Mont Blanc, and the area of Courmayeur, which lies on its slopes, is a place where legends mingle with ancient folk tales. Like the one concerning the origin of its current name.
According to tradition, its glaciers have always hosted evil spirits, and the exorcisms of the curate of Cogne are well-known, these were meant to “confine” the spirits in the highest part of the mountain, and there forced to weave ropes of sand.
Legend has it that, in ancient times, when every stone and mountain ravine was believed to be inhabited by demons, goblins and monsters, the Grand Mont was the most haunted mountain of all. Surrounded by storms and beaten by winds and hail, and made dangerous by landslides, the summit was called Mont Maudit – the Cursed Mountain – and aroused real reverential terror – so much so that the people even avoided looking at it. And of course kept far away from it.
One summer evening it is said that a traveler stopped in those parts, asking for hospitality from the local shepherds of the village and a place to sleep. The shepherds welcomed him willingly, and in return for their kindness they obtained a special promise from the man. That of putting an end, with an intercession from Heaven, to their problems with Mont Maudit by the arrival of winter. The mysterious traveler was said to have buried all the evil spirits that roamed the mountain. After a few months, in fact, at the end of autumn, there was an extraordinary snow storm on the mountain. The snow began to fall, covering Mont Maudit, trapping the cursed spirits, devils and goblins forever. But without touching and damaging the surrounding pastures.
And, from that day on, the great mountain changed its name: from Mont Maudit it became Grand Mont – the Great Mountain, or Mont Blanc – Mont Blanc.
But, obviously, this legend must be particularly rooted in the Alpine territories of Valle d’Aosta. In fact, in addition to the history of the curate of Cogne and that of the mysterious wanderer of Curmayeur, there are other stories that – more or less – tell the same tale. In fact, there is also the story of a magician from the East who was meant to have imprisoned the evil geniuses of the Valley by imprisoning them in the huge rocky tower of the Dente del Gigante. While, in Val Veny, there is the story of a white friar without fear and without taint who is said to have defeated and imprisoned the demons of the area.
In general the protagonists of the legends of Valle d’Aosta are witches, ghosts, demons and saints. But there is also a strong tradition concerning the fantastic and often mysterious origin of the shapes that distinguish the mountain landscape. Often mixing historical figures, the world of magic, fairy tales and religion, and often giving life to myths, legends and public rituals that have been transformed over time into popular festivities. A constant in local folklore is the presence of the devil, which is contrasted by the stories of Saints, celebrated for their ability to generate miracles and intercede with God. Witches also play their part, with a corpus of stories in which fantasy and reality are inextricably mixed. Like the ghosts, of which popular tales are full. This is the case of the seventeenth-century garrison of the Castle of Saint Marcel, or of a woman who died of a crime not committed in the Castle of Quart. Or, the best known of all, the spirit of the Countess Bianca Maria of Challant, in Issogne, who lived here around 1525. The countess, just twenty years old, was – also – under false accusation – tried and sentenced to be beheaded . And her ghost is said to appear in the summer, right next to the octagonal fountain that stands in the courtyard of the castle.