France

The Beast of Gévaudan

In a sleepy little town once known as Gévaudan*, between the years of 1764 and 1767, a series of chilling murders took place. Bodies were found in terrible conditions, with heads chewed off, and throats ripped out, all left in a bloody mess. Approximately one hundred people fell victim to this same murderer: the Beast of Gévaudan.

Photo courtesy of Viergacht via Pixabay

Photo courtesy of Viergacht via Pixabay

The exact origin of the legend of werewolves is hard to pin down. Many believe that it’s likely to be the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia. It’s believed to be, in addition to the first werewolf story, the oldest surviving work of literature.

But the ancient Greeks had werewolf stories as well, such as the Legend of Lycaon, and of course, though the origin is hard to pin down, we all know the classic, Little Red Riding Hood.

The Beast of Gévaudan was something different though. It was a real life werewolf story, come to life straight off the pages. Or so it seemed.

The first official victim to be claimed by the Beast was a young girl named Jeanne Boulet. She was not the first to be attacked—there was another, unnamed, young girl before her, who was protected by the herd of cows she was tending— but she was the first to die. Boulet was 14 years old, and she was only the first of many that would soon come after her, almost all of them women and children.

Photo courtesy of pixundfertig via Pixabay

Photo courtesy of pixundfertig via Pixabay

Over the next few years, the number of victims steadily rose, and the Beast’s body count garnered national attention. At the time, France was just fresh out of the Seven Years War, and having suffered severe losses, they were looking for a way to redeem themselves in the newspapers, and in the eyes of the world. At the same time, François Morénas was an editor of a newspaper entitled Courrier D’Avignon, and it had profited quite well off of the coverage of the Seven Years War. After the war, circulation of his newspaper began to fade. While France was looking for a new cause, so was Morénas.

In fact, Morénas is often credited in history as the main source of coverage on the Beast of Gévaudan, and his newspaper was what really got the story circulating. Drawings were being done of the Beast, based on first hand accounts. It was often described as a combination of a wolf and a dog, but that it was about as big as a cow. It was described as having reddish coloured fur, with black streaks in it, and a very large mouth with oversized teeth.

The Beast of Gévaudan was more than just a story to be covered, though, and something needed to be done. More and more people were encountering this creature, and very few were living to tell the tale. That being said, the reason that drawings and descriptions of the Beast exist is because some people were lucky enough to survive their encounters.

One such person was Marie-Jeanne Valet. Once the problem the Beast posed became more nationally known, hunting parties started being formed. At first it was simply people within Gévaudan, the first being Jean-Baptiste Duhamel. He was an infantry captain who’d suffered a particularly humiliating loss in the Seven Years War, and in an effort to redeem himself, gathered an army of approximately 30,000 men to face the Beast. They were, however, much like in the war, unsuccessful.

King Louis XV then stepped in, and replaced Duhamel with a hunting party of his own choosing, which was headed by Jean-Charles D’Enneval, a famous wolf hunter from Paris. He was also unsuccessful though, and newspapers at the time speculated that it was in large part due to his refusal to work with the locals to solve the problem.

Statue of Marie-Jeanne Valet fighting the Beast; Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons

Statue of Marie-Jeanne Valet fighting the Beast; Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons

This is where Marie-Jeanne Valet comes in. Much like the men that came before her, she was unsuccessful at slaying the beast, but she made it a step further than any of her male counterparts. She left her home and was heading towards a farm close by, when she turned around to find the Beast breathing down her neck. With some quick thinking, she immediately plunged a homemade spear she’d been carrying, into the Beast. Reportedly, it put a paw to where she’d struck it, cried out, and tumbled into the nearby river, allowing Valet to get away.

But this encounter immortalized Valet’s name in history, and she was henceforth known as “The Maiden of Gévaudan”. There are even pop culture references to her that make her out to be the slayer of the Beast, and in 1995, a statue of her fighting the Beast was erected in Auvers, in Southern France.

As people began to form armies and attempt to take down the Beast, a deeply unsettling fact that only served to drive their fights more, became apparent. Being that Gévaudan had lots of farmland, many people that encountered the Beast did so while tending to various animals, such as sheep or cows. However, one detail that all Beast encounters that also involved farm animals had in common was that the Beast paid no attention to the animals, and very clearly targeted the humans.

Artist’s rendering of the Beast based on eye-witness accounts; Drawing done by A.F. of Alençon

Artist’s rendering of the Beast based on eye-witness accounts; Drawing done by A.F. of Alençon

The problem many of these people that tried and failed to take down the Beast were encountering, was that bullets didn’t seem to affect it the same way they would an ordinary wolf or dog. Various armies that had formed had showered the Beast with bullets, and while many did find purchase, none ever succeeded in bringing the Beast’s death. This was where many of the legends and speculations about the Beast not being a normal wolf originated. Many began to theorize that it was something a touch more supernatural.

