11 Myths and Legends of the Beaujolais Region

If only they hadn’t invented phone lines…

How about a list for a change? Writing about fictional crime in the Beaujolais region is what fills most of my days. But since this blog is filled with legendary tales, I thought I’d combine the two and give you an insight into some of ‘my’ local legends.

11. Jassans-Riottier

Across the river Saône from Villefranche-sur-Saône, the capital of the Beaujolais, lies Jassans-Riottier. I’m sure they would not be grateful to me for saying they’re not the most intriguing of places. However, at one point in history, they did stand out. Only not in a good way.
Around 1820-1840 a siren was supposed to live on the banks of the town, luring innocent sailors to their doom with her song. I say song… She liked to bathe in the nude to attract her prey. (French) men, what can I say? She took several victims, apparently.

10. Tourvéon

Ever heard of the Chanson de Roland? It’s a Medieval story of how Roland, a nephew of Charlemagne was betrayed by his stepfather Ganelon and ends up losing a battle with the Saracens. Ganelon stars in multiple legends around France, always the villain, obviously. Tourvéon is where they’d finally had enough and locked him in a barrel of nails. They then rolled it down the mountain, to be good and rid of him.
To be fair, Mont Tourvéon is one of those fun, pointy hills that you’re just dying to roll anything down, so why not an enemy of the people? My personal hero of the Song of Roland is the horn, though. It’s called Olifant, which in Dutch is still the word for elephant.

9. Chazay-d’Azergues

The lavoir at Cogny

What you see here is a lavoir, an open-air wash house. Most of them have now disappeared, but several still survive around the Beaujolais. Can you imagine the state of women’s hands in winter? In one particular lavoir near Chazay-d’Azergues, however, one pretty washerwoman called Guillemette spotted an exhausted doe with her fawn. The doe made it to the water, but the fawn gave up yards from the saving liquid. Guillemette took pity on the poor animal and brought it some water in her chapped hands.
“Thank you,” the fawn then said to an astonished Guillemette, “I am in fact a fairy. Because you have been so good to me, your poor hands will never be damaged again.”
From that day on, the water was always soft and warm.
Isn’t that lovely? Hooray for good deeds. But also, hooray for modern washing machines!

8. Alix

Something not nearly as lovely are the origins of ghosts in the woods around Alix. Well, the origins of ghosts never are, are they? Around Alix, you have a choice of which ghosts you’d like to meet. There are the rebels of 1793 (remember, the French Revolution was in 1789) who were hunted down and killed by troops looking for muscadins, dandyishly dressed opposers of the Revolution wearing musk perfume.
But perhaps you would prefer the soul of a maiden attacked and killed there because she’d rather give her life to God than marry a knight who asked for her hand. Seeing it was he who killed her, she probably made a wise choice not to want to live with him. Pity she wasn’t wise enough to not go bathing in the woods by herself afterwards…

7. The river Azergues

Building a bridge isn’t always easy, especially when the ground is as hard as around the river Azergues. So when the devil comes along with a deal, it takes a strong character to say no. The deal in this case, was that the devil would help with the construction of the bridge, but he’d claim the first soul to cross it. The builders readily agreed, and when the bridge was finished, sent a cat across it instead.
Now maybe this is my Dutch Calvinist upbringing, but do cats in fact have souls?

6. Cercié

Cover your eyes or skip to the next one if you’re okay with ghosts and the devil, but would rather not read rude words. This one explains how the quartier of Pisse Vieille got its name. I think you can guess where the five-year-old’s humour is going to come from.
There was near Cercié an old lady who always came to confession with the most trivial of sins. Instead of rejoicing, the priest got fed up with this waste of his time (presumably he was waiting for the juicy wine-induced sins of the next person in the queue), and shouted at the woman, “Go! And fish no more!” (“Allez! Et ne pêchez plus!”)
Now don’t ask me what the fish had to do with anything, but it makes for a good tale, as the woman was somewhat hard of hearing, and thought she was no longer allowed to use the toilet. This created quite the precarious situation, until her husband decided to ask the priest for clarification. No doubt after a hearty laugh, the priest explained what he had said, and the old man hurried home, not waiting till he was inside to shout his command, “Pisse, vieille!” (piss, old woman). You get a little hard of hearing, and they’ll never let you forget it…

