Doesn’t this Normandy château look charming? Not overly grand, just inviting? You are looking at a very misleading picture, for this is the most haunted château in France.
There had always been a few stories; a white lady drifting around the grounds and long ago a werewolf terrorised people crossing the local common, but what took place at Château des Noyers du Tourneur between October 1875 and January 1876 was in a different league of terrifying.
Old stones with old memories
It all started just a few decades after the château was built in 1835 from the stones of an earlier medieval castle. We know about it because M. MJ Morice described events in detail for the 1892 and 1883 Annales des Sciences Psychiques. At the time the family requested anonymity.
In October 1867 the de Manville family inherited the château. Here the sensible and well-to-do M. and Mme de Manville lived their son Maurice and his tutor Abbe Y., Emile the coachman, Auguste the gardener, Celina the cook and Amélina the maid.
It was not always a comfortable existence as for the first three years odd noises, doors slamming for no reason and inexplicably moved objects disconcerted them. Then in 1870 it all stopped. Until October 1875.
A supernatural problem
The unexpected noises were back and for no discernible reason, began to escalate. Severely unnerved, M. de Manville began to make a daily record the disturbances experienced by his family, their friends, servants and the clergy he soon bought in to help them with what was clearly a supernatural problem.
What started as the odd bang in a far off room, a misheard shout in the distance, moved closer, became louder and more frequent. Then whatever it was became vindictive.
Fear and trembling in Tourneur
During the evening of 13 October the tutor asked to speak with M. and Mme. de Manville. Pale and shaking he explained he had seen a chair in his room move of its own accord. Unimpressed, M. de Manville had a look at the tutor’s room, stuck the chair in position with some gum paper and told him to let them know if anything further occurred.
Later that night M. de Manville was woken by a bell the tutor kept by his bed. Hurrying to the man’s room he discovered the young tutor terrified in his bed, the covers pulled up around him. The chair was in a completely different part of the room and candlesticks and ornaments had been knocked over. The young tutor whispered that he had been woken by sharp rapping on the walls.
As he spoke loud thumps echoed around the château from every corner. Quickly arming his servants M. de Manville searched every room. They found nothing and slowly the sounds seemed to move further away.
From that night it was as though something unspeakable had been woken that would not sleep. Night after night the household was terrorized and exhausted by the sound of a fist banging on doors and knocking on the windows. A huge object could be heard, but not seen, rolling down the stairs.
They implored the parish priest visit and stay for a night. His sleep was broken in the early hours by heavy footsteps of ‘what must have been a giant of a man’ stomping down the main staircase. The priest told the family he believed strongly that something supernatural was the cause and left quickly. After breakfast.
For Halloween the wails, shouts and thumping noises were truly terrifying, keeping the household awake and petrified until 3 in the morning. Its activities seemed to start with loud knocking in what was known as the green room.
Anguished cries of a woman
It was during a terrible November storm that the screaming started. For a fraction of a second the noise could have been high winds through the trees that surrounded the château but then they became louder and louder until outside the voice of a distressed woman was heard desperately calling for help.
Next day the voice was inside the château .
Plaintive calls for help, horrible shrieks and sorrowful whimpering chilled listeners. But no woman could be found. The following night they were woken by wretched sobbing in the locked green room. They did not investigate as the cries of a woman suffering terribly became louder and more shrill.
The tutor was frequently the subject of quiet horrors. In his (locked) room objects would be rearranged; shoes laid out in odd patterns, candlesticks balanced on top of each other, a chair found on top of the table. Windows nailed shut blew open. One day he came back to find every book thrown from his shelves to the floor, all except the Holy Scriptures.
A typical night in January;
‘11pm January 17, woken by what sounded like a body falling in the first floor corridor. Followed by a heavy ball that rolls along the corridor to strike loudly on the door of the green room. Twenty sharp rapping sounds, then eighteen coming from inside the green room. At 11.35 five blows on the door of the green room. Fifteen loud thumping noises going up the stairs to the second floor. Two gun shots. Footless legs walk ten paces up stairs to the second floor as the building seems to shake. At 15 minutes past midnight eight strong blows on the first floor landing, three on the second.’
Many nights something seemed to tour the castle knocking a few times on every door (always more on the door of the tutor) as if asking for admittance before thumping sounds were heard in the green room.
Just one person was hurt by the poltergeist. Mme. de Manville was unlocking a door when the key was ripped from and used to strike the back of her hand leaving a huge bruise.
Pulse like tapping
The priest reported to the Bishop who sent a Canon whose enhanced spiritual presence seemed to calm the poltergeist activity for a while. Then after a few days of peace it all started up again, worse than before.
Something unseen forced its way into the rooms of Auguste and Emile and threw around their belongings and overturned their beds. All the books and papers in M. de Manville’s study were thrown in a heap on the floor. Sinister night time screams were joined by the growl of animals and bellow of a bull. Pulse like tapping was regularly heard moving along corridors towards the room of Maurice, the son of the house. It only stopped when something hit his door so hard every window in the château shook.
The priest agreed to conduct the rites of exorcism. He also arranged for a Novena of Masses to be said at Lourdes at the same time.
Late afternoon on January 26 1876 the parish priest arrived at Château des Noyers du Tourneur. His arrival was herald by a terrible unearthly scream and the sound of stampeding animals. A noise like heavy furniture being roughly moved was followed by the door to Maurice’s room shaking as something vile demanded to get in.
As the exorcism reached its peak at 11.15pm they heard the agonised roar of an animal slowly killed. Furious thumps and knocking sounds were heard from the green room as a man’s voice seemed to be shouting up on the first floor landing… and then nothing.
Could it be over?
Exhausted, the priest slumped in a chair as the family and their servants cautiously explored the house. Apart from an unknown earthenware plate found broken on the floor by Mme de Manville’s room they found nothing strange.
Horrible holy relics
For a few days all was quiet until one evening, as Mme de Manville sat writing at her desk from nowhere handfuls of holy medals and crosses fell onto her papers.
This was followed by some months of quiet. Then, some time in August, to everyone’s distress quiet but distinct tapping sounds began to sound in odd corners of the château. In September the drawing room furniture was rearranged into a horseshoe shape. Soon afterwards when M. De Manville was away on business Mme de Manville saw with growing dread the bolt on her bedroom door move back of its own accord.
A differently kind of terrible
But this time the haunting was different. An organ played itself and furniture in the room of Maurice’s new tutor appeared to move for a family who had experience the terrors of the previous winter, it was unpleasant rather than frightening. After a few weeks the phenomena just seemed to drift away until at last the house was, mostly, peaceful.
But by then the family de Manville had moved out.
A fire and warning
Deep in the Orne, down an inconsequential track, the remains of the château rest in a small meadow surrounded by dense woodland. An unexplained fire in 1984 devastated the building leaving just a room decorated green untouched. It is still private property but happily for us the grounds are open to visitors on heritage days and for occasional town parties.
Best to go with a crowd, it really is a very unsettling place.
Fab at French? Read the original 2 part report by M.J. Morice in Annales des Sciences Psychiques 1892 from page 214 and 1893 from page 68 (online .pdf). We think we got it right but please do let us know of any errors.