Note on a carved head
This article is from the newsletter of the Society for Scientific Studies of the Aude , Volume LXIX (1969) pages 149-155. It deals with a controversial topic often discussed in the study of Rennes-le-Chateau .... Indeed, some have wished to see in this sculpted head that of DAGOBERT II. Similarly, it is deemed to have a magic square carved at its back (which is not true, although this problem is not addressed in this article). This study is well documented, although noting a number of difficulties in its analysis, starting with the fact that this is a head ... woman!
In recent years a great many newspaper articles and several books have been devoted to the region of Rennes-les-Bains / Rennes le Château. Polemics on issues of treasures followed: however, we simply remain in the field of archaeology.
One thing is certain: archaeological discoveries in Rennes-les-Bains have been found many times. We found many listed in the archaeological map of Roman Gaul (Issue XII - Aude) (1).
Since the publication of these in 1959, other remains from the Gallo-Roman period have been updated, and we have identified them in our "Surveys in Limousin" (2), but unfortunately there is little ‘study’ as some of these findings are known to us only by drawings, photographs or descriptions. The study we are presenting today is to draw attention to a sculpted head, which is currently sealed in the presbytery of Rennes les Bains.
1) Current state of the sculpture.
It [the sculpture] refers to a feminine head, sculpted quite roughly in high relief in a block of reddish sandstone. One can, moreover, distinguish the chisel marks used to hollow out the block of stone scarcely smoothed out around the edges. It is actually set into the centre of the eastern façade of the presbytery at about 1.5 metres from the ground.
Despite the effects of weathering which has softened the relief, it is in quite good condition and shows no significant scratch marks, only the nose is broken at the tip exposing the two drillings for the nostrils. The locks of hair are present but not heavily outlined; the upper head lightly flattened, presents a deep, more or less conical indentation. The part of the block forming the base, at the rear, has a strong curved area placing the head in a sort of niche. We have no knowledge of the dimensions of the block, but everything leads one to think, as it appears to us, it is basically of an irregular form.
We referred above to some of the literature on Rennes, they differ notably in this regard:
The older authors (in particular the Abbé Delmas) (4), do not mention it, so it seems certain that it was unknown at that time (1709). Dr. GOURDON gives a drawing of a ‘head’ representing a female head (photo above), the sketch is unfortunately not to scale and the author says "It is a carved stone ornament of light colour and of an elegant design”. This, however, caught the attention of Doctor Courrent who wrote in his monograph of Rennes-les Baines “One can see, set into the wall of the presbytery, at the side of the garden, an elegant ornament represented by figure 1 sheet 1 of our monograph image borrowed from the works of Doctor Gourdon.”
Above - The head originally in the wall of the presbytery at Rennes Les Bains
The comparison of drawing and sculpture: headband hairstyle, position, shows that these are two different objects, the first is lost but there can be confusion between the two.
A more interesting reference is given by the Abbé Boudet (7), here is the "verbatim":
"Face au point ou se trouvent la station thermale et l'église paroissiale, la ligne courbe faite par l'assise des rochers porte le nom de "Cap de l'homme". Un menhir était conservé à cet endroit et l'on avait dans le haut, sculpté en relief une magnifique tête du Seigneur Jésus le Sauveur de l'humanité. Cette statue qui a vue près de 18 siècles, a fait donner à cette partie du plateau le nom de "Cap de l'homme" (tête de l'homme: l'homme par excellence, filius hominis). Il est déplorable que l'on ait été obligé, au mois de décembre 1884, d'enlever cette belle sculpture de la place qu'elle occupait pour la soustraire aux ravages produits par le pic d'un malheureux jeune homme, lequel était loin d'en soupçonner la signification et la valeur. (En note: "cette tête sculptée du Sauveur est entre les mains de monsieur CAILHOL d'Alet")
Above: the sandstone head once kept in the presbytery wall at Rennes les Bains is now in the local museum at Rennes les Bains; one can see that it hardly represents the feminine head referred to.
Translation: "Facing ... with the point [towards] the spa and the parish church, are the curve made by the foundation rocks carrying the name "Cap de l'homme’ .... A menhir was kept [preserved] at this place and it was on its top, that a carved relief of a magnificent head of the Lord Jesus the Saviour of mankind is found. This statue which saw nearly 18 centuries has given to this part of the plateau the name ‘Cap de l’homme’ (head man: man par excellence, filius hominis). It is deplorable that we have been obliged, in the month of December 1884 to remove the beautiful sculpture of the place - it was to save it from the ravages produced by the pick-axe of an unfortunate young man, who was far from suspecting its meaning and value. (To note: "This carved head of Christ is in the hands of Mr. CAILHOL Alet")
However, on the wall of the presbytery, under the carved head 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".]
Are we in the presence of the head which Abbé Boudet refers to in his book published in 1886? We do not think so and here's why:.
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."
Even taking into account the fragility of human testimony after such a period, it seems likely that we are dealing with two different heads:
Year of discovery 1884 and 1898 , an interval of 14 years
One head male, the other female.
