The rebus of Saint-Grégoire-du-Vièvre

Deutsche Version: hier.
Saint-Grégoire-du-Vièvre is a village with 342 inhabitants. It lies a bit north of here, right behind Saint-Victor-d’Épine. (The author waves with her arm in the direction of the colza fields.) I never took photos there, shame on me. If I ever get a car again, I’ll drive there and take photos for sure. The village is best known for a 16th century rebus designed with dark flintstone on the southern façade of the church Saint-Grégoire (Pope Gregory I.).

Edit: in the meantime I drove with one of my villagers (who complained about the pictures in this article) to Saint-Grégoire-du-Vièvre and we took photos.)

The 16th century rebus. Own photo on Wikimedia Commons, licence: CC0 / Creative Commons public domain dedication

Generations of historians and other crazy folks have tried to decipher the rebus. The solution is something like “le monde est corrompu et faux sal” (French, since it’s in France), which means ‘the world is corrupt and deceptive sal’. No idea about “sal”. I’d say it’s the name or the initials of the author.

Arthur Join-Lambert (1839–1917) explains the rebus in the above mentioned book as follows. “Le” (‘the’) is written in normal letters. Then follows a globus cruciger that stands for the world or for the Christian world. Then follows the word “est” (‘is’) in normal letters and a bugle (“cor”) that is interrupted or broken in the middle. “Cor” inter “rupt”.

Grave of Arthur Join-Lambert on the cemetery of Livet-sur-Authou. That’s a bit northeast of here, over a hill in a valley. (The author waves her left arm in direction of the colza fields.) He was one of the locals. A local in a castle, but still a local. Own photo on Wikimedia Commons, licence: CC0/ Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain

Join-Lambert claims that the 16 black and white fields represent the 16th century. ‘The Christian world in the 16th century is corrupt and deceptive sal.’ That would refer to the French Wars of Religion (1562–1598). Strange but true, the little village of Saint-Grégoire-du-Vièvre was owned by the kings of France from the 14th to the 16th century. Last king who directly owned the village was the huguenot Henry IV of France (1553–1610). He was involved in the wars.

Bigger towns in the vicinity, like Bernay and Pont-Audemer, were attacked in 1590, either by the Catholics or by the Huguenots. (The result is the same, the troops plunder and the inhabitants die.)

The rebus and the knight who chases his horse. Licence: public domain

The 16 fields are followed by the word “et” (‘and’) and a very well designed scythe. The French word for scythe is “faux”. “Faux” is a homonym, it means scythe or wrong (deceptive). And “faux” is one of those words that sound like hundreds of other French words. I don’t understand how French people get along. Okay I am exaggerating a bit. Only a bit. Join-Lambert thought, that it probably means something that sounds alike but is different. For example “faut” 3rd person singular of “falloir”, ‘having to do something’, ‘needing’. At this point I started to worry about Join-Lambert’s mental health. ‘The Christian world in the 16th century is corrupt and (one) has to sal.’? That makes no sense. He must have been drinking laudanum. He continues: “sal” means Israel, the missing letters have been miraculously incorporated in the “A”. Or somewhere else. Enough is enough. No, Join-Lambert, you’re wrong. And it’s not a freemason-inscription either. Early freemasons existed in England, that’s right, but they wouldn’t have made French rebuses.

The knight follows his horse. Own photo on Wikimedia Commons, licence: CC0/ Creative Commons public domain dedication

According to Fulcanelli the ensemble of flintstone figures on the whole church had alchemistic denotation. He starts with the knight who is running after his horse. Horses are fountains in alchemy and the knight is ‘Hermes Trismegistus unveiled’, the inscription is the ‘triumph of Hermes’ and an attack of wolves is the battle of two natures. That would be impressive… if it wasn’t boring.

Attack by wolves, own photo on Wikimedia Commons, licence: CC0/ Creative commons public domain dedication

In mediaeval times Vièvre was a forest that covered the area from Saint-Étienne-l’Allier to the river Risle. It had a surface of approximately 50km² (19.31 square miles, 5000 hectars). The forest was full of wild animals, bears, wild boars and wolves. It is far more likely that the artistic mason used the walls of the church as some kind of newspaper, a narrative of events. Something like: King Henry fell off his horse. Wolves attacked villagers or their livestock. Living in times of religious war is no fun.

If you got other possible explanations, please feel free to tell us about it.

The attack of wolves and a lot more of the church wall. Licence: public domain

Further Reading

Arthur Join-Lambert, Jean De Witte, François Lenormant, Robert de Lasteyrie : Les Inscriptions (Rébus et Énigmes) de l’Église de Saint-Grégoire-du-Vièvre in Gazette archéologique : recueil de monuments pour servir à la connaissance et à l’histoire de l’art antique. Vol. 13, published by A. Levy in Paris in 1888 p. 233–244, ISSN=20224788 (French)

l’église de saint Grégoire-du-Vièvre in Epistola, published on 2004-10-4 (French)

Bernard Bodinier: L’Eure de la Préhistoire à nos jours. Published by Jean-Michel Bordessoules in Saint-Jean-d’Angély in 2001, p.212 ISBN=2-913471-28-5 (French)

le mystère de Saint Grégoire. in Normandie Zoom (French)

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