The legend of the fairy Mélusine
The renown of the Lusignans (powerful lords of the Poitou region) was such that, two centuries later, it inspired Jean d’Arras, a 15th French poet and composer to write the legend of Melusine. He based this character of Mélusine on Eustache Chabot, the mother of the Lusignan, known as Geoffrey the Big Tooth. It was Mélusine who, with three apronfuls of stones and a draught of water, covered Poitou with towers and fortified walls.
One evening in the forest of Coulombiers, at the end of a long day’s hunting, Aimeri, the Count of Poitiers and his nephew Raimondin set off in pursuit of a wild boar. They far out-distanced their attendants and arrived at the outskirts of the Forest de Cé, near Lusignan. There, during the excitement of the kill, Raimondin accidentally dealt his uncle a fatal blow.
Overcome by deep sorrow, aghast and contrite at what he had done, the young man was on his way back to confess, when, at a bend in the road, he caught sight of three maidens dancing in a glade by the light of the moon. One of them smiled and spoke to him. Her name was Mélusine. She was a fairy, daughter of Elinas, King of Albania and the fairy Pressine.
A terrible curse lay on her. Pressine had punished her for her bad behaviour towards her father. She condemned Mélusine to a sad immortality unless she married a loving knight who was not inquisitive and who agreed never to see her on Saturdays. Because, on that day, she had to bathe, and her beautiful long legs turned into a horrid scaly tail. If her husband saw her like this, she would never again take on human form.
Raimondin was attracted by the young girl’s intelligence and beauty and asked her to marry him. He swore he would never try to see her on a Saturday. Mélusine was delighted to find a husband and accepted. She suggested that he should provide the lands and the castle. But Raimondin, who was not wealthy, wondered what lands and what castle?
Once back at court, Raimondin was very happy, but very sad also. He tried to solve his problem by blaming the boar for the death of the Count. Then, during the ceremony of homage to the new Count of Poitou, on Mélusine’s advice, he asked for as much land as would fit into a deerskin. ‘How stupid’ said the assembled lords.
However, to everybody’s consternation, the deerskin was cut into narrow strips and laid end to end and marked out an enormous area. ‘Never mind’ said the lords, ‘he still hasn’t got a castle’. Their complacency was short-lived for in one night, right in the middle of the territory, and with three apronfuls of stones and a mouthful of water Mélusine built a splendid castle.
Moreover, so that her husband might be the most powerful lord in the region, she amused herself on certain nights by studding the surrounding hills with mighty fortresses. However, so much good fortune gave rise to unkind comments and jealousies. Where did Mélusine’s fairly-like beauty come from? Why was it that each of the ten children of Raimondin and Mélusine, all boys had some strange physical characteristics?
One had only one eye and that was in the middle of his forehead. another had a lion’s claw on his cheek; another one had an enormous ear; and yet another, Geoffroy, Mélusine’s favourite and it was said, the most wicked, had a huge tooth protruding from his mouth. And why did Mélusine shut herself away every Saturday?
Raimondin followed the advice of a jealous brother, to try to solve this secret of his wife. He surprised Mélusine in her bath, where he saw her combing her long fair hair and swishing her horrible fish tail. Hardly had he taken this fatal step than Melusine screamed and with a great noise like the flapping of wings she flew out of the window, hurling curses on the castles she had built. ‘I swear that Pouzauges, Tiffauges, Mervent, Chateaumur and Vouvant shall perish by losing one stone a year.’
But she came back to suckle her last child, and some say that on certain nights she still comes to haunt the ruins of her castles.
The legend of the cherry tree in the “Cour du Miracle” « Courtyard of the Miracle »
It is cold. Grandmother Catherine Imbert hesitates, puts on her coat and sneaks out into the street to knock at the door of Father Montfort,an apostolic missionary, who had arrived in the old village of Vouvant several days earlier, at the request of the local priest Jean Garet. Something bothers Catherine about the strange father Montfort, who had not been welcomed by the village, but she is worried about her sick grandson. She explains the problem to Father Montfort, and the man of God follows her.
At nightfall, they aproach the bed where the child rests, his eyes brilliant with fever. Father Montfort recognizes him as one of the children who greeted him by throwing stones when he first arrived in the village. His austere face lights up and he smiles…
-What do you desire my child?
-I do not know. -Is there nothing at all that you desire? The small patient hesitates, then replies:
-Oh yes! I’d like some cherries.
Without hesitation, Father Monfort asks:
-Madame Imbert, do you have a cherry tree? -Yes, in the courtyard, nearby.
-Well, go and pick some cherries for me. -Cherries in December? Concerned, she picked up her basket while thinking: “He is truly deranged”.
She left and returned immediately:
-My father, the cherries are finished, but there are leaves.
– I tell you, go, Catherine, She departed, and returned holding a basket full of beautiful red fruit. The child ate, and almost immediately his fever broke, and he fell into a deep, restful sleep. Grandmother Imbert slept badly. Tomorrow, she thought, what a fortune I will make at the market in Fontenay le Comte. She ran outside at first light but… The cherry tree was covered with snow.
And that is how the “Cour du Miracle” got its name.