When talking of the tourist trap that Rennes-les-Bains was - in a 1913 article - by a journalist when he visited there - he wrote; thirty rustic houses, well built, welcome visitors and provide them food and shelter following the wide price range: each according to his convenience is your accommodation and food according to your pocket and pleasures; numerous customers come from all around, this year we have more than 20. Three come from Switzerland, another is a famous musician emerita in Geneva, another is American, many living in Nice; among them, a lady of the court of England, not least, the Marquesa S .., whose beauty was really impressive, and in which her ego emphasized the elegance of a profile and a distinction without precedent; the Hôtel Griffe, a type of good modern family hotel, built and furnished again, not too big, and maintained by a team led by Mr. and Mrs. Griffe. Mr. Griffe, cheerful, long - time resident in London, where he was head of the Traveller's Club & Mme. Griffe, a native of Luxembourg and one of the great dressmakers of London. Mr. and Mrs. Griffe come every year to spend the bathing season at Rennes, and they contribute to the construction, development and maintenance of the hotel, and good treatment and English comfort : good food, English for those who wish specialties".
An interesting observation re: the Londoners GRIFFE and their hotel at RLB is linked to the priest Boudet. "Boudet, that strange archaeologist priest who abhorred the finding of a naked statue of Venus in Maison Chalaleu and who was obsessed by an imaginary 'head' and an imaginary cromleck wrote: "the “tête du sauveur” [is] a menhir [i.e. a standing stone] preserved on this site [a hill above Rennes-les-Bains] and it is a [head] which is carved, in high relief, and represents a magnificent head of the Lord Jesus, the Saviour of Mankind. This sculpture, which has seen approximately 18 centuries, has given its name to this part of the plateau, Cap de l’Homme, the Head of Man, referring to the man par excellence, filius hominis. It is deplorable that we were obliged, in December 1884, to remove this beautiful sculpture from the location it occupied, to remove it from the ravages of a pick-ax of an unfortunate young man, who was far removed from being able to understand the significance and its value.”
This seemed to be confused with another head found on land owned by the Fleury family; "Madame TIFFOUS, born Alys GRIFFE, in 1886, at Rennes-les-Bains, said: "Mr De GROSSOUVRE mining engineer in Bourges, Colonel TOUCAS, Périgueux, and my father Joseph GRIFFE of Rennes sought the veins of ore at the Pla de la Côte or Pla des Bruyères, on land owned by Count H. De Fleury. They found a boulder which seemed interesting, brought it to my father and the Abbe Boudet [of Rennes les Bains] to have it cleaned up and [we] saw it was a head. MARTIN, mason, on the order of Abbe Boudet placed the head at the place where it is still, [and] this happened around my twelfth year, i.e. about 1898".
There is even more confusion though! There is the Boudet 'head' - which Boudet himself says he gave to Mr. CAILHOL of Alet. Then there is the 'boulder' head found on land owned by the Count Fleury in the region of Pla de la Côte or Pla des Bruyères.
However Gourdon seems to refer to a head - he even gives us a diagram - which he says was found along with much other archaeology. He says: in several points of the village today, mainly in the part between Bain-Fort and the hamlet of Le Cercle, it has been recognized, at various depths, a great quantity of remains of Roman buildings: constructions of buildings, fragments of mosaics, etc, which may have been part, either of private houses/villas or monuments of another order. The literal space occupied by these objects indicates an extended and fairly large city, in the Valley, spread out to the broader and more Southern area of the village. In this Valley, there was seen, in the middle of a cultivated field, the site of a square house, recognizable from the lines and 'crop marks' found in the vegetation where it was much less bushy than in the corresponding parts of older buildings. It is at this point especially there have been found, in the ground raised by agricultural implements, a huge amount of debris of all kinds, most covered with a layer of ash and charred fragments, testifying to the destiny of this ancient city, which, at the time when the whole country was ravaged by barbarians, was destroyed by fire. .... Among the items discovered in the above cited circumstances, are objects of architecture, sculpture, pottery and various interior utensils, etc. The objects of architecture seem to be the most significant - they were found on the site of a house that actually forms the last house of the village of Bains, to the South; they consist of several sizable fragments of capitals, columns, etc., of remarkable work, in which it is easy to recognize the debris of a temple, dedicated either to Aesculapius or Hygeia. One of these fragments is the base of a column that can be currently seen at the fountain of the Cercle, where it has been used as a capital/cornice, and that its dimensions allow us to consider that it formed the base of a column of more than 10 meters in height. Also an antefixe [?] in white terracotta, of an an elegant model".
An antéfixe is an architectural term describing an ornament of sculpture which was used in antiquity, which decorated the bottom and sometimes the top if the roofs of buildings whether public or private. From my reading this means the 'Gourdon' head was found among the other archaeology in the valley around the hamlet of Le Cercle. So to me it seems that this female head [local Goddess?] was an ornament that probably adorned a large - i suspect- public building in the south of the village between Bain Fort and Le Cercle.
Gourdon never says that the head was sealed in the presbytery at Rennes, he never provides pictures or diagrams of the 'head' in the presybytery and he never says the head was found in the region of Pla de la Côte or Pla des Bruyères.
However, on the wall of the presbytery at Rennes-les-Bains, under the carved head placed there - it reads "sculpture of a detached standing stone located on the extreme edge of Pla des Bruyères, facing the parish church’. [sculpture détachée d'un menhir placé sur l'extrême rebord du Pla des Bruyères, faisant face à l'église paroissiale".]
Gourdon goes on: These various objects are kept in the cabinet of M. de Fleury, owner of the Bains and the discoveries - which date back various eras, are only a very small part of what has been found in the country during the course of the last few centuries. It would have been interesting to keep them as souvenirs and as historical evidence of the village's ancient splendour as a spa town, but they have unfortunately disappeared, and is extant only in the writings that we have made mention.
He refers to the work of Abbe Delmas - who by the way, never cites this 'head' in the presbytery. Therefore it seems it was found after 1709, but before 1874 [when Gourdon mentioned the antefix head]. This would also suggest another head because the testimony of Mme TIFFOUS, born Alys GRIFFE of the finding of " a boulder which seemed interesting, brought it to my father and the Abbe Boudet [of Rennes les Bains] to have it cleaned up and [we] saw it was a head. MARTIN, mason, on the order of Abbe Boudet placed the head at the place where it is still, [and] this happened around my twelfth year, i.e. about 1898." As you can see the date of 1898 is much too late. The head is pictured below.
Two archaeologists mention Gourdon, saying "As we said ...the location of the find as antefixes eliminates its allocation or as a decorative element placed on a building used for public worship. It seems that the size and shape prohibit this: it is either a votive or a fragment of tombstone, or the character is represented in bust or foot. We think we see in this representation one of the innumerable minor goddesses, more or less Romanized Gallic pantheon".
It seems there is a dispute about where this Gourdon 'head' was found - it had nothing to do with the land owned by Count Fleury but more to do with the hamlet of Le Cercle. And in fact, Boudet's second cromlech, inside the more famous larger cromlech is based around Le Cercle.
Perhaps Gourdon is right, the head was originally found in the vicinity of the valley of Le Cercle, and perhaps represented a local Goddess and divinity of the spa waters, and was indeed an antefix found on a public Temple building found in Le Cercle? Below are some illustrations and examples of these antefixes:
Welcome to the blog of Rhedesium
My name is Sandy Hamblett, inspired and passionate researcher of the mysteries at Rennes-les-Bains.