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Myths & Legends
KING ARTHUR’S FRENCH ODYSSEY - pArt 3
AVALLON – THE HEALING SANCTUARY
Rediscovering Les Fontaines Salées
In 1891 a medievalist, Paul Meyer, encouraged his promising student, Léon Mirot to do some field work and verify topography in Girart de Roussillon – particularly in relation to the area around Vézelay. With his Chanson de Geste under his arm, Léon set out to find the site of the Battle of Valbeton.
He identified a small valley near Foissy-le-Vézelay called Vaux Bertin or Vau Bouton, which fitted the description and location in the text. Some forty years later Léon returned with a young man called René Louis, who wanted to find out why the troubadours had chosen a real location for what was considered to be a legendary battle. Between 1930 and 1933 they conducted some more research together – finding further topographical evidence, and also local oral knowledge of an ancient battle that had, in fact, taken place close to the River Cure between St-Père-sous-Vézelay and Pierre-Perthuis. In 1934 René set off to walk the overgrown fields by the river. In particular he wanted to have a look at the place where the troubadours sang of a ruined chateau once belonging to an Elfin, of which a large piece of rock and the foundations of the castle towers were still visible. What he discovered hidden in the bushes, of course, were the circular foundations of the Celtic temple, and the ruins of the Gallo-Roman baths. Since 1935 the site has been the subject of archaeological research by the state, and has been classified as an Historic Monument.
There can scarcely be a more exciting example of legend-made-fact. We understand that responsibility for the site has just been devolved from the state to a new joint Avallon and St. Père-sous-Vézelay association. Consequently, let’s hope that it is not too enthusiastically ‘developed’. One of its charms is that the wells and foundations are simply there – in tranquil fields beside the River Cure. You can taste the salty water – watch the lazy bubbles of helium drift to the surface. There is nothing to inhibit your enjoyment, or imagination. Nothing and no one to tell you how to look at them or to interpret them for you. Entering the tiny museum in St. Père-sous-Vézelay which houses the archaeological finds from the site, is like walking into someone’s scruffy front room. There’s certainly a way to go with that as a major tourist attraction – although I’m personally very fond of it as it is.
Above all, there is still a sense of that super-charged landscape that has been there since the dawn of time.
© Marilyn Floyde 2007
2016: King Arthur's French Odyssey - Avallon in Burgundy by Marilyn Floyde, has now been republished with fresh findings. Your can order it from www.islandofavallon.co.uk. Now also translated into French.