7 Gibet de Montfaucon (Gibbet/Gallows of Montfaucon)
53, rue de la Grange aux Belles
Métro: Colonel Fabien
Hours: Not applicable—open to the public.
As you step out of the Metro, you should be facing Place du Colonel Fabien. Turn to your left and cross over Ave. Claude Vellefaux (on your left). The next street on your left will be Rue de la Grange aux Belles—turn left. Walk south until you arrive at no. 53 on your right.
You are standing in front of a garage with apartments built on top—exciting, huh? Seven hundred or so years ago, this was a pretty scary site. You never wanted to end up here.
You’re standing in an area that once was part of the countryside outside the medieval walls of Paris. Standing here, you would have had a pretty good view of the city since you’d be standing on a hill (actually, more like a mound). The hill we now call Montmartre would have been visible to you towards the northwest. Around you would have been the leper colony of St. Lazare, the Convent of the Filles-Dieu (a home for prostitutes), and the original Hôpital Saint-Louis (its modern counterpart tis located to the southwest). It seems the king didn’t want any undesirable elements within the walls of the city.
One of the kings’ most undesirable icons stood in front of you. It was the Gibet of Montfaucon. Erected around the late 13th century, the gibbet was used until 1629 and finally dismantled in 1760. The structure was used to hang people and to display the bodies of the executed (both local and imported). There are accounts of the executed being displayed here for more than 3 years before they either exonerated or whatever remained of the body was turned over to the family. The gibbet erected on land once owned by Count Falco (Faucon). Since it was a hill or mound (Mont), the gibbet became known as Montfaucon. Its nickname was “Forks of the great justice.” The best description and image comes from a drawing by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. It was an imposing 3-sided structure: 20 feet high, 46 feet long, and 39 feet wide. There were 45 “compartments” used to either hang or exhibit the victim’s bodies.
Noble: Enguerrand De Marigny
On 30 April 1315, a rather obscure noble, Enguerrand de Marignyo (1260–1315), was hanged after being accused of sorcery. He had been King Philip the Fair’s finance minister and since the king was a spendthrift, Enguerrand’s job was to constantly raise money. He was not well liked by the people within the orbit of
the king—he wasn’t a very nice person. When Philip died in 1314, his son (Louis X) hadEnguerrand arrested for bribery. When that didn’t stick, Louis used the up and coming threat of sorcery. That did the trick andEnguerrand was strung up on the Gibbet. Louis eventually repented and returned Enguerrand’s estate back to his heirs. There are various areas nearby cited as the original location of theGibet deMontfaucon (e.g., theParc des Buttes Chaumont or the area bounded by AvenueSecrètan and Rue deMeaux). In 1954, during the construction of the garage you’re standing in front of revealed thebases of 2 stone pillars and human remains. It was generally thought this evidence was enough to support the location of the gibbet.
Gibbet: The Marriage Of Quasimodo
“We have just said that Quasimodo disappeared from Notre-Dame on the day of the gypsy’s and of the archdeacon’s death. He was not seen again, in fact; no one knew what had become of him. At the end of the fifteenth century, the formidable gibbet which dated from 1328, was already very much dilapidated; the beams were wormeaten, the chains rusted, the pillars green with mould; the layers of hewn stone were all cracked at their joints, and grass was growing on that platform which no feet touched. The monument made a horrible profile against the sky; especially at night when there was a little moonlight on those white skulls, or when the breeze of evening brushed the chains and the skeletons, and swayed all these in the darkness. As for the mysterious disappearance of Quasimodo, this is all that we have been able to discover. One of these skeletons, which was that of a woman, still had a few strips of a garment which had once been white. The other, which held this one in a close embrace, was the skeleton of a man. It was noticed that his spinal column was crooked, his head seated on his shoulder blades, and that one leg was shorter than the other. Moreover, there was no fracture of the vertebrae at the nape of the neck, and it was evident that he had not been hanged. Hence, the man to whom it had belonged had come thither and had died there. When they tried to detach the skeleton which he held in his embrace, he fell to dust.” – The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo (translated by Isabel F. Hapgood).
Most of the top-ten lists of scary places in Paris will list this street as a place to visit. It is said that if you stand on this street late at night, and listen carefully, you will hear the rattle of chains and the moans of the gibbet’s victims.
(This is an actual stop and chapter from my next book, Where Did They Burn the Last Grand Master of the Knights Templar? A Walking Tour of Medieval Paris.)
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Copyright © 2015 Stew Ross