Without Quid I would never have found many of these places here in my region. Every village – and France is essentially a network of villages – has a dossier listing its vital statistics and attributes. La Mairie collects the data and sends it to Paris, whence it is diffused back to the Nation. Decade upon decade – possibly since Napoleon began pulling France into a coherent unity – facts accrete. Nothing is altered or thrown away: it is all on file. Real life, however, tends to subvert the system: place-names change through metathesis [a sound change that alters the order of phonemes in a word] or the persistence or resurgence of regional dialect. Cartographers register some changes – and ignore others. Things do get lost. Farmers alter the landscape, burying or unearthing the past. Road-builders bulldoze the past into a ditch. Which is where I found this massive standing stone yesterday.
For more info and photos – go to La Pierre Plantée Olonzac Page.
Drive to Lagrasse and spend a morning there: ‘L’un des plus beaux villages de France’ with an abbey rebuilt by Nimphridius under Charlemagne in 779. It was the temporal and spiritual centre of all Languedoc for many centuries, holding sway from Albi to Zaragoza. Then drive out on the D3, turning left to Tournissan. The lower menhir is on the left before the village. Turn right in the village for Talairan and at the first juntion go right on a metalled lane for 2km. The upper menhir stands atop a small hill – and possibly a tumulus – on the right about 100 metres after the tarmac ends. On the IGN map its location is 2. 38′ 37″ E , 43. 4′ 12″ N. or DD 2.643611 E 43.070000 N
Down here in the Aude we are not over-burdened with standing-stones. Passage-graves R Us – but Pierres Droites? Or Plantées? We have a few – and some of them among the biggest – but this is not Tall Stone Country.
All the more surprising then to find two menhirs in the one small valley. The better known one stands in the valley bottom – unusual enough – and by the roadside, rather than a more isolated spot. The valley is small and this route must have been the only way out, as it leads east between two hills towards the river Orbieu and Lagrasse.
This lesser known menhir stands on a small hill, and is directly due south of the first. There is a path kept clear all the way up the hill to it. Neither menhirs are marked on any map. However they are both in full sight of the Le Roc Troué – the Holed Rock which is marked and is situated at 43.089444 N 2.664166 E . It is a large and dramatic cavern high up in the face of a prominent rock outcrop.
In the foreground is one of the wells [with modern surround] and diectly behind is Le Roc.
The valley has other remarkable features: in line with the two menhirs, due north, is another rock outcrop – this time distinguished by its strong red colouring. There is a captured spring at this place called Terre Rouge. Other wells can be seen high up above the valley floor in the middle of fields – attesting to an unusual water-table. Such abundance of water and such rich oxide soil make this valley very fertile.
Terre Rouge in middle distance – with Alaric mountain behind.
Less than a mile from the two menhirs is a place called Les Morts : The Dead. At the summit of a small hillock, among trees and scrub is a tomb. Monks of the Middle Ages lived in a Priory close by and in Lagrasse, and the entire valley would have been worked by them. It is unusual to find a solitary tomb, set apart like this.
The stone stands 2.5 metres tall with its flat faces roughly east & west. It ‘points’ north at 30 degrees, straight at the lower menhir.
I came to hear about this beautiful stone from a friend. She had been told about it by a sourcier. Not a wizard – this is the local man who locates water for farmers and vignerons. He also believes in ley-lines and fertility stones . . . And for those women who cannot conceive when they wish, he suggests visits to this menhir. My friend wanted a baby, and visited the stone often. It is in a beautiful place, in a beautiful valley. The existence of a well-trodden path is significant.
Elsewhere in Europe stones were toppled or broken by the Catholic church in their zeal to eradicate traces of former beliefs. But you can’t erase a vast gaping hole in a cliff, and you can’t stop women wanting children. And so perhaps they let stand a ‘pagan’ stone or two, thinking “well, if the women believe in it, and if it helps bring more babies . . . ”
The name of the water-diviner, le sourcier ? Labitte. It is the word for the male appendage.
We have walked around Nitable Roc many times with friends who live just below it. This time, armed with information from a local teacher and a big Maglite, I wanted to explore the tunnel beneath Roc de Fenne Prenz – the rock of the pregnant woman. It’s just visible as a thin column on the right flank of Nitable, lower down, below the last steep cliff.
The name is corrupt occitan: femna – woman feme – female
prenh – pregnant prensòia – with child
From certain angles the rock has that form. It lies close to the GR 36 at the most dramatic point where the path skirts the cliff-edge. A tunnel passes right through the cliff, under la Fenne-Prenz. The fertility cult that grew around the rock requires a woman to crawl on hands and knees the 20 metres from west to east, as a ritual of reenactment of the birth-journey, towards the rising sun.
For more photos of the tunnel, and the Gorge – go to the Fenne Prenz page.