25 Sep 2013

The Pagan Sites of Europe Remembered (24): Belle Île, France

The island of Belle Île, part of Brittany, lies to the West of the mouth of the River Loire, the biggest river in France. The Atlantic Ocean island covers an area of 84 square kilometers. Now it is a picturesque Summer holiday island of little importance, but there is evidence that in ancient times it was a site of great religious significance.

In a fragment preserved by Strabo, the Greek geographer Posidonius (135 BC – 51 BC) refers to an island that fits Belle Île's description:

In the Ocean there is a small island, lying not far out to sea from the mouth of the R. Leiger (Loire). It is inhabited by women of the Namnites [from whom Nantes takes its name] who are possessed by Dionysus and worship this god with secret rites and other sacred rituals. A man may not set foot on the island, but the women themselves sail to have intercourse with the men and return afterwards. It is their custom once a year to unroof the temple and roof it over again in the same day before sunset, each woman carrying a load. If anyone's load falls off, she is torn apart by the others and they carry the limbs around the shrine with wild cries and do not stop until the rage leaves them. It always happens that some stumbles who must suffer this.

Colin Liddell
A Pagan Place
25th of September, 2013

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