The Fountain of Barenton in Brittany, France is famously connected with Merlin and is renowned for its water’s alleged healing and rain-bringing properties. Lying deep in the forest of Brocéliande is a central element in Breton legend.
Merlin and the Fountain of Barenton
In Breton legend, the forest of Brocéliande is the setting for Merlin’s love affair with the Lady of the Lake, called Viviane in the Breton romances, and the location of his tomb, the ‘prison of air’ in which Viviane trapped him. The fountain of Barenton is reputed to be the spot where Merlin first met Viviane, who was the daughter of the Lord of nearby Comper Castle. The castle’s lake is said to cover the palace that Merlin magically built for her. The fountain is also claimed to be the spot where Yvain, one of King Arthur’s Knights, defeated the Black Knight, the fountain’s guardian.
The Fountain’s Alleged Beneficial Properties
Even before its association with Merlin, beneficial and magical properties were claimed for the fountain’s waters. The fountain is a spring running into a small basin. The spring water is naturally effervescent, containing high levels of dissolved carbon dioxide and carbonic acid: it is highly valued for its fresh clean taste. The water was used by the druids in ancient times as a treatment for mental illnesses and as a tonic for sickly children. The druids maintained a sanctuary for the mentally ill in the nearby hamlet of Folle Pensée (Crazy Thought), which is the origin of the hamlet’s strange name. Modern medicine ascribes no special properties to the water but visitors still come seeking benefit from it.
The Fountain’s Alleged Magical Properties
The spring is also claimed to have magical powers and was much revered by the druids for these. In addition to the spring’s claimed medicinal benefits, which may have stemmed from the water’s purity, it is said that drawing water from the fountain and pouring it onto the stone slab, sometimes called “Merlin’s Rock”, can trigger alarming phenomena and in particular a heavy rainstorm. The fountain and the stone slab are depicted on a mural in the Church of the Holy Grail at Tréhorenteuc, on the western edge of the forest.
Even the Church held the general belief in the fountain’s ability to create rain throughout the Middle Ages and in times of drought would organize a procession to the fountain to summon rain. The last recorded occasion was in 1835 when the Superintendent of Concoret came to the fountain to bless it. He subsequently dipped the base of his cross in the fountain and sprinkled the water on the stone slab. Witnesses reported that a violent storm ensued.
How to Get to the Fountain of Barenton
Follow the D141 from Concoret towards Tréhorenteuc. After La Saudraie, turn towards the hamlet of La Folle Pensée. As you enter the hamlet, take the fork to the left and then continue straight ahead to the car park. From there, a path takes you to the fountain. It is a twenty to thirty minutes walk through the forest.
Other Arthurian Sites in the Forest of Brocéliande
Comper Castle (home of the Lady of the Lake and site of an exhibition of the Arthurian Legends)
The Valley of No Return (where Morgaine-Le-Fey, Arthur’s sister imprisoned false lovers)