When I was a child I hated horror and supernatural movies. That is probably because of my brother who made me watch ‘Chucky’ one time, so I blame him. I had to lock my doll in the wardrobe when I was going to sleep for a while after that. Fortunately, I grew up a bit since then (and forgot the ‘Chucky’ fiasco). What I did not expect is that along the way I became really fascinated by supernatural things and legends. In fact, to this day I am intrigued by all types of spooky creatures: vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. As you know Bordeaux is a pretty old city with ancient history. So, in the spirit of Halloween, I decided to share a couple of the best Bordeaux myths and legends I learned.
Advice: You should read this in a dark room, with lit candles and some spooky background music.
The gruesome tale of the werewolf
In 1603, the area around Bordeaux was just like any other city during the Middle Ages. Superstitions ruled over everyone at the time. Therefore it wasn’t a huge surprise that a story of a werewolf roaming the streets of the town was born when a couple of children were found dead or eaten. Furthermore, a fourteen years old girl called Marguerite Poirier claimed to be assaulted by the alleged werewolf. Even more shockingly, there was actually a young boy who claimed that he was indeed the said werewolf, who killed and ate children.
He was also revealed to be the attacker of Marguerite. Jean Grenier – the proclaimed boy-werewolf was detained and put on a trial. There, he was happy to share his story of munching on dogs and children alike while he was in his wolf form. Of course, Jean was called to testify in front of a judge after his gruesome confessions that were very detailed. The young boy recalled a time when he sneaked into someone’s house, took a baby from the crib and ate it, sharing it with another wolf.
The story of how he became a werewolf was fascinating. Jean described a man called Pierre du Tilhaire (who existed). He was the one that took Jean into the forest where they met with a mysterious person known as the Lord of the Forest – A black figure, on a black horse. It was he, who gave Jean his wolf skin and a magic potion to help him transform. After that meeting, Jean wandered into the forest for years, killing and eating the flesh of young children as a werewolf.
Interestingly enough there was an abundance of witnesses, pointing to the werewolf as guilty. A particular case took a brutal turn when Estienne Chesneau – a witness was called to testify. He claimed his daughter was eaten by the werewolf near a bridge. Jean admitted to eating the man’s daughter and even pointed out that he swallowed her dress as well, without showing any remorse.
The judge asked for the opinions of two doctors. Shockingly the opinions on the boy’s condition were divided. One claimed that the boy suffered from lycanthropy – a mental condition. The other thought that the boy quite possibly did all those things and was indeed responsible, influenced by an evil spirit. Not knowing the truth, the court finally settled into sending Jean to a monastery in Bordeaux where he lived his life believing he was a werewolf and living like one.
Do you think that Jean was made into a werewolf by the Lord of the Forest?
More interesting dives into Bordeaux’s history: Eleanor Aquitaine.
The brutal history of the witch hunts
In 1609 a massive witch hunt took place in the region of Pays de Labourd, based on rumours of witchcraft in the region. King Henry IV, elected two representatives from the Bordeaux Parliament to investigate the alleged accusations. Pierre de Lancre and Jean d’Espagnet were asked to find the guilty parties. Though it was De Lancre who took the task, particularly to heart. He was probably responsible for burning more than 80 people at the stake.
De Lancer was never satisfied with the success of his hunts. He seemed to be motivated mainly by his beliefs and the fact that he was a huge sexist and probably hate women. It is suggested that De Lancer brought many of the Labourd’s witches to the women’s prison in Bordeaux (Now The Frog and Rosbif pub) where he tortured them into admitting their crimes.
Do you think there are some witch spirits roaming around the area? Spying on you whiles you drink your beer?
De Lancre also believed that witches were hiding in Bordeaux as well. During that time the area of Palais Gallien was not a place for the pure of heart as it was. This side of town had a bad reputation which maybe helped the legend that witches were holding pagan rituals around the ruins. Believed to be a place of devil-worshipers and magical rituals – it was deemed a witches’ territory in the Middle Ages. De Lancre strongly believed that Palais Gallien was a gathering ground for the unholy – something he writes about. As evidence, he points out the admissions of a famous sorcerer who was tortured of course for the information.
Do you think that if you go late at night to the ancient ruins you can hear the witches sing?
The spooky fairy tale of the Dragon from the tower
Rue de la Vieille-Tour might seem like just another beautiful Bordeaux street. But it wasn’t always the case. During the English occupation of the region – there was a tower. It was used by the English to store a cannon. Its purpose – announcing a curfew and sound an alarm in case of an emergency. But that was not the only thing the tower was housing.
A legend about a dragon who was ready to eat little children and destroy the city with illnesses was quickly spreading throughout the city. The only way the dragon was to be stopped was through offerings – food and young, virgin girls. For months, young girls were taken until one of them – Nicolette managed to seduce the dragon with none other than Bordeaux wine and delicious treats.
Enchanted by the girl and the wine, the dragon revealed its weak spot – the staff of Saint Martial. People were sent to retrieve that staff from Limoges. Upon touching the tower with the magical object the dragon jumped from the tower into the Garrone where he perished in flames.
Do you think this is just a bedtime story to scare children or there was something more behind it?
Do you believe in any of those Bordeaux myths and legends?