Nothing was ever proven, however, and the Beast was eventually killed in 1767 at Mont Mouchet, by Jean Chastel, a local farmer and inn-keeper. He melted down a religious amulet to make silver bullets, and that was what finally took the wolf down. Silver bullets, as I’m sure many are aware, are the well-known way legends suggest using to take down a werewolf, and perhaps this Beast of Gévaudan lent a bit to the origin of that belief. Regardless, whatever Chastel did, it worked, because after that, no one else was killed, and the Beast was never seen again.

Like with Marie-Jeanne Valet, monuments have been erected to honour Chastel, that can still be seen around France today.

It’s possible that the Beast was just a particularly large wolf, with a particularly large kill count, and that the story just grew way out of proportion because the people of France were looking for a win and a story in the post-war time they lived in. It’s also possible, I suppose, that the Beast was a real life werewolf we all grew up hearing legends about. Like I said, nothing was ever proven, and the problem was taken care of either way.

The answer will just have to remain up to your imagination.


*Gévaudan is now modern day Lozère in Southern France.


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Maggie Kendall

Maggie Kendall spent the first fifteen years of her life furiously avoiding all things horror, but then her friend forced her to watch Paranormal Activity, and there’s been no turning back. She still checks the bathroom mirror for Bloody Mary before getting in the shower.

Empire of the Dead

I will preface this story with a short disclaimer, for those of you with weak stomachs, about the grizzly and grim details contained within. For my story today is about the Catacombs beneath Paris, and how they came to be.

We begin in the mid-eighteenth century, at which time Paris is the second largest city in Europe. Louis XV, described by historian Jerome Blum as “a perpetual adolescent called to do a man's job”, rules from his great-grandfather’s 300 billion dollar palace, Versailles, twelve miles away from the cramped quarters of the city and the seething ranks of poor Parisians. His reign is marked by extravagant spending, incompetent management, and a widening rift between the monarchy and the common people, especially those living in Paris.

Cimetière des Innocents  (1550) engraving by   F. Hoffbauer, courtesy of  Getty images .

Cimetière des Innocents (1550) engraving by F. Hoffbauer, courtesy of Getty images.

Thus, the State ignores the needs of its people until problems become severe, and let me tell you, the problems that necessitate the Catacombs are severe. At some point, Paris runs out of space for its half a million living residents and the six million deceased, specifically in Cimetière des Innocents.

Now, Cimetière des Innocents opened in the twelfth century as a small burial site consisting of individual burials. But as time and several plague outbreaks pass, the cemetery gets bigger, and individual burials turn into mass graves twenty feet deep, each containing about fifteen hundred corpses. Most of the burial pits are barely covered too, so it’s not uncommon to see dead bodies sticking out of the mud.


What is it like for the people unlucky enough to live nearby? Well, it’s enough to make even the most mild-mannered peasant want to guillotine the King. The stench of decomposing flesh is overwhelming, the water is poisoned, and the air is so impure that even candles won’t light. And people are actually falling into burial pits.

And you thought your commute to work was bad.

Photo courtesy of Nathanael Burton via  flickr.

Photo courtesy of Nathanael Burton via flickr.

Finally, after a particularly bad rain storm, a burial pit bursts through the wall of a private home, filling some poor family’s living room with corpses in various stages of decomposition. That is when the State intervenes.

King Louis XIV issues an edict in 1780 to finally halt burials at Cimetière des Innocents, and all other cemeteries within Paris. Sounds like common sense, but it's not for these people.  Fortunately, Paris has a disused limestone quarry waiting in the wings. So the work begins!

The task of moving the six million corpses happens only at night, in carts covered by black shrouds, accompanied by chanting priests and a lot of incense. They then have to be taken down to the tunnels, which are about five stories underground, and stacked in rooms called ossuaries. Additionally, the city must maintain fires to purify the air, and resourceful citizens collect the large deposits of adipocere left behind, otherwise known as ‘corpse wax’, to make candles. (When life gives you corpses, make corpse candles).

Photo taken in 1861 by  Felix Nadar .

Photo taken in 1861 by Felix Nadar.

Twelve years later, the cemeteries are empty, Cimetière Des Innocents is raised to the ground for the health and sanity of all, and spoiler: the King is dead, he lost his head. After the revolution, bodies go straight into the catacombs—including that of revolutionary Maximilien Robespierre, who shoots himself in the face and then gets guillotined by his former comrades during the “Reign of Terror”. It’s a really bad day for Max.

The catacombs remain in use for another twenty years—by which time the decapitating has slowed down—until Louis-Étienne François Héricart de Thury renovates the catacombs and transforms them into the work of macabre beauty they are today.

The whole complex finishes up at about two hundred and two kilometres of tunnels and ossuaries, only two of which are open to the public. Above the entrance reads the infamous inscription; “Arrête! C'est ici l'empire de la mort.” It’s a warning that should be heeded by all who enter.

That brings our story to an end, for now. However, should you choose to visit, always be respectful, and don’t get lost.


Have you been to the Catacombs? Share your experiences below, or tweet at us.


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Natascha Wood

Say her name three times and she will appear.

Twitter: @oldvvitch

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