IN THE FOOTSTEPS
OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL
The Romance of the Grail
in the Forests of Brocéliande
Evans Lansing Smith
September 1-8, 2019
The second in a series of Mythological Studies Tours, this trip takes us to the marvelous sites in Northern France associated with the Grail Romances of the Middle Ages. Evans Lansing Smith will be our guide along the same route he traveled with Joseph Campbell over forty years ago. He will offer a series of reflections on that journey, along with illuminated presentations focusing on the mythologies of France—from the Megalithic period to the Middle Ages. Breakfasts are included at our hotel along with a number of lunches and dinners along the way.
Sunday, September 1
Arrival in Rennes with Welcome Reception and Dinner
We will begin in Rennes, the capital of Celtic Brittany in North Central France and take a series of day trips to important sites in the region. The history of Rennes goes back more than 2,000 years, a time when it was a small Gallic village. It was later one of the major cities of the ancient Duchy of Brittany. From the early sixteenth century until the French Revolution, Rennes was a parliamentary, administrative, and garrison city of the historic province of Brittany in the Kingdom of France. In 2018, it was named the most livable city in France. We will stay for five nights at Hôtel des Lices, ideally located on one of the city’s most beautiful squares close to many shops, the opera house, the cathedral, and Brittany’s most impressive market, Halles Martenot. We will gather as a group for the first time to welcome you, introduce ourselves, and enjoy a reception and dinner together.
Monday, September 2
Mont-Saint-Michel and The Seigneury of Dol-Combourg
The stunning site of Mont-Saint-Michel is an island commune in Normandy. Like something out of a fairy tale, Mont-Saint-Michel is a medieval fortress sitting on top of a granite island in the center of a huge bay connected by a causeway to the mainland, accessible at low tide. Floating like a mirage on the horizon, it has been a sacred monastery since the 8th century AD. The centerpiece of Mont-Saint-Michel is its church, which is essentially a medieval skyscraper inspired by a dream. One of France’s most recognizable landmarks, Mont-Saint-Michel and its bay are part of the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, and more than 3 million people visit it each year.
We will continue to journey south of Mont-Saint-Michel to The Seigneury of Dol-Combourg. Recent scholarship has argued that this region was instrumental in the emergence of the legends of the Holy Grail and the forests of Brocéliande in the early 12th century. The cup and platter of the Last Supper was said to have been found in a column of the Abbey of Dol after a fire, and an image of the Grail is to be found inside the Cathedral that is illuminated on the summer solstice. Furthermore, the Abbeys of St. Florent-de-Saumur and Dol were connected with the Priory of St. Florent in England, where Geoffrey of Monmouth first set down many of the Arthurian stories. Just south of Dol is the spectacular Château de Combourg, on the shores of Lake Diane, where Lancelot was adopted by the Lady of the Lake, the site of her romance with Merlin.
Presentation: Merlin, Yvain, and the Lady of the Lake
Tuesday, September 3
La Forét de Brocéliande
We will journey into the interior of Brittany to explore the legendary forest of Brocéliande, which first appears in literature in 1160 in the Roman de Rou, a verse chronicle written by Wace. Brocéliande is a notable place of legend because of its uncertain location, unusual weather, and its ties with Arthurian Romance—most notably the magical fountain of Barenton, featured in Chretien de Troyes’s “Knight with the Lion”; with the stories of Lancelot and the Lady of the Lake; and of the romance with Vivienne and death of Merlin and Vivienne. Many of these sites are to be found within the perimeters of the charming small village of Paimpont, such as the Château de Comper, another candidate for the home of the Lady of the Lake; the Valley of No Return, into which Morgan le Fey lured her hapless lovers; Merlin’s Tomb (a Neolithic burial site); and L ’Église du Graal in Tréhorenteuc, a 20th century Abbot, decorated with the signs and symbols of the Grail. We will enjoy lunch together in the forest.
Presentation: Megalithic Brittany
Wednesday, September 4
Neolithic Stones of Carnac
We then journey farther back in time to the megalithic Avenue of the Druids, along the far western coast of Carnac. Here there are innumerable megalithic sites along the shores of the Atlantic. There is an exceptionally dense collection of megalithic sites around the French village of Carnac, consisting of alignments, dolmens, tumuli and single menhirs. More than 3,000 pre-historic standing stones were hewn from local rock and erected at some stage during the Neolithic period by the pre/proto-Celtic people of Brittany, and are the largest such collection in the world. Although the stones date from 4500 BC, modern myths were formed which resulted from 1st century AD Roman and later Christian occupations. Local tradition claims that the reason they stand in such perfectly straight lines is that they are a Roman legion turned to stone by Merlin. Though most of the stones are within the Breton village of Carnac, some to the east are within La Trinité-sur-Merand in the nearby town of Locmariaquer where there is the colossal burial dolmen called the Table des Marchands with its famous interior passageway. We will enjoy lunch together in Carnac.
