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Cultural Iconoclasm: On Destroying Sacred Sites and Erasing Culture

Brittany, like much of Western Europe, is home to many megaliths, including the famous array at Carnac. Although many travelers visit Carnac, with its thousands of standing stones, many may not be aware that there are other, satellite standing stone configurations in the area. These standing stones and other megalithic sites, dating at least to several thousand years B.C., testify with their silent presence to archaic, indigenous European culture.

While there has been occasional willful destruction of megaliths in Western Europe—the fanatical Protestant “Stone Killer” Robinson in England comes to mind—still for the most part people have left standing stones and other megalithic sites alone, sometimes as in the case of Carnac recognizing that they are tourist attractions as well as cultural heritage sites. Outright obliterating such a place seems unthinkable. And yet, shockingly, such destruction has happened recently in France, very near Carnac at one of its satellite sites. A group of standing stones at Montauban were bulldozed to make way for a French home improvement store, “Mr. Bricolage.” The stones were deemed to have “little archaeological value,” and permission was granted to clear the site, even though the stones could have been preserved, as they were in an area away from where the store was actually built.

Now from the one side, of course, the stones, being merely stones, were held to be of no appreciable value, especially in an area featuring many thousands of others. What’s a few less standing stones, compared to the inestimable value of, say, a good dumpster, lawn, or parking lot for a “Mr. Bricolage” store? From this perspective, one can consider only the material objects, their relative exploitable value, the expense of the site, the income and jobs from the store, and so forth. An alignment of standing stones cannot be leveraged very much; its economic contribution is negligible at best. This briefly summarizes a fairly widespread and typical view that in fact prevailed in this case.

But what is the view from the other side of this issue? The other side is that the Breton region and France as well as Western Europe more broadly inherit an archaic indigenous culture that is still visible, still present, in standing stones and other megalithic sites. So there is an historical dimension, of course, to standing stones. In this particular case, there was no real reason to destroy them, as they were not located where the store itself was built. They were destroyed out of indifference, callousness. But indifference to what? First, to the archaic European inheritance itself, of course. To the very idea of archaic Europe, of indigenous people there. But second, to the sacred, to the very idea that there is or can be sacred sites, sacred standing stones, consecrated or spiritually resonant places in the natural world.

These two worldviews are, of course, fundamentally incompatible. In fact, those who see no value in the stones, literally see no value in them, meaning no economic or exploitive value. And this is not strictly a matter of “capitalism,” as one can see an even more anti-sacred perspective in authoritarian “communist” states. Corporatism and communism are not so far apart as one might have been led to believe at one time—both manifest modernity, which atomizes, is hostile to the sacred, to the very idea of sacred landscape or sacred sites, and with its centralized power and machinery can wipe such a site out in a few minutes before a coffee break. Both are enemies of deep connections between place and people, land and spirit.

One purpose of Hieros Institute is to provide a venue for speaking about and exploring the sacred and about sacred landscape in an age increasingly hostile to even hearing such ideas. Below, we append some photographs from Carnac and from the region—we trust the images speak for themselves.

A satellite site near Carnac
Dolmen in the Carnac region

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