Where is Broceliande ?

Forêt de Paimpont – what’s in a name? The Emperor’s new clothes
and the power of marketing…

"According to Geoffrey of Monmouth who almost single-handedly invented the Arthurian story in his History of the Kings of Brittany, Arthur was often in Gaul, had aid from Breton lords in battle and came specifically to Mont St-Michel to tackle a notorious giant. (A forest once prolific just to the south of the Mont is another claimant for the title of Brocéliande.) Other tales associate Arthur with places along the north coast of Brittany, but Arthurian tradition in Armorica centres primarily on Merlin and Lancelot. The Roman de Lancelot du Lac (c1220) makes the birthplace of the latter the Marches of Brittany, and the distinctive red and white coat-of-arms of Lancelot appear later in history as those of the Coëtquen family, once lords of Dol and Combourg. The same text describes the snatching of baby Lancelot by the fairy Vivianne, and her later ensnarement of Merlin, who fell in love with her, in a cave.

The forest of Paimpont has its own drama of sweeping hillsides, tumbling waters and exposed vantage points offering expansive views over the tree-tops which intensify the sense of containment within a vast sylvan entity. Natural beauty here lies untouched by development, peopled only by infrequent hamlets lying low in the landscape. Apparently these days such simple natural advantages are not enough to build a major tourist destination, and under the ‘Brocéliande brand,’ the economy of an entire region now rests on what may well be a spurious claim. Certainly not everyone is under the spell. Before all the hype, the writer Chateaubriand, a man of the Marches of Brittany, described the 12th century forest of Brecheliant as covering the cantons of Fougères, Rennes, Bécherel, Dinan, St-Malo and Dol-de-Bretagne. Increasingly rigorous contemporary studies are challenging the basic premise. If 12th century sources make the magical forest near the sea and in the Marches of Brittany, then Paimpont is a pretty poor candidate geographically speaking. Christophe Deceneux, a local historian of Combourg, has been researching the issue of Brocéliande for many years, amassing a wealth of evidence to support his theory that the forest of Arthurian romances was that which once extended from Mont St-Michel to Combourg. I raised the question of Merlin’s disappointing tomb and he pointed out that such is the geology of the Paimpont forest area – primarily schist – that caves are not found there. He shows me a photo of another candidate for the magician’s prison, a grotto on the sheer lip of Mont Dol, just below the chapel and Devil’s rock. When I make a trip to see for myself, the connection is at once compelling. It’s a superb cave, a perfect secret trap for that most tricky of customers, Merlin. Mont Dol itself, sticking up from the plain north of Dol-de-Bretagne, may also have been the inspiration for Mont Doloreux – not for an etymological connection, as Christophe is quick to point out, but because the location and the jeu de mot combined may have proved irresistible. He proposes the place-name Broualan – Alan’s hill - high point in the original forest, near Combourg, as the original linguistic link with Brocéliande."

Wendy Mewes : Writer, Walker, Guide,
Member of The Society of Authors, Travelwriters UK, Association des Ecrivains bretons.


Ce texte est extrait de Brittany, A Cultural History. Wendy Mewes.

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Dernière mise à jour le 07/06/2015
Réseau Asteria