Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 53.djvu/688

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WE possess now more precise and more scientific data concerning megalithic monuments than those which we had before they were studied and explored methodically. We know that the dolmens, whether still covered with a tumulus or stripped of the envelope of stone or earth which formerly covered them, are simply sepulchral caverns, that they were built in the polished stone age, and that that mode of burial was abandoned at the beginning of the PSM V53 D688 Church of the seven saints.pngFig. 1.—Church of the Seven Saints. From the southwest. bronze age. While we do not know so exactly for what purpose the menhirs were erected, we have every reason to believe that they were for the most part contemporary with the dolmens. The great antiquity of these rude constructions—monoliths sometimes of imposing dimensions—seems to be confirmed by their being often the subject of very ancient and deep-rooted legends, which have been preserved through ages without material alterations. The recollection of the real purpose of these stones was lost at the beginning of the Christian era, and probably a long time before. Marvelous tales then began to be current, assuming to explain their existence, form, and arrangement. The habit gradually was developed of resorting to them to perform curious rites which have continued or are remembered to the present day. A considerable number of them were held in such veneration that they became clothed in a sort of sacred character, of which it has not always been possible to divest them.

When Christianity was introduced into France, it had of course to contend against the old beliefs. A bitter war was declared against everything that might tend to cast the new religion into the shade. Vigorous attