0500~0599: The Plague of Elliant

In 1840, Frenchman Theodore Hersart Vicomte de la Villemarque published a collection of ancient songs, which contained a short song about a plague that presumably ravaged the town of Elliant, in Brittany, France, in the 6th Century. The song mentions that only one man and his mother survived the plague; and, as an explanation for this line, Villemarque tells us -- separately from the song -- the following legend:

        One day a miller on his way back to Elliant encountered a beautiful woman clothed all in white and holding a staff standing at the ford of a nearby river. The woman asked if the miller could carry her across on his horse, and the man agreed to help her. Once they had reached the other side, the woman told him she was in fact the plague that had been attacking other towns in the area. She was going to go to the congregation in the church, and each person she was to touch with her staff would die... but due to his kindness, the miller and his aged mother would be the only people to be spared.

        It was discovered that the plague hated songs being sung about it, and the singing soon chased the plague from the land; which presumably explains why Villemarque was then able to record a song about the plague of Elliant. Villemarque also mentions that he heard a version of the story that had the miller carry the plague across on his shoulders, which is a detail that turns up in some of the other legends about 'plague bearers' (personified plagues).

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