is usual in France a ten o'clock start means sometime around ten thirty, and by ten thirty a surprising number of people had arrived armed with billhooks, slashers, scythes and wooden stakes. And we hadn't even got to the afternoon trip to the murder stone:)

The fontaine turned out to be a bubbling spring at the bottom of a steep cow-lined field. The spring source had been cleaned up and stone lined so that it looked like a well - a two foot deep well with a pipe going into the side to feed the water into the stream for which it was the source. Our job was to apply the finishing touches - a stone cap, reattach the old cross, fence it off from the cows, build a stile for visitor access and clear the brambles and undergrowth from the path.

Also being France, we had the assistance of what in England would be called an antique tractor. In France they're not only very common but also still used - often for shopping! Ours was a Massey Ferguson 140 - originally built in the 60s.

Job done and no one hospitalised - which was a surprise given the large number of heavy weaponry - the workforce climbed the newly-cleared track to attend the barbecue. Which is when even more people turned up. And out came the benches and trestle tables. This was the first time we'd seen such an event since leaving the South of France. There, it had been common - every time there was a village fete the whole village would turn out, put up the trestle tables and spend the next several hours eating, drinking and solving the world's problems. All you could eat and all you could drink for a ridiculously small amount of money. But in Normandy most of the village fetes we'd seen had been more like English ones - with car boot sales, games and cycle races.

On Saturday it was a return to the old days. Forty villagers and a neverending supply of food and drink - including something blue, extremely alcoholic and homemade. Naturally this went on for hours. And what better way to conclude the festivities than an afternoon walk to see a public execution?

Public execution? Indeed, for, as we were to find out, our dolmen was more famous not as a piece of Neolithic architecture but as a site of judicial execution. Everyone knew the story and everyone wanted to have a go.

Here's a picture of our dolmen. The Pierre Tomberesse - which very roughly translated with a bit of artistic license means The Stone of the Fallen.

It's about eight feet high and the massive granite slab that forms the roof is where the executions took place.

Here's a picture of the roof. As was demonstrated - several times - on Saturday, the prisoner would be laid out on the slab with his or her head placed in the head-shaped depression in the top left. The executioner would then wield a two-handed sword and - as old women knitted excitedly in the front row - remove the offender's head.

I am tempted to have a dig around the base and inside of the dolmen. But then again...

PS There's an interesting legend about the stone - if you see a spectral blackened image of a person holding onto their head in the picture above then ... there may be a murderer in your family:)