No, a good dolmen is like a good book – it needs a story. And this is the story of our dolmen (pictured left, it’s about eight feet high) , how we came to buy the home that went with it, and … the severed heads…
When we came across a property in rural Normandy that boasted three houses, a ruin and a dolmen at a ridiculously low price, we just had to see it. Okay, the houses had been empty for years and the only difference between them and the ruin was that the former had both a roof and walls that rose high enough to meet them. But the potential was there. The structures were sound and the ten acres of rolling fields, orchards and woods that made up the property were truly beautiful. I couldn’t wait to see the dolmen.
The estate agent (realtor) took us to a wooded hilltop and there it was. Our own dolmen with huge granite slabs for walls and a giant slab for a roof – which made it more habitable than the ruin and only marginally less habitable than the three houses we’d just been taken around.
And it had a story. Our estate agent took us to the back of the dolmen where we could climb onto the roof. “According to local legend,” he said, “this is where they used to carry out human sacrifices. On the roof of this dolmen.”
He smiled. Until he saw the head-shaped depression in the dolmen roof. A head-shaped depression with a large, and rather fresh-looking, red stain at the bottom.
I could feel an ‘Indian Burial Ground meets Deliverance’ moment fast approaching. Cheap house, empty for years, amazing value, bloodstains, banjos…
I could tell he was thinking along similar lines. “Not that anyone’s been sacrificed here for years,” he said. “Centuries,” he added quickly, holding a hand out to shepherd us swiftly away from the site before his foot got any closer to his tonsils. Why did I have to mention human sacrifices? They were going to buy the place!
Luckily for him we were made of sterner stuff than your average horror film family. I liked the idea of a dolmen with a colourful past.
Eight years passed. We’d moved in, restored one of the houses and largely forgotten about the dolmen and sacrifices. Then the head of the local history society knocked on our door and asked if it would be okay to bring a group around next month to look at our dolmen. Except he didn’t call it a dolmen. I wasn’t sure what he called it – my French isn’t that good – but it sounded like murder stone, ‘pierre de meutrier’ or something similar with a lot of pierres and meutriers in it.
They even offered to clear all the brambles around it and put in a stile so people could climb the fence easily.
Intrigued, we had to accompany the group on their visit the following month. Which is when we found out that our dolmen was famous in the area, not as a piece of Neolithic architecture, but as a site of judicial execution. All forty members of the local patrimoine club knew the story, and all of them wanted to take part in a re-enactment.
Our dolmen even had a name – La Pierre Tomberesse – which very roughly translated with a bit of artistic license means, The Stone of the Fallen.
Here’s a picture of the roof. As was demonstrated – several times – the prisoner would be laid out on the slab with his or her head placed on a wooden block by the head-shaped depression in the top left. The executioner would then wield a two-handed sword and – as old women knitted chainmail excitedly in the front row – the offender’s head would be removed and fall, with all the blood, into the handily placed depression in the roof.
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:)
Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novel – Resonance (Baen) – can be downloaded for free here. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .
Coming April 3rd: International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth. Forget Bruce Willis and his team of miners. Send for the kitties!