THE SINISTER HISTORY OF TEVENNEC LIGHTHOUSE
Posted March 21, 2016on:
When it comes to mysterious lighthouses, Tevennec, off the coast of Pointe du Raz, in western Brittany, France, could give even the mighty Flannan Isles a run for it’s money. Tevennec has enough ghosts, curses, and sudden deaths to keep even Edgar Allan Poe entertained. In terms of location, it is everything that a lighthouse should be. It’s not one of those cute ones sitting snugly on the mainland, easily accessible to one and all. Instead Tevennec sits atop a lonely, rocky island, which is routinely battered by gigantic waves, in fact the house has been destroyed by the sea three times. It has always been incredibly difficult to land supplies there. Aerial photographs of the island show very little outside space, as most of it is made up of sharp rocks. It occupies a place of stormy isolation, and I can imagine it would be easy to fall victim to cabin fever there.
The island had a dark history, even before the lighthouse was built. Local folklore had it the newly deceased would be taken by boat at night to Tevennec, and that the island was home to Ankou, the Breton name for Death himself. The Grim Reaper inhabited the place, wearing a black cloak, and with a hat obscuring his face. You could hear him by his unearthly wail. Some stories have it that the role of Ankou is taken by the last person to die each year in the parish. Stories no doubt fuelled by the fact that if you sail the Raz de Sein without an engine, the current will automatically take you straight to Tevennec.
Such a rocky outpost was always going to be a perilous area to navigate, and during the Napoleonic Wars a ship sank here, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of men. In 1875 the lighthouse was constructed, and the first keeper was Henri Guezennec. Living alone in this godforsaken place, it perhaps is not surprising that the poor man went mad. It is said that he kept hearing voices chanting “kerz-kuit”, Breton for “leave here”. By 1893 it was sensibly decided that 2-man crews should operate the light, and that keepers should spend a maximum of one year there. One of the first pair died unexpectedly.
In 1897 it was decreed that lighthouse-keepers could let their wives accompany them to this forbidding posting. That didn’t seem to solve the problem either. One keeper died, leaving his wife to salt his corpse until he could be collected. The third keeper, a man called Meliper, was found dead in his bed. The fourth, Roparts, kept the light with his elderly father. One day Roparts found the old man had slit his throat with his shaving-razor. There were other macabre tales of a keeper falling on a knife, and the death of a child.
A priest tried to exorcise the place, but the weather proved to be an even bigger problem than the dark tales. Things came to a head when a tempest destroyed the wall of the living-room whilst the last lighthouse-keeper’s wife was in the very throes of giving birth. Something clearly had to be done, and the Tevennec lighthouse went fully automated as early as 1910.
In 2015, on the 140th anniversary of the lighthouse’s construction, Marc Pointud, who founded the National Society For Heritage, Lighthouses And Beacons, announced he was planning to spend two months alone at Tevennec, to raise awareness for the restoration of France’s forgotten lighthouses. If successful, he hoped to turn Tevennec into an artist’s retreat. It sounded a forbidding prospect. The lighthouse had no furnishings, so he would have to take the bare basics with him. He said he would be living like “a prisoner”. It probably helps though that Marc says he doesn’t believe in ghosts, and he will have telephone and Internet comms with the outside world, something denied to the early keepers who only had the birds to converse with.
I’ve been searching Online, trying to find out how Marc got on. Apparently the 2015 project was delayed due to bad weather. “There is too much sea”, Marc said “can not dock or unload the material”. At the beginning of February 2016 a French newspaper reported that another attempt would be made on 27 February, but I haven’t been able to find out anything further. If he’s there now, stuck out on that lonely, storm-tossed rocky outcrop, I wish him well.