The rebus of Saint-Grégoire-du-Vièvre

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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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The prisoner of Gisors

Gisors is a city in the département Eure in the Haute-Normandie in France. It lies in the historical region Vexin at the confluence of Epte, Troesne and Réveillon and had 11.677 inhabitants in 2007. Northwest of the town centre lies the forest of Gisors. The city was founded in Gallo-Roman time and became important in the 11th century. It was a border town for the kings of England and dukes of Normandy. William II of England (Guillaume II le Roux) built a castle in 1095. The Order of the temple owned the castle from 1158 to 1161. Legend has it that the treasure of the Knights Templars was hidden there, when the French king Philip IV arrested the leaders of the order in 1307. That’s not very likely though, because Gisors was conquered in 1198 by Philip II of France. He refused to use the old octagonal keep, but built a new, round keep. Nowadays the round keep is called “Tour du prisonnier” („tower of the prisoner“).

The tower of the prisoner on an old postcard in the archives of the département Eure

The Catholic League of France positioned a garrison during the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598) in Gisors. In the round keep was at that time a man imprisoned who used a nail to decorate the walls of his prison with reliefs. Some of the motifs have Christian origins, the entombment of Christ and the copy of a gisant of the church in Gisors, some motifs show his love to his wife, hearts and poems in Latin language, other motifs show castles and coats of arms. Since some of the reliefs depict a cross pattée, which was sometimes used by the Knight Templars, those crosses contributed to the formation of legends. Gérard de Sède related the reliefs to the mysterious treasure, which the parson Bérenger Saunière reputedly had found in Rennes-le-Château (département Aude).

Key and lock of the tower

The prisoner himself was only carving the initials of his name in stone, “NP”. But his full name “Nicolas Poulain” was a pseudonym. Nicolas is derived from Greek and means “victory of the people”. A “poulain” was in mediaeval times a person, that had lived in the orient or was born there. Nowadays it means “foal”. No idea why, but the “conspiracy theorists” translate it with “vanquisher of stone”.

Local historians assume, that the wife of the prisoner was Catherine de Basian and he was Éli de Beaumont. Knowing his name doesn’t help much though, at that time there were more “de Beaumont”s than sand on the shore.

The reliefs have remained. A man has carved with a nail the most valuable values of mankind in the hostile walls of his prison, love, courtesy, bravery, beauty, and eternity.

Reliefs of the prisoner in the archives of the département Eure

Romantic picture of the prisoner in his cell in the archives of the département Eure

And more romantic in the archives of the département Eure

The tower of the prisoner 2007, photo by CJ DUB on Wikimedia Commons, licence: CC Attribution

Further reading and references:

Histoire mystérieuse et insolite des Régions de France, La Normandie, by Claude Sellier and Mathurin Hémon, published by Micberth in Paris 1994, page 17-24, ISBN 2-84126-053-4

Nicolas Poulain, le prisonnier de Gisors – Gérard de Sede a tv report of 1976. Gérard de Sède (1921-2004) was a French journalist.

The castle of Launay (Eure)

On September 19 and 20 2009 was “jour de patrimoine” (day of heritage) in France. Many museums and historic sites were open for free or even hosted special events.

We drove to the castle of Launay (château de Launay), where we had already been in June. In June it had been closed, it is only visitable from August 20 to September 30, two times a day at 3pm and 4pm. The owner holds tours that take 45 minutes for 5 Euros.

All of the buildings, except one that was built at the time of Napoleon I of France (1769–1821), are classified as “monument historique” (heritage protection). The other buildings on the cour d’honneur (court of Honour), stables and pigeonry, were built in the 16th century.

Taubenhaus, eigenes Foto (auf wikimedia commons), CC by/Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

pigeonry, own photo (at wikimedia commons), CC by/Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

The pigeonry shows unusual wooden sculptures. Sculptures like that can usually only be found on religious buildings of the 16th century.

Taubenhaus und Stall, eigenes Foto (auf commons), Lizenz:CC by/Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

pigeonry and stable, own photo (at wikimedia commons), CC by/Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

Pigeonries can be found at a lot of French castles. The pigeons and their eggs had an alimental use.

Detail der Fassade des Taubenhauses, eigenes Foto (auf commons), Lizenz: public domain/gemeinfrei

Detail of the façade of the pigeonry, own photo (at wikimedia commons), public domain

We were not allowed to go inside the pigeonry but we could look inside.

Im Taubenhaus, eigenes Foto, Lizenz: public domain/gemeinfrei

in the pigeonry, own photo, public domain

Stall aus dem 16. Jahrhundert, eigenes Foto, Lizenz: public domain/gemeinfrei

stable, 16th century, own photo (at wikimedia commons), public domain

The castle had been garrisoned by the German army in the Second World War. It was used as a commander’s office. At the entrance there is still the word “Wache” visible which means “guard-house”.

Blick vom Eingang des Schlosses auf den Cour d'honneur, eigenes Foto, Lizenz: public domain/gemeinfrei

view from the entrance on the Cour d'honneur, own photo, public domain

The tour led through the ground floor of the castle, but it was not allowed to take photos there. The owner actually lives in the castle and wants to keep some privacy. The parquet floor has been taken out, cleaned and repaired and was put back in. The rooms are octagonal, symmetrical and have round walls. Many rooms have 2 fireplaces.

In the right pavilion is the old bakehouse, but it can’t be visited. In the left pavilion is a chapel.

There are around 2 km of hedges in the garden, that are cut in August for the visitors. The property is under surveillance since a burglary that happened around 10 years ago.

Rückseite des Château de Launay, vom Garten aus, eigenes Foto (auf commons), Lizenz: CC by/ Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

back of the Château de Launay, own photo (at wikimedia commons), CC by/Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

beech in the garden of château de Launay, eigenes Foto, Lizenz: public domain/gemeinfrei

beech in the garden of château de Launay, own photo, public domain

The huge beech in the garden of the castle had suffered under the drought at the end of the summer. There was a thunderstorm in the evening after our visit. The watering place on the meadow still isn’t full though.

The castle itself was built around 1730 on the place of an older castle. It was built in the style of Régence, except 2 “pagodes” which are baroque.

There have been only 4 families of owners, the Le Sens de Folleville, the Naguet de Saint Vulfran, someone else and the contemporary owners.

Vorderseite des Château de Launay, eigenes Foto (auf commons), Lizenz: CC by/ Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

façade of the Château de Launay, own photo (at wikimedia commons), CC by/Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

External Links:
Château à Saint-Georges-du-Vièvre

Le Château de Launay et son colombier: une propriété privée