Archive for the History Category

The Arthur’s Seat Coffins, Edinburgh

Posted in Caves, Edinburgh, History, Legend, Museum, Sculpture, Witches with tags , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2015 by mysearchformagic

If there is one thing I love more than a spooky mystery, it is an unsolved spooky mystery. I recently discovered one such mystery on a brief visit to Edinburgh, where I wandered into the wonderful National Museum of Scotland. There I found the intriguing Arthur’s Seat coffins, a spooky mystery if ever there was one.

The Arthur's Seat Coffins, Edinburgh

The Arthur’s Seat Coffins, Edinburgh

Discovered in 1836 by some boys in a cave on the side of Arthur’s Seat, the impressive craggy hill that dominates the city, these tiny handmade coffins were arranged carefully in three tiers. Each one is intricately carved, and wears custom made clothes with little painted boots. To this day nobody knows who made them, or when, or even why, but there are a few interesting theories.

A detail of the Arthur's Seat Coffins, Edinburgh

A detail of the Arthur’s Seat Coffins, Edinburgh

Some people have suggested that the coffins were used by witches to cast spells on their victims, rather like a Scottish form of voodoo. Another theory is that they were kept by sailors as good luck talismans. There is even conjecture that these strange little dollies represent the seventeen victims of notorious Edinburgh grave robbers Burke and Hare, and that local inhabitants made them in order to allow the stolen and dissected bodies a decent burial.

Interesting ideas indeed, but of course the real purpose of these rather cute (but also rather creepy) coffins will probably always remain a perplexing, but definitely very magical, mystery.

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The Fountain of St Nicodème, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, Church, Fountain, History, Legend, Sculpture with tags , , , , , on February 1, 2015 by mysearchformagic

With its huge tower topped by an elaborate spire, the impressive church of St Nicodème seems rather out of place, sitting as it does in the middle of the Breton countryside surrounded by a tiny village of just a few houses.

The chapel of St Nicodème, Brittany

The chapel of St Nicodème, Brittany

Partly dating from the sixteenth century, legend has it that a vision of St Nicodème himself instructed the local people to follow some oxen and build a chapel where they came to rest. A more likely reason for the church’s surprisingly remote position can be found in the small dip next the tower, at the foot of a wide flight of stairs.

The stairs leading down to the fountain of St Nicodeme

The stairs leading down to the fountain of St Nicodeme

The elaborate gothic fountain which lies at the bottom of these stairs is in fact dedicated to three saints, Nicodème, Gamaliel et Abibon. The statues of the saints which once decorated the structure are now gone, but much of their carved decoration remains. Although the date of 1608 is etched onto the back, it is now assumed that this records a restoration of the structure, which could in fact be almost a century older.

The fountain of St Nicodème, Brittany

The fountain of St Nicodème, Brittany

The water from the fountains, now rather green and slimy, is said to have magical properties. Until the end of the nineteenth century men would use the water to shave off their beards on the day of the local ‘pardon’ at the beginning of August, in the belief that it was good for the skin. It was also traditional to offer butter to St. Nicodème, and small empty pots were distributed on the Sunday before the pardon so that everyone could fill them for the big day, which subsequently became known as ‘le dimanche des pots’. Although this was once a place of pilgrimage, nowadays its legends are largely forgotten, and St Nicodème is once again a quiet, lonely and rather magical corner of rural Brittany.

The Chapel of St Gildas, Morbihan

Posted in Brittany, Caves, Church, History, Legend, Superstition with tags , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2015 by mysearchformagic

The Blavet valley in Morbihan is famous for its picturesque views and peaceful countryside. Probably its most magical location can be found near the pretty village of St Nicholas des Eaux, at the sixteenth-century chapel of St Gildas.

The magical chapel of St Gildas, Morbihan

The magical chapel of St Gildas, Morbihan

This tiny chapel fits snuggly under a huge craggy cliff just next to the river itself. The best view of it can be found on the other side of the Blavet, from the river-side path that snakes its way from the village.

Legend has it that the chapel was built on the site of a cave inhabited by the hermit Gildas in the sixth century. The site became a place of worship, and Gildas would call the local people to prayer by hitting a ‘ringing rock’, which gave a loud, bell-like tone.

The pulpit rock outside the chapel of St Gildas, Morbihan

The pulpit rock outside the chapel of St Gildas, Morbihan

Outside the building can be found a rock pulpit from which St Gildas used to deliver his sermons. Just below, a tiny spring reputed to have curative properties emerges from a crack in the rock.

The holy spring emerging from a rock below the chapel of St Gildas, Morbihan

The holy spring emerging from a rock below the chapel of St Gildas, Morbihan

The chapel also has some wonderfully weird carvings on its exterior, including strange faces. With its buggy eyes and chubby cheeks, this sculpture reminded me of the ancient Celtic stone heads that are found throughout Europe. And is it just me, or is that a rather impressive handlebar moustache?

A carved face on the exterior of the chapel of St Gildas, Morbihan

A carved face on the exterior of the chapel of St Gildas, Morbihan

The chapel was locked on the rather drizzly day that I visited, so I didn’t get a chance to see the famous ‘ringing rock’ which is still preserved inside. Apparently much of the interior is formed from the original cave, which sounds distinctly magical. The wonderful setting of the chapel made it well worth the visit, but I slightly fell in love with this place, so I am determined to go back in the summer, when it will hopefully be open for further investigation…

A Magical Gateway, Vannes

Posted in Brittany, Door, Gardens, History with tags , , , , , on January 2, 2015 by mysearchformagic

Vannes is a lovely town in the Morbihan district of Brittany, with lots of beautiful old buildings and windy alleyways in its medieval centre. It was while walking down one of these alleyways that I came across this magical old gateway.

