Norman legends: the fantastic bridge

Many centuries ago Pont-de-l’Arche, a city near Les Andelys in Eure, was named Hasdams. Still a part of Noch Pont-de-l’Arche is called “Les Damps”.

Hasdams was known for it’s bridge over the Seine. When the bridge was built, it exasperated the architect. It hadn’t been a problem to build 21 archs, but on the 22nd it was jinxed. The mortar turned into sand, the biggest boulders were washed away by the Seine.

The architect sat down and said embittered: “I can’t do more, may the devil finish the bridge if he can.” He heard a voice saying: “The devil can do everything he wants to do.” The dismayed architect looked around, he saw nobody except his dog. His dog looked at him with fiery eyes. The architect had never seen eyes like that before. He thought he had hallucinations, he hunched his shoulders and hung his head. Then he heard the voice again: “I repeat: the devil can do all he wants to do.” This time it was clear, his dog had spoken. The architect wanted to answer, but his mouth was dry and he was tongue-tied.

Blick auf Pont-de-lArche vom Fluss aus, von Dickpenn, public domain

view of Pont-de-l'Arche, by Dickpenn, public domain

“Have no fear”, said the dog sarcastically: “I came to help you.”
-“Then it’s true what the people say??”
-“What do they say?”
-“They say you are the devil.”
-“That’s right, I couldn’t dissimulate anymore. One day the apprentices wanted to throw me in the water. I grabbed the boldest one by the scruff of the neck and threw him in the Seine, where he drowned. Since then I have a bad reputation, but they leave me alone. That doesn’t matter much anymore anyways. There’s no time to lose, do you want me to finish your work?”
-“I want that with all my heart, but it’s impossible.”
-“Impossible? Nothing is impossible for me. If I want it the 22nd arch will touch the other riverside tomorrow morning.”
-“Oh, I would be very grateful.”
-“What use would that be for me? I’d rather take something more practical, the soul of the first creature that crosses the bridge.”
-“I would close the bargain with you, but who guarantees …”
-“You think I can’t do it? I will show you things you never saw before, climb on my back and grip my collar.”

ein Mönch an der Fassade der Kirche von Pont-de-lArche, von Sperreau, public domain

a monk of the façade of the church of Pont-de-l'Arche, by Sperreau, public domain

The architect climbed on the back of the dog, grabbed the collar and in the next moment he was in a deserted place. Rocks were lying around as if it was the graveyard of giants. The dog barked and instead of the rocks a beautiful palace emerged from the ground. It had columns made of onyx and paving tiles of pink marble. The architect turned around to his dog, to compliment him on the palace, but the dog had turned in a handsome nobleman, dressed in red velours. “Do you still question my power?”, asked the nobleman.
-“I’m sorry.” mumbled the architect.
-“Are we agreed now? Go home and sleep till tomorrow, meanwhile I will build the bridge and get the soul of the first creature that crosses it.”
-“Agreed!”

When the architect woke up he was in his cabin, near the bridge. He rubbed his eyes and saw his dog, that seemed to observe him. That sight wrenched him from drowsiness. He got up, dressed and ran outside.

Oh miracle! The 22nd arch went over the river, the architect was very proud of his work. Everybody congratulated him, workers, inhabitants and especially his client. In that moment the architect remembered what the devil has asked from him. He decided that the bridge shouldn’t be opened until the next morning. He went back in his cabin and mused the whole night. He was scared about the people and about himself.

In the morning he brought his client a donkey and said the security of the bridge had to be tested. He prickled the donkey with a needle in the butt and the donkey ran over the bridge. The devil was waiting in the shape of the dog at the 22nd arch and went angry when he saw the donkey. It was the first creature. Humiliated by his defeat he vowed never to deal with Norman architects again.

Source:
Les Légendes Normandes, by Louis Bascan, a collection of Norman legends of older sources, reprint of 1929, published by “les Editions du Bastion”, 1999, ISBN=2745500503, page 135-139, (French)

Homepage of Pont-de-l’Arche:
http://www.pontdelarche.fr/ (French)

Website about Pont-de-l’Arche and his history:
Welcome to Pont-de-l’Arche

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