Jersey History: Menhirs and Dolmens

Archaeological maps of Jersey show an impressive number of the mysterious remains of prehistory: menhirs (upright stones) and dolmens (burial chambers) clearly demonstrate that although the Islanders of Jersey were, at first, baptised Catholics and, later on, strict followers of Calvin, they have always remained faithful to their beliefs in the supernatural. The ritual centres and pagan relics continued to have a role to play in the supernatural belief of the Islanders until comparatively recently.

About Menhirs and Dolmens

What are these ritual, sacred places? Massive, mostly unhewn, blocks of stone marked sites which could once have been pagan temples; some of them could also have been used as burial-places for the most venerated members of the tribe.  The presence of the menhirs has often been explained by fairy magic. Who else would be able to carry these massive stones?!

And so on the north coast of the island there are at least three sites with prehistoric links: at Les Platons there is a large mound under which were discovered two urns holding the charred bones of a child and a woman; below Belle Hougue there is a cave in which animal remains from prehistoric times were found and at Vicar Point the links with fairies and magic properties could not be more obvious: there is a menhir lying on its side – La Pierre de la Fételle (ou La Roche à la Fée) – meaning the fairy stone. The field in which it lies is called Le Clos de la Pouquelaye – the fairy stone enclosure. And then there is a spring on the promontory of Belle Hougue called La Fontaine ès Mittes which has a charming part-pagan, part-Christian legend attached to its supposedly magic properties…


The Legend of Arna and Aiuna

Once upon a time two mittes, watery spirits whose special task was to guard springs and fountains, came to Jersey and lived happily in a rustic grotto above heather-covered cliffs and the beautiful frothing sea. One day an angel came down from heaven to tell Arna and Aiuna that their days on earth were over and that they had been summoned by God to spend the rest of time near his throne beyond the stars. The naiads rose obediently from their grassy seat to fulfil God’s will, but as they began their ascent to heaven, they remembered many beautiful hours they spent at Belle Hougue and each of them shed a tear. These two tears dropped into the spring that flows to the sea from Belle Hougue and from their purity came twin blessing that would forever be associated with the spring: water from La Fontaine è Mittes , according to legend, has the magic properties of bringing back sight to the blind and the power of speech to the dumb.

There are two other prehistoric sites with similar fairy associations in Jersey: The Dolmen de Faldouet (or La Pouquelaye de Faldouet) – which will be described in more detail in a later section of this series – and the menhir which stands in a farm on the northern outskirts of St.Helier. It is the origin of the name of the road la Pouquelaye and also the nearby Pouquelaye Gardens.

La Hougue Bie

La Hougue Bie, located in the Parish of Grouville, is a Neolitic ritual site which was in use around 3500BC, it is one of the largest and best preserved passage graves in Western Europe. The word Hougue comes from the Old Norse word Haugr, meaning the mound; Bie is of uncertain origin. The site consists of 18.6 metre long passage covered by 12.2 metre high earth mound and is probably one of the most impressive relics of early man in Jersey with both pagan and Christian associations linked to it. Atop the mound are two medieval chapels and the reason why the first chapel was built is told in a romantic legend that probably explains the name of the Hougue as well.

La Hougue Bie
The legend has it that long time ago, in the Dark Ages a horrible dragon was causing devastation in Jersey. As soon as the news about this creature ravaging the island reached Normandy, Seigneur of Hambye, a Norman knight, set sail from Normandy with his faithful squire, Francis, to see if he could deliver Jerey from its terrible scourge. After a long fight the knight finally cut off the dragon’s head and decided to lie down for a rest. That’s when his seemingly loyal squire plunged his dagger into his sleeping lord breast, hid his master’s body and went back to Normandy with the dragon’s head. There he told Lady Hambye that the dragon had killed her beloved husband and that he, Francis, had himself slain the beast in revenge for his dear lord. Then he added that just before he died, Seigneur Hambye gave him his own wife’s hand in marriage as reward.

Heartbroken Lady Hambye consented to become the bride of Francis in deference to her husband’s dying wish. One night the cunning squire gave away his true character as a murderer by talking in his sleep. Immediately the betrayed wife had him hanged and once the body of her beloved husband was found in Jersey, she caused it to be covered by a mound so high that she could see it from where she lived in Normandy. On top of the mound she had a chapel built, dedicated to Notre Dame de la Clarté, where masses were to be said for her murdered husband’s soul. It is said thet she died still gazing out across the sea at her husband’s memorial mound… From this beautiful story could have come the name by which we know the mound today: La Hougue Bie – from La Hougue Hambye.

In 1509 a second chapel was built beside the first, which later writers claimed was full of fraudulent tricks to get money from the superstitious poor. One of the trick to bring in the offerings was to proclaim a miracle: a very thin wire fastened to the roof of the Chapel was hid in the wick of candles; the smoke from the flame made the wire invisible, the candles seemed to float in mid-air and the people believed that the candles were held by the virtues of the Mother of God…


However, not all the rites and rituals were related to fairy magic or a belief in miracles. Many menhirs and impressive rocks attracted devil worship and witchcraft, but more about witchcraft in a later article…

If you wish to come and discover all the prehistoric sites in Jersey, please visit our website or call us on 0 1534 496600. We can arrange the travel and accommodation for you as well as transfers and other extras and advise you where to get your Jersey Heritage Pass!

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