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French legends part two: Giants and ghosts – stories from the east

We continue our myths and legends’ series with a look east to a mysterious mountain peak, a ghostly lady, a family of giants and a demonic horse 

A demonic horse is said to have once haunted Jura in eastern France Pic: Warm_Tail / Shutterstock

This is the second part of a five-part series. In the next installations – one published every Friday – we will look at legends from the south, west and centre of France. 

You can read part one of the series here: French legends part 1: Beasts and beauty - stories from the north.

 

The cat’s tooth mountain peak 

Aix-les-Bains is a thermal spa town on Lake Bourget in Savoie

In the scenic spa town of Aix-les-Bains (Savoie), which lies on Lake Bourget, is a very curiously named mountain. 

The Dent du Chat (cat’s tooth) sits on the western bank of the lake, has an altitude of 1,390metres and a unique, sharp and pointed peak which gives it its name. 

But there is a legend behind it.

The story goes that a fisherman was one day out on the lake and was having no luck and could not catch anything. So he made a promise to God that the first fish he caught, he would offer to Him. 

But he did not keep his promise. 

He felt a huge tug on his line and pulled out a beautiful fish. After some hesitation, he decided to keep it and cast his line once more. Then, another bite and he pulled out an even bigger fish. He hesitated again. Should he throw this one back and keep his promise to God?

He decided to keep them both. He cast his line once more and again a bite and this time it seemed the creature was even heavier. But when he reeled it in he saw that it was not a fish but a black kitten. 

The fisherman was not one for overthinking and was happy with his catch, thinking that his wife could use a cat to chase rats. 

He cast his line once more but for the rest of the day did not catch anything else. He packed up and headed home with his two big fish and the little kitten – the fish would make him rich for a month, he thought.  

Kitten begins to grow and grow

It was not long after his return, though, that the small kitten began to grow bigger and bigger. It grew long fangs and sharp clothes and resembled a great, black leopard. It left the fisherman’s house and began to terrorise the village. 

The fisherman realised then that his broken promise had angered God. Since catching the two big fish and the cat, he never caught anything else in the lake. He and his family went hungry and one day a man passing by their house found that the whole family, the fisherman, his wife and three children, had been ravaged by the beast. 

The giant cat continued to terrorise the town and became a sort of guardian of the path leading up the mountain over the lake. The beast also developed a strange rhythm, killing one in every 20 people who took the path. 

Finally, a young brave soldier set out to kill the beast with a rifle blessed by holy water. He found the giant cat at the top of the mountain and before it could attack, he shot it. It fell over the edge of the cliff but grabbed on, just barely holding itself up. The man shot again and the great cat plummeted into the lake, where its body remains. 

Some say that the cat is still alive, living under the surface of the lake and that when it is angry its hair bristles, causing the lake to shudder. 

Others say that when the cat was hanging from the mountain, one of its teeth fell out and formed the sharp and pointed mountain peak. 

Mont Dent du Chat. Pic: Alina Vaska / Shutterstock

The white lady of the Château de Reichenstein

On the top of a hill above the town of Riquewihr (Haut-Rhin) lies the ruins of the Château de Reichenstein which is said to be haunted by a white lady. 

The woman is believed to have been the wife of the chateau’s former owner Klaus Giselin. Klaus apparently took an interest in another woman, who did not return his attention. In anger, he locked the woman away in the chateau’s tower. 

This did not stop Klaus’ wife Gerda from being jealous. One day, she snuck into the tower and stabbed the woman to death before fleeing and locking the door behind her. 

Five hundred years later, a forester was patrolling the area around the castle at night, looking out for poachers. 

Around midnight, he saw a glow from the tower that floated down towards him. It appeared to be a ghostly figure who carried a key. The woman seemed agitated. 

She approached the forester and said to him:

“Listen to me, I beg you. Come tomorrow evening, at the same time, to this path, and light two torches. 

“I have been suffering for exactly 500 years. It is you who can save me. I will lead you to a room where you will see a big black dog on a big oak chest. He holds me captive.

“You will squeeze my right hand so tightly that blood will gush from my fingers. Do not let the dog's howling frighten you. Then I will be free and you will be rich.

“This chest contains a fabulous treasure, half of which you will give to the poor; the rest will belong to you.”

The forester was true to his word and returned to the same spot the next day with two torches. When he lit them, a paved path leading to the chateau suddenly appeared before him. What is more, the chateau was no longer a ruin, but seemed to be fully restored. 

The white lady appeared and met the forester and together they went to the tower. Once in the room, the forester saw the fateful chest with a huge black dog lying on it. He started to squeeze the white lady’s hand as tightly as he could, attempting to draw blood. 

As he squeezed, the dog began to howl, so loudly and horribly, with its mouth wide and threatening. The forester could bear it no longer and dropped the woman’s hand and fled. 

As he left, he heard her say: “I shall have to wait nine times 99 years until I finally come across the oak whose planks will be used to make the cradle of the man who can save me.”

Giants of Nideck

The Château de Nideck (Bas-Rhin) that lies just west of Strasbourg in Alsace, is made up of two ruins that sit atop a steep, craggy cliff with a waterfall. 

Bizarrely, etched into the cliff face are curious grooves that look like huge, distorted faces. 

This has given rise to the rumour that the chateau was once inhabited by giants – specifically two adult giants and their child.

There is a tale that one day the child giant went wandering and came across some humans, who she took for toys and began to play with. 

When she returned to the castle she described the “toys” to her parents, who told her that they were in fact humans and that they should not be played with because it is they who cultivate the land so that the giants can feed. 

Cliffs around Nideck waterfall Pic: Alexander Sorokopud / Shutterstock

The Gauvin horse

In the middle of the 19th century, rumours of a demonic horse haunting villages in the department of Jura surfaced. 

The horse is said to have roamed around places such as Chamblay, Monbarrey and Dole, in search of victims. 

Legend has it that the horse would pretend to be just a docile, normal horse but as soon as someone mounted it, the horse would bolt off and either throw its victims in rivers to drown or throw them off cliffs or mountains. 

Other stories say the horse would charge through the villages kidnapping young women. 

Descriptions of the horse vary. Some stories suggest it had just three legs. Others say it looked more like a goat from the underworld with flames spurting from its mouth. 

The above map and article is also part of our ongoing series showcasing different elements of French society and culture. 

We have also written about French inventors, cheeses, funny commune names, local sweets and desserts, local aperitifs and many other topics. 

If you have any suggestions for maps you would like us to make or think we should add anything to our previous articles, let us know at news@connexionfrance.com.

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