5. Ville-sur-Jarnioux

And now for some Romans. Didn’t think I’d skip those, did you? I’ll go one step further, it’s Roman era treasure I’m talking about. Surrounded by Julius Caesar’s troops, local Gallic big shots hid their valuables near the hamlet of Saint-Clair, under the megalithic mass of Crêt du Py. Gold, baby. Coins, a ram, a calf, a mortar and pestle, all in solid gold. According to legend, guarded by a mighty fairy. On Christmas Eve of each year, a secret passage was supposed to open up and connect one of the houses to the treasure. But only between the first and last stroke of midnight.
The belief in this legend was so strong, that in 1822 local wizards tried to blow up the rock. They lit a bunch of explosives, but ran off when they were confronted with the force of their actions. When local authorities decided to sell the land in 1840, some residents got together and bought the land back, just in case. They never did find that treasure…

4. Villefranche & Montmerle

The river Mordon that flows through the Beaujolais into the river Saône at Villefranche used to do so in a less than orderly fashion, creating a rather useless bit of marshland. When a local shepherd saw his animals kneel at the edge of it, he didn’t think much of it at first, but when his oxen joined his sheep, he went to have a closer look. In the water, he found a statue of a Madonna and child. Thinking that was no place for a lady, he quickly retrieved the statue and took it to a nearby church.
The next day, however, the exact same thing happened, again leading him to take the statue to the church. When she appeared in the marshes a third time, the shepherd and local priests conceded defeat, and built her a chapel where she wanted to be. This chapel later became the church of Notre-Dame des Marais (Our Lady of the Marshes).
If you think that’s strange, listen to this. A similar thing happened in Montmerle. The bronze Lady there was found at the bottom of the river Saône, and told the men on the ship that she wanted to be installed in the hills near Montmerle. With the view of the valley, who wouldn’t want to live there?

3. Villefranche

From heavenly orders to the lowest of low. We’ve seen him before, and here he is again: the devil. Now, he’s supposed to have built a house that trembles every time a vehicle passes over the nearby road. The last owners of it tried to get rid of the rumours by calling it Maison de la Bellevue, the House with the View, but in the end, all that remains of it is a bit of barn. They do say, though, that there used to be a secret passage running from there both to Villefranche, to the Château de Mongré that is now a school, and in the other direction to the Château de Montmelas in the hills. Now where have I heard that before 

2. Saint-Jean-des-Vignes

This one is fairly well known in the area, even though there are neither ghosts nor Romans nor the devil involved. There is, however, treasure. This treasure was guarded by some large upstanding stones, who, on the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve (where have we seen that before?) rolled down the hill to get a drink of water from the river Azergues before the last stroke died away. That meant, that for those few seconds the bell tolled, the treasure was unguarded. But only the most daring would ever risk being crushed by the returning stones.
One Christmas Eve, Marcelline, a lumberjack’s wife, saw the stones returning to their place on top of the hill. Some had not managed to get to the water in time and were still very thirsty. She offered to take some water up to them in exchange for a few bits of treasure, which they agreed to. However, as soon as she had taken what she wanted, the stones rolled towards her, trying to crush her. She yelled at them that that was not what they’d agreed, but they advanced all the more quickly. With all her might, she threw her water jug at them, but it ricocheted right off.
At that moment, a miracle happened. The golden rocks exploded into a million pieces. Marcelline got to take her treasure home, the region is still called Les Pierres Dorées, The Golden Stones, and the site of the legend has become a geological museum.

1. Courbeville, Saint-Vérand & Prony

Here’s another White Lady for you! We’ve had the devil, we’ve had Romans… Now all we need is some more ghosts. The wife of Gaspard de Mornieu, a captain in the warring army of King Louis XIV and lord of the château de Prony at Oingt, got bored when he was held prisoner in 1675, and amused herself with his valet, Curtil, resulting in her giving birth to a daughter at the château de la Garde in Saint-Vérand. Gaspard, when he returned, was less than pleased, and sent her to a convent for two years. After that, he lived and had two sons with her at the château de Courbeville in Chessy, never telling her what became of her illegitimate daughter.
Filled with sadness and despair, she now haunts all three castles, dousing lights at Saint-Vérand and rattling chains on stormy nights at Prony. Courbeville has even gained the nickname Château de la Dame Blanche, because she shows herself there on the ramparts, a veiled, white silhouette.

Those are all the legends you’re getting today. But if you look closely, you’ll find some aspects of them in my cozy mysteries. Want to know how they’re coming along? Subscribe to my newsletter!

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