Head fixed on top of a rock, the other a block .
First head went to Mr. CAILHOL, the second head was sealed in the wall of the presbytery by the mason MARTIN.
But the location of the finds are the same: the rock called "Cap de l’homme’ on the boundary and along the Pla de la Côte or Bruyères. We have checked that the sandstones forming the rocks of the Pla are similar to that of the head. It seems reasonable to conclude positively. The problem of the "menhir’ is simple to solve: we have long seen on the grounds that, if descriptions of the sites by Abbe Boudet are good and accurate, his conclusions as a Celtic linguist's scholar (as we heard a century ago) are unfortunately the highest mark of fantasy, as may be seen easily by browsing his book. His theory of pre or proto-historic civilisations building these "menhirs, dolmens, stone circles" as described and plotted on a map [which are also geographically correct], are unfounded. We have seen that in all cases it is because of erosion. It can be said of the menhirs, dolmens, stone circles that we have seen are due to similar causes.
The sculpture had been made on the side or top of a rocky outcrop. Given the large number of those below the place called "Cap de l’homme’ and their sheer volumes, it has not been possible to identify the exact place from where the block was extracted, if indeed it could still be visible after three quarters of a century.
This wall, with a height of fifteen metres, dominating both sources, has multiple cracks, faults, overhangs and rock shelters, and is currently overgrown with vegetation.
3) Test identification and interpretation.
A.GRENIER wrote "The sanctity of sources, Frontin wrote at the end of first century AD, is not forgotten and is still the subject of a cult - this cult believed in fact that these waters bring health to the sick body. It is not the liquid water that heals, it is the divinity. The city /towns of water (...) are not just spas. Inscriptions, sculptures and some of the buildings themselves, indicate locations of worship together which promote a cure. A Cure is a pilgrimage (...) With the hot water springs, this miracle gives rise to a special reverence .... "Thus, wherever there is water that cures, there are deities. It is in the water deity that they [the people on pilgrimage] ask for healing, and that they address the votive [offerings]. Now we know the offerings are to Rennes".
Among the objects found in the spa by Dr. GOURDON he lists:
· A forearm complete with outstretched hand holding an egg, white marble, length 0.60 m.
· A hand holding a snake in a rack, white marble, length 0.31 m.
· A hand holding a cloth, white marble, length 0.18 m
He gives drawings of these fragments, which he said belonged to statues. This is a mistake, and we're probably in the presence of other votives [offerings], because it would be extraordinary if we had not found fragments of statues representing other body parts. The objects held by the hands are symbolic (which has also been noted by Dr. Gourdon), the egg shows the rebirth of life afforded by the use of water, the serpent is the symbol of medicine ( Aesculapius), linens, picture of the station bathroom.
We know other examples of "hands holding various objects" that are complete works by themselves and are simply ex-voto, and [offerings to the deity].(8). We will add to the list above a small hand (length 35 mm), terra cotta, brick red paste, hard, found recently by Mr. SIRE of Rennes-les-Bains, which could also be a votive [offering]. Rennes therefore possessed its own goddess or goddesses source. Our ‘head’ - does it not represent one of these goddess? If she seems frustrated at first because of wear and some fine material, it can be seen in the comprehensive review that the artist was clearly influenced by Roman provincial sculpture. The hair, split into two bands (9), but without a marked central line, is frequently encountered in our region from the early Roman Empire and the first century. Only the front part is shown here and it is difficult to predict the presence or absence of the face, albeit in somewhat heavy character that is often found in indigenous works, seems treated conventionally, and the report of the various parties in view of the material, we stress again.
As we said above, 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.
The names reinforces our hypothesis: the place of discovery is located above the spring feeding the stream called "Las Brueissas" i.e. witches, a place that overlooks all the hot springs (10). A. Grenier said over the long evolution of religion: the mother goddesses became the Fairies (9). In our region the presence of "Dones" or "Ladies" - sources and creek are very frequent. This term is synonymous with local Fairies (11), and seems a relic of the worship of nymphs equivalent of Italian sources (12). We have an illustration of the Roman period on the dedications shown on the plates of lead-Amelie les-Bains (PO) or the protectors of springs are called "Niska" (Young Ladies) (13). These terms have often degenerated in more recent times, and this may be the case here, "Brueissas" or witches .
As noted by Camille Jullian (14) regarding "Matres" in Narbonne and the rest of Gaul, the name is always used in the plural, these protective sources are generally associated with three (12), only the patronage of these important water sources being granted to a greater deity (12). If one adopts this last hypothesis, accredited by the likely presence of two heads, male and female, one might find in the presence of a local Gaulish god, more or less Romanized, accompanied by her consort (15).
It is certain that in both cases, our representation does not respond to conventional reports and reliefs known in Gaul, representing Matres, nymphs or goddesses of water, generally represented in foot or less and bust (16 ). But what do we know in this part of Narbonne, where they are almost absent so far? Note that in our region, the representation of the head alone has been very supportive from ancient times until the Middle Ages, it is often equivalent to the representation of the whole body (17).