Presentation: D.H. Lawrence and the Alchemical Apocalypse
Thursday, September 5
Château d’Angers and The Apocalypse Tapestries
The Château d'Angers is a formidable castle in the city of Angersin the Loire Valley, founded in the 9th century by the Counts of Anjou with whom the great Arthurian poet Wolfram von Eschenbach associated with Parzival the lineage of the Grail stories. Located on the River Maine, The Château is the home of the glorious Apocalypse Tapestry, a large medieval set of tapestries commissioned by Louis I, the Duke of Anjou, and produced between 1377 and 1382. The finest of the Anglo-Norman Middle Ages, it depicts the story of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation in colorful images, spread over a number of sections that originally totaled 90 scenes. It is the oldest French medieval tapestry to have survived, one of the greatest artistic interpretations of the Revelation of Saint John, and a masterpiece of French culture.
Presentation: The Unicorn Tapestries
Friday, September 6
Chartres to Paris
We will depart Brittany and travel toward Paris for three nights at Fred Hotel. On the way, we will visit Chartres Cathedral, a medieval Catholic Church, considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Cathedral is full of symbolism related to ancient mythology. The stained-glass windows are dated to the early 13th century. The decoration—apart from the religious scenes of passion and resurrection, holy symbols, evangelists, and angels—also contains King Solomon, King Nebuchadnezzar, and an unidentified Pharaoh. Some other symbols are related to both Christian and older traditions. Chartres also hides within its walls stories which connect the world of ancient Druids, the cult of the Divine Feminine, and Christianity. It is located on a ley line linking Glastonbury, Stonehenge, and the Pyramids of Egypt. Before the times of Christianity, the site was a very important place in the pagan belief system. The Druids believed this was a place of spiritual energy emanating from underground. Since at least the 12th century the cathedral has been an important destination, and remains so to this day, attracting large numbers of Christian pilgrims, many of whom come to venerate its famous relic, the Sancta Camisa, said to be the tunic worn by the Virgin Mary at Christ’s birth, as well as large numbers of tourists who come to admire the cathedral's architecture, Neolithic crypt, the Black Madonna and the magnificent labyrinth. According to legend, the Black Madonna of Chartres, or Lady of the Pillar, was a lady of the Templars.
We will enjoy a casual dinner together once we arrive in Paris and check in to Fred Hotel.
Saturday, September 7
The Medieval Wing of the Louvre, Nôtre-Dame de Paris, and Celebratory Dinner
The Medieval Wing of the Louvre houses priceless ivory jewelry boxes with scenes from the stories of Yvain, Lancelot, Tristan, and the Unicorn. In the same wing below are to be found rooms devoted to the Mesopotamian cylinder seals and Stele of Hammurabi, alongside rooms devoted to the archaic marble Goddesses from the Cycladic islands in Greece. The Louvre is the world’s largest museum and an historic monument in Paris.
Nôtre-Dame de Paris is an historic Catholic cathedral on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité. The cathedral is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, famous for its flying buttresses and gargoyles. It is among the largest and most well-known church buildings in the world. The naturalism of its sculptures and stained glass are in contrast with earlier Romanesque architecture. Legend has it that hidden messages were embedded in the façade of Notre Dame, which when deciphered will lead you to the Philosopher’s Stone, a mystical object that transforms any metal into gold and provides immortality to its possessor. The round medallions at the main entrance purportedly spell out the secret steps of the Philosopher’s Stone recipe.
Finally, we will gather for a celebratory dinner together at Auberge Nicholas Flamel. Nicholas Flamel (1340-1418) was a scribe and bookseller who developed a reputation as an alchemist believed to have discovered the philosopher’s stone and achieved immortality. These legendary accounts first appeared in the 17th century. His home is the oldest stone house in Paris and is now the site of this fine restaurant.
Sunday, September 8
Musée national du Moyen Âge and Stillpoint Spaces
In the morning, we will visit the Musée national du Moyen Âge, formerly Musée de Cluny, of the Middle Ages. Here we will see “The Lady and the Unicorn”, the modern title given to a series of six tapestries woven in Flanders from wool and silk, from designs drawn in Paris around 1500. The set is often considered one of the greatest works of art of the Middle Ages in Europe. Though the meaning of the cycle has been much debated, experts now generally agree that they present a meditation on earthly pleasures and courtly culture, offered through an allegory of the senses. Five of the tapestries are commonly interpreted as depicting the five senses– taste, hearing, sight, smell, and touch. The sixth displays the words “À mon seul désir” or “my only desire”. Each of the six tapestries depicts a noble lady with the unicorn on her left and a lion on her right; some include a monkey in the scene. The pennants, as well as the armor of the Unicorn and Lion in the tapestry bear the arms of the sponsor, Jean Le Viste, a powerful nobleman in the court of King Charles VII. The tapestries were created in the style of “mille-fleurs,” or, a “thousand flowers.”
We will spend our last afternoon at Stillpoint Spaces, hosted by our Jungian colleagues in Paris enjoying lunch together, listening to our last presentation on Nicholas Flamel and Alchemy, and having our closing conversation and ritual.
Monday, September 9
After breakfast, depart Paris or stay on to continue your exploration of this fabulous city.
Itinerary subject to change.
Photographs courtesy of Getty Images and Stillpoint Spaces Paris
Image of the Unicorn Tapestry used with permission
from the Paris Musée de Cluny-Musée National du Moyen Âge