Cathedrales dol

Dol de Bretagne : mysteries of the town

Dol-de-Bretagne : France

You are here to visit the Mont Saint-Michel and its surrounding, therefore you are staying at Edd Hostel ? But did you know that Edd Hostel’s location was right in this cute little town called “Dol-de-Bretagne” ? Yes, yes you say, here is a wonderful opportunity to visit a local Breton town! We’ll tell you about the mysteries of Dol-de-Bretagne.

You know what ? To be sure you fully enjoy your stay in Dol-de-Bretagne, we gathered in this article some mysteries of Dol-de-Bretagne… They contributed in building our dear patrimony ! In the following : The mysteries of Dol-de-Bretagne !


1- The Cathedral of Dol-de-Bretagne


Perhaps, have you noticed that one of the main tower (the North tower) of this beautiful Cathedral Saint-Samson, remains unfinished ? A legend explains the reasons of its actual state… Although the choice to believe it or not is up to you !

It is said that the tower has been destroyed by the devil (the dragon that fought Michael Archangel), as he was right at the top on the Mont Dol ! One day, he saw his enemy Saint-Samson, building a new Cathedral ; suddenly angry, the devil grabbed a stone and threw it away towards the new construction. Sadly for him, he missed really closely the Cathedral, and just destroyed the top of the North Tower. The stone landed a few kilometers away, and is now known under the name of “Menhir du Champ Dolent” !



As you can guess, it is of course a legend 😀 . The true story, more realistic I assure you, comes next.


2- The history of the Cathedral

Remains of the Romanesque cathedral from the XIIth Century, then a gothic style added by the masters of this movement, this tower finally became ruins in the XVIth Century.

In 1520, the Bishop Mathurin de Plédran decides to rebuild it. Ironically, he dies a year later, in 1521. The constructions still continued, but in vain, by lack of funding, the work ended at the 3rd floor of the tower. In the end, Dol’s inhabitants never finished the tower’s construction, despite few other attempts, in particular the one from the last bishop of Dol (Monseigneur de Hercé). The Revolution, occuring at that time, forced him out from his status by the Revolution, and thus not long after he initiated the rebuildings !  The workers pursued the construction till there wasn’t enough money left to finish the tower.


A belief remains : “Many times, we tried to continue the Tower’s constructions. But it was useless because at night, a mysterious hand dropped all the stones added during the day, and the flames devoured the work done !”

That’s why this famous tower of Saint-Samson Cathedral reaches the status of mystery for Dol and its inhabitants ! Today, the locals chose to not finish the tower…


3- The mystery around the Cathedral

One of the mysteries of Dol-de-Bretagne is in its cathedral Saint-Samson. We already mentioned earlier the mystery of the North Tower, and now I would like to focus on its double well that is still the object today, of unreasolved mysteries…

Let’s go back to the origin of the Cathedral. Saint Samson arrives in the 6th Century from Ireland, as to evangelize the former region of Armorique. That’s when he found this strange looking like well full of brambles and scrub. He announces that the construction of the Cathedral has to be right at this place !


To briefly retrace the history of the Cathedral’s construction, I will make a short summary. The locals first used it as an abbey. They then transformed it in 848 in a Cathedral for the coronation of a guy called Nominoë. Vikings destroyed it a first time in 1014, then the locals rebuilt it, but this time with a Romanesque style. Finally a last time with a gothique-norman style was added to it !


4- The double well history

How and when the existence of the double well was discovered, you ask ? Well, it’s only in 1996 that a research association from Dol-de-Bretagne (A.R.C.A.D.) focused on this question ! Yes indeed, after A.R.C.A.D’s members started with their invistigations, they heard some rumors amongst the doyens on this supposed double well, they would have heard it from their own doyen’s mouth !

Dol’s inhabitants abandoned at that time the outside well, so they got rid of all the trash inside during a whole year. Afterwards, the researchers finally managed to get down in the well to advance in their researches: it’s at this crucial point that they discovered the existence of a gallery leading to the inside of the Cathedral ! What an exciting discovery !!

This gallery was leading to a second well opening on the inside of the Cathedral, and which was most likely older then the first one (the outside one) ! A.R.C.A.D proves and see that the seniority of this well exceeds the Cathedral’s construction’s date… Strange fact though : Some people condamned the access to the inside well with a stone, and this in an uncknown date for some uncknown reasons.