What date could be assigned to this work? Do not forget that we have here a work that is indigenous and therefore does not interpret the cumbersome forms as a late sign, you need only compare with certain Sculptures in the Museum Lapidare of Narbonne, same style, carved in similar sandstone, and of the same epoch. If one refers to the test, usually the most valid, that of the hair (18), we are led to consider it quite old: the statue of captive trophy St Bertrand de Comminges (19), as given before the start of our era is similarly capped. Geographically close, the statue of the deceased heroine Bourièges (20) has a similar provision of the severed head of hair. It seems that we can locate it near the beginning of our era, but with reservations based on the fact that it is an isolated object. This coincides with the most flourishing period of the spa, which had great importance in the first century before our era, and in the first century BC, as evidenced by the recent finds of italic type amphorae, very much prior to the beginning of Roman Empire, as we in our "prospecting" above.
This prosperity, to its maximum, in the Augustan period, must extend to the early first century, if we believe the monetary findings (21). The site seems to have been occupied permanently until today. It seems that the Romanization of a much older water cult should be considered the most likely.
We would be happy if a few scholar researcher came to confirm or disprove our hypotheses.
Notes and References:
1. GRENIER A. DUVAL and PM; Forma Orbis Romani: Archaeological Map of Roman Gaul, Fasc. XII, Aude, CNRS, Paris 1958.
2. Bulletin of the Society for Scientific Studies of the Aude, and Tomes LXVI LXVII, 1966 and 1967.
3. This cup was destined to receive libations? Hypothesis by MM. SOLIER and WHIP, CNRS.
4. Abbot DELMAS: Memory on baths Montferrand, Society of Antiquaries of France, 1709.
5. Doctor GOURDON: Spas of the Aude, Rennes-les-Bains Toulouse 1874 287. It also seems that the purpose designed by Dr. GOURDON (Plate I, 1) (here No. IV) is very different from the classical antefixes clay, but rather close to crowning the great monuments antefixes Rome or religious province, ie umbrella decorated stone at its end which fits much better with the given design. In which case it would probably have been white stone: marble and soft stone.
6. Doctor Courrent: Monograph of Rennes-les-Bains Roudière, Carcassonne, 1942 editions of the Society of Scientific Studies of the Aude, pages 22 et seq.
7. Abbe Boudet: True Celtic Language and the Cromlech of Rennes-les-Bains Pomiès, Carcassonne, 1886, page 234. (SEE)
8. A. ATTIC: Handbook of Gallo-Roman monuments waters; Picard, Paris 1960 (page 7, 8, 401, 471, 950, 951).
9. A. GRENIER, op cit., P. 754, note 3: The woman wears a hat with the front divided into two bands characteristic of the beginning of the first century.
10. A. ATTIC: op. cit., p. 841: Peaks and sources were the subject of a religion: "2 or 3 kilometers away to meet two other carved rocks of the Roman period: one represents a mother goddess, the other a divine couple "(Lemberg, Alsace).
11. U. Gibert: The legendary waters, department of Aude: Folklore No 99, 1960 (Several legends about Rennes-les-Bains
12. C. Jullian: History of Gaul, Volume 6, page 60, 62.
13. P. PONSICH: Stones engraved lead enrolled baths Arles roussillonaises Studies, 4 / 1953, p. 229, following the interpretation of MR LIZOP: Comminges and Couserans before the Roman domination, 1931, p. 62, No. 28.
14. C. Jullian, op. cit., Volume 6, P. 59, note 1.
15. Tell Pater-Pluto, for example, often associated with a mother goddess, also guardian of the underworld.
16. For example the group of mother goddesses Versault (Musee de Chatillon sur Seine) or both mother goddesses of Saintes (Saintes Museum)
17. F. BENOIT: The severed heads of the Greek era in the Middle Ages; Cahiers figures of Prehistory and Archaeology, No. 8 p. 143.
18. CAGNAT and CHAPOT: Manual of Roman Archaeology, Volume II, Picard, Paris 1920, headgear.
19. B. SAUENE: St Bertrand de Comminges; Guide excavations, p. 115.
20. G. Barruol, U. Gibert, G. RANCOULE: The glorification of the deceased Bouriège Revue Ligurian Studies, Volume 1 / 4, 1961.
21. Doctor Courrent: op. cit., p. 15-20.
Editors Note: Interesting that Boudet dates his head to the 1st Century. Does he really think the ‘head of the Saviour’ has been at the Cap de L’Homme for 18 centuries?
Above: Element from publications which show the Cap de l’Homme standing stone - and in the foreground one can make out the church of Rennes les Bains. According to de Sède this menhir lines up with the following; a lime tree once in the cemetery at Rennes les Bains, through the Boudet tomb (as well as the first Fleury tomb), a ‘ball’ and then on to the church at Rennes-le-Château. Curiously the head in the presbytery wall is called the ‘Head of Dagobert’ which is the same head that Boudet called the ‘head of the Saviour’ and is depicted further up in this article!
With thanks to Octonovo (Laurent Bucholzer) for permission to translate this article from his site.