Once upon a time
The legend of the damsel and the lake
What if we took a closer look at the story about the mermaid in the lake*? You know, the one who made the cover of our last issue. It offers the opportunity to shine a light on the other beings that populate Lake Annecy as well as the area’s other lakes and rivers.
*Mermaid: an extraordinary mythical creature with a human female upper body and a fish-tailed lower body instead of legs. Legend has it that mermaids used their melodious song to allure sailors before imprisoning or shipwrecking them on rocky islets in the middle of the sea.
According to local legend, a young lady haunts the depths of Lake Annecy, and her troubled soul drags young men who look like her husband to the bottom of the lake. How does she do this? She made a deal with the devil.
Bernoline, a beautiful young orphan, enjoyed an uneventful life in her castle in Angon. One day, a young handsome knight, upon returning from the Crusades, knocked on the front gate to ask for shelter and a place to stay. It was love at first sight. The young couple soon married, and started their happily-ever-after lives together. On one particular evening, Bernoline spotted an incredibly bright star in the sky that she asked her knight in shining armor to bring to her. Madly in love, he ventured off in pursuit of the coveted celestial body. After one hundred days spent wandering the world, he came to the edge of a vast sea where a mermaid appeared. Upon handing him the star she explained, “You must return to Angon tonight, otherwise Bernoline will pay for this obsession with her life.”
On his galloping steed, the young knight rode back to Annecy as fast as he could, reaching the shores of the lake by nightfall. Unfortunately, in his haste, he ended up on the wrong side of the lake, arriving in Duingt right at the beginning of a terrible thunderstorm. By chance, he happened upon a fisherman who generously offered to row him to the other side of the lake. When halfway across, the fisherman revealed himself to be Satan, and offered the following deal, “I will take you to Angon on the one condition that you give me your soul in ten years time to the day. If you refuse, I will take you back to Duingt and your beloved Bernoline will perish.” Keeping the evil deal with the devil a secret, the knight triumphantly offered the bright shining star to Bernoline. The loving couple then spent the next ten years living their happy lives together. When the fateful moment arrived, the knight, forced to keep his promise, left in secret.
© Gilles Piel / Mist on the lake
He asked his servant to tell his beloved wife of the dreadful deal. Shattered by the terrible news, Bernoline swore to win her husband back by any means necessary. When the devil then paid her a visit, he agreed to return her husband if she could recognize him among the young men she encountered when walking around the area. She spent years searching tirelessly, trying to spot him among the crowds, but ultimately, she failed. Victorious, Satan returned, explaining that she had indeed crossed paths with her husband on several occasions. At each encounter, he was dressed differently, and she could not recognize him. In her despair, the castle deteriorated due to neglect. Alone and homeless, she jumped off the top of Roc de Chère cliffs into to the cold lake waters.
According to the legend, she continues to live at the bottom of the lake, hiding the bodies of those who drown in an underwater cave, with the hope of one day finding her husband. For each drowning victim that slips away, you can hear her cries from the ruins of the old castle.
© Gilles Piel / Between lake and mountains
- © Gilles Piel / The end of the lake
Journalist: Aude Pollet-Thiollier