The outside well and the gallery leading to the inside well is probably here for Dol’s inhabitants to have access to the water, back at that time…  But how exactly is this part of the mysteries of Dol-de-Bretagne you ask ? Well, a few questions that still remains unanswered today, are worth asking :

  • Did the pagans use it as an object for their rites, before the Cathedral included in its christian religion ?
  • Did the clergy use it for christian rites ?
  • Why has it been conserved ?
  • And finally, why and when did the clergy blocked it’s access by the clergy ?

You see, the disposition of this double well is absolutely unique in France, and most probably in the whole world ! (but there is around 40 other double wells in France). However, this story and this curious mystery is the pride of Dol’s locals !! 😉


5- Dol’s liberation in the WWII

Another mystery and maybe one of the most important mysteries of Dol-de-Bretagne is the story of Dol’s liberation during WWII !

Did you know that even the little town of Dol was occupied by the Germans in the war ? 2 Germans motorcyclists arrived the 19th of June 1940, to declare the city occupied ; 2 days later, their convoys arrived to install themselves in town…

4 years later : the 1st of August in 1944, a part of the American army landed, under the orders of the General Middle-Ton, with as an objective : Brittany’s liberation ! Right away, the Germans soldiers started to escape through the road of Pontorson by every way possible ! The same evening, the Germans officers announced the general evacuation order to Dol’s inhabitants.

The Americans rapidly liberated the neighboring municipalities of Combourg and Saint-Léonars; it will take a little bit longer for Dol, as it had a really stategical position due to its crossing point… Around 300 German soldiers, and some old tanks and guns stayed to tempt to keep the town !! The 3rd of August 1940, the Americans (around 3000 soldiers) arrive in great force and plan to attack the town of Dol-de-Bretagne the next morning, starting with the Cathedral, as it was the German’s main observation point.

Why is the Cathedral fully intact today ?

Well… The night of the 3rd of August, a certain Colonel TrueHeart Foster, staying at Baguer-Pican (town close by Dol), is observing these last events with his binoculars… He can’t resign himself to sacrifice the pretty patrimony of Dol and all of these human’s life! So he entrusts to two of his men a mission kind of suicidal : to secretly go to the mayor of Dol and provoke a reunion with the German commander staying in Dol ! … With difficulty, the negociations were successful, and the Germans left during the night at peace and without any harm done… This is how the town of Dol and its Cathedral narrowly missed a destructive assault the 4th of August 1944 !

6- The mysterious part ?

That’s indeed a pretty story… But in what way is it “mysterious”? Well, it happened that the town of Dol didn’t keep any datas from this most particular event that happened during the WWII… The mayor of Dol and the soldiers felt most probably fear to be compared to quislings, that’s why they were silent about this whole story…

It is only 11 years ago that comes the revelation of this story! In 2008, the granddaughter of the American soldier John Baldwin O’Donnell (one of the two soldiers that were assignated for the secret mission concerning the liberation of Dol with the Germans)… found the personal diary of her grand-father, and then learned about this story… His family was invited in 2009 to reveal to the open this missing details of the story of Dol !! And this is how it became part of the mysteries of Dol-de-Bretagne 😀 .

Who would have thought that our precious little town of Dol is now a symbol of peace ? 😀


If you want to visit Dol and know more about the town, you can follow the track “Dol la mystérieuse”.  It makes you go through town, from explanative signs to others.


Useful links:

The history of Dol-de-Bretagne: Click on this link 😉

About Mont-Dol, origin of Mont Saint-Michel: Click here! 

A menhir in Dol-de-Bretagne: Click here


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1 Comment

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  • Howard Kalt  - 

    Story of how Dol’s liberation became known is not quite accurate. I collected John O’Donnell’s oral history of his WWII experiences and later wrote a letter to the Archbishop of Brittany with the facts. After a year-long historical review, it was agreed to be factual and I worked with John’s daughter–not granddaughter–Sue to assist the local officials in Dol in their preparations to honor John and his fellow soldier, Karel Pusta.
    Howard Kalt
    Menlo Park, California

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