A magical doorway, Vannes

A magical doorway, Vannes

I had a peek through some of the cracks in the old gate itself, but couldn’t see much apart from a rather overgrown garden. The tall trunk you can see sticking out the top of the gateway is a palm tree, which certainly suggests this wonderful gate hides something rather more exotic than your usual back garden. We can only imagine what magic lies behind…!

Dolmen de la Loge au Loup, Morbihan

Posted in Brittany, History, Legend, Standing Stones, Woods with tags , , , , , , , on November 28, 2014 by mysearchformagic

On my most recent trip to France I had a bit of spare time to indulge myself with some megalith hunting. After a visit to one of my favourite sites, the mysterious stones called Babouin and Babouine, I spotted a signpost for the enimatic sounding Dolmen de la Loge au Loup, or Dolmen of the Wolf Lodge. With a name like that, how could I resist? Within ten minutes I was parked up at the side of the road and heading down a muddy country lane.

The path towards the Dolmen de la Loge au Loup

The path towards the Dolmen de la Loge au Loup

I had no idea what I would find, but the Dolmen de la Loge au Loup certainly did not disappoint. More of a covered corridor than a classic dolmen, the monument is the remains of a prehistoric tomb thought to have been erected about 4500 years ago. Nowadays it is covered in moss, and trees have pushed their way up through the stones. The effect is wonderfully magical.

The mossy stones of the Dolmen de la Loge au Loup

The mossy stones of the Dolmen de la Loge au Loup

I am not sure how the stones got their name, and I certainly didn’t see any wolves on the day I visited. But staring past the gnarled trunks of the ancient oaks into the shadowy interior of the stones, the silence broken only by the rush of the wind through autumn leaves, it wasn’t hard to imagine how outlandish tales could develop about this strange, atmospheric site.

The Dolmen de la Loge au Loup. Morbihan

The Dolmen de la Loge au Loup. Morbihan

The Magical Corners of Chastleton House, Oxfordshire

Posted in Cotswolds, Gardens, History, House, Oxfordshire with tags , , , , , , on October 15, 2014 by mysearchformagic

My recent trip to the Cotswold’s included a return visit to one of my favourite country houses, Chastleton House in Oxfordshire. Built between 1607 and 1612, Chastleton House remained in the same family until it was handed over to the National Trust in 1991. The fact that the family’s initial wealth quickly evaporated meant that little was done to the house, and the interior remained largely unaltered as it sank into a state of faded grandeur over a period of four centuries.

The faded grandeur of Chastleton House, Oxfordshire

The faded grandeur of Chastleton House, Oxfordshire

Realising what a rare opportunity Chastleton House presented, the National Trust decided not to restore it, but rather to conserve it just as it was. As a result, that faded grandeur has been preserved, and a unique atmosphere survives. Instead of the usual glitz and glamour you may associate with a stately home, Chastleton’s historic rooms have cracked ceilings, tatty furniture and creaky floorboards. Here and there are wonderful little corners, where the most mundane objects suddenly taken on an aura of magic.

A magical corner of Chastleton House, Oxfordshire

A magical corner of Chastleton House, Oxfordshire

There’s no teashop here, although you can buy home-made refreshments in the church next door, and no gift shop to speak of. Although I often have mixed feelings about the work of the National Trust and their apparently incessant drive to increase visitor numbers, in this case they have got it spot on. Only a limited number of people are allowed into Chastleton at any one time, so it is still possible to find yourself alone in this wonderful house, even if it is just for a moment. And it is in these rare moments that magic can happen.

A quiet, magical moment in Chastleton House, Oxfordshire

A quiet, magical moment in Chastleton House, Oxfordshire

There’s endless fun to be had poking about the nooks and crannies of Chastleton House, peering down the long, draughty corridors and into murky anterooms. It’s not many places that can truly be described as a time capsule, but Chastleton is definitely one of those places. As you wander around its dusty rooms, it is easy to forget the modern world outside, and imagine yourself almost anywhere in time. As you can see below, the gardens are rather wonderful too, but they definitely deserve a post all of their own, so I will save that magical treat for next time…

Looking out into the magical garden of Chastleton House, Oxfordshire

Looking out into the magical garden of Chastleton House, Oxfordshire

A Magical Doorway, Stow-on-the-Wold

Posted in Cemetery, Church, Cotswolds, Door, History with tags , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2014 by mysearchformagic

I’ve just spent a magical weekend in the beautiful Cotswolds. It’s the first time that I have had the chance to properly explore the area, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. With its rolling landscape dotted with ancient oaks, rambling hedgerows and pretty cottages, it is hard not to fall for this peaceful part of rural England, a place which seems to have changed little over the centuries.

My first encounter with magic was in the churchyard of Stow-on-the Wold’s historic St Edward’s church. This doorway, flanked by ancient trees which almost seem to have grown in to the fabric of the building, caught my eye.

A magical doorway into the church of St Edward's, Stow-on-the-Wold

A magical doorway into the church of St Edward’s, Stow-on-the-Wold

There will be much more to come from my adventures in the Cotswolds over the coming weeks. But with so many magical tales to tell, my only problem is which one to choose next…