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The devil and Château de Jumilly

Match! All that remains of Château de Jumilly

Two devilish legends cling to the last few remaining stones of Château de Jumilly, deep in the Orne region of Normandy. Which is why it is generally known as Château Diable!

The fall of a fine house

This land is an empty place now; just a few shaped rocks scattered about a tall corner column, overlook a pond that may once have been a moat.

Back in 1829 the Château was already a ruin when the Society of Antiquaries of Normandy reported they could only find “a double enclosure still marked out, rather of ornament than of defence, the ruins of a stable, a shed, a chapel , a pond, wide moats, avenues…”

Esteemed member of the association M. Galeron recalled the Château once stood “flanked by four towers of about 40 feet in elevation, in the centre of which the rich facade presented itself, adorned with elegant bas-reliefs of the most beautiful style of the Renaissance. The interiors were very neat, the chimneys carved and medallions in relief adorned the most prominent parts of the edifice”.

Château de Jumilly around 1829

Sadly he went on “today the disorder is everywhere in this enclosure: the pediments, the towers, the internal partitions, the rich carvings have collapsed and roll together. The brambles, the parasitic shrubs, grow on the broken and disunited thresholds, even in the crevices of the great interior walls.  Mourning and desolation have invaded the whole enclosure and nothing can be heard but the whistling of the winds and the cry of the owls”.

Galeron’s next comment recalled the legends; “The villagers, frightened, avoid this place at night in terror… this Chateau du Diable!” However, fear did not stop the old Château becoming something of a stone quarry for the surrounding farms.

Here are the legends, and a rather surprising truth.

Remnants of the old Châte

Château du Diable – legend no.1

Long ago Château de Jumilly was the grand and beautiful home of a wealthy Lord.  This Lord liked to open his home to the local and not so local nobility, hosting exciting tournaments and games to entertain his guests, followed by generous banquets were conversation flowed and flirtations fluttered.

All the young knights of the country liked to meet at Château de Jumilly to compete and show off their sporting skills. Many tears would have flowed on the cheeks of the young girls if the chatelaines, their mothers, had forbidden them to attend.

One summer evening after a long day of games, a joyous feast was held in the courtyard.  Under a still warm sun the mood was light and cheerful.  But then, for some unremembered reason it turned dark and hostile.  The Lord, appalled at an un-chivalrous remark, shouted back his views.  So incensed was he that to underline his comment he swore may “The devil take me away!”

In an instant a terrible hush fell across the land.  The nobles looked at each other in terror, somehow unable to move from their gilded chairs.  The summer sky darkened as a strange and awful noise grew until it could be heard throughout the whole country.

The sound came from a place close to the Château.  It grew to become deafening as… the earth split open and a black mass surged up, enveloped by fire and smoke.  Suddenly the fires were extinguished and four white horses appeared, pulling a sparkling carriage. They rushed towards the Château coming to a sudden stop just inside the entrance.

The spectral carriage door opened and a devilishly handsome gentleman dressed in gold stepped out.  The devil had heard the Lord’s wish in anger and was about to answer it.  He asked for the Lord who, shocked into obedience, walked unsteadily up to the unwanted visitor and as bid entered the carriage.

A devilishly handsome unwanted guest

It should be no surprise that in the next moment the four horses reared up, turned the carriage away from the Château and rushed back to the patch of ground split open by their arrival.  In terrible silence they descended into the earth, taking the Lord and his devilish companion with them.

What became of the guests, did they make their way home or did the Château become their tomb? Local lore says the devil’s noble victims are trapped for eternity in the Château , to be tormented for all eternity. Every night great shadows with wings like bats flicker and swoop around the ruins and across the pond, as otherworldly beings protect the property for their devilish master.

Among the screeches of the devil’s henchman are the cries of their victims and the old Lord can be heard to wail his oath.  Sometimes he is heard to whimper for a little pity from the cruel master who carried him away.

As peasant once said:

“The noises you hear are not the cries of the night birds, but the voices of the dead. It is not the wind that whistles in these ruins, it is a soul that weeps. Do not believe that this dry sound is made by trees that the storm agitates; it is the strident laughter of the devil, for he is there. Woe to the man who takes refuge for a moment in this cursed place. “

Not much of a refuge any more

Proof!

Not convinced? The legend finishes thus “One day sometime after these terrible events a white sheep grazing in the neighborhood ventured into the old Château .  It was all black on its return, its wool burned with a fiery hand. The hand of the devil!”

As if that wasn’t enough drama for a tiny corner of Normandy, Château de Jumilly has another legend, and this one is linked to a surprising truth.

Windows built for defense

Château de Jumilly – legend no.2

After centuries of sensible and staid Lords who built schools, paid their bills and married well, the grand and ancient family of Jumilly produced a feckless fool.

A feckless fool (17th century fashion plate)

Short of funds after spending all his and his wife’s money on anything he pleased, this selfish lord decided his best option was to offer the devil a terrible pact; in return for a coffer full of gold louis he would give the devil the soul of his soon-to-be-born child.

This unpleasant deal was music to the devil’s ears and in very short order he arrived at the Château with a devilish chest of coins.

The Lord had told his wife nothing of the arrangement, but suspicious of her husband’s odd behaviour and his sinister visitor, she listened at the door to their discussion. She was very glad she did.

Just before the Lord signed the devil’s contract his chatelaine burst into the room demanding an explanation.  A quick review of the contract and she insisted on negotiating some changes. The devil, enjoying the hostile atmosphere between husband and wife, was happy to listen.

A mistrustful wife

The chatelaine declared the devil was welcome to take the soul of her noble husband in return for gold, but that she would choose the time of his descent into hell.  Rather pleased with her suggestion, the devil agreed and the contract was signed.

The devil then asked the lady how much time she wanted with her husband before he could expect delivery of his aristocratic soul.   “Just the time it takes for this candle to burn” she said, and lit it.  Delighted, the devil laughed so hard he unhooked his jaw.  The candle rapidly burned, flickering in the face of the horrified Lord who was convinced his usually quite nice wife had gone mad.

How she burns!” Said the chatelaine. “Indeed!” Replied the gloating devil.  Then the brave lady threw the burning candle out of the open window and into the waters of the pond that lapped the walls of their Château .

The devil dived immediately after it only to discover the candle was blessed and he could not touch it.  Furious and confounded he fled with a violent clap of thunder, hurling his half empty chest of gold against a rock where it shattered.

The Lord of Jumilly was so astonished he dropped dead on the spot from fright.  The legend does not end here. The devil returned and stole the body as compensation for losing a soul.  No trace of him was ever found.

Perhaps not a legend at all

Remains of the old ‘stone quarry’

An unusual truth

The legend is not so very old, remembered just as far back as the early 18th century.  Around the same time the Château was owned by M. de la Riviere.  This gentleman, through his own extravagance and folly, fell perilously into debt. Unable to repay his increasingly aggressive creditors, in 1729 he pretended to be dead.  Close friends helped in the charade, ensuring a tree trunk replaced his body in the coffin before it was carried to the churchyard.  They made it known the dying man had refused to see a priest, so when the arboreal subterfuge was discovered, the local people was agreed the devil must have carried him away.

The extraordinary tale of a man taken by the devil was handed down as fact to M. Jean Hamard of L’Auvraire in the nineteenth century by his grandfather M. Hamard, of L’Epine, who had heard it from his grandfather, one of the pall-bearers of M. de la Riviere’s coffin.

Other reports claim M. de la Riviere’s tomb could be seen in the nearby church of Saint Bômer.  But when the local church was rebuilt his was one of the old tombstones used for paving and flooring.  So whether he was in it can never be checked.

A final note

There is just one final note to the last story of Château de Jumilly.  Sometime in the middle of the 19th century Father Abbot Corbiere, formerly the parish priest of Saint-Bômer, received a letter from Martinique.  The letter was signed ‘de la Riviere’ and was asking what became of the domain of Jumilly.   It is not recorded how the priest replied.

And those are the legends of Château de Jumilly.

All around the ground is littered with pieces of the old Château

Sources:

Le Pays Bas-normand : société historique, archéologique, littéraire, artistique et scientifique magazine of 1910

Saint Bômer hier via the village website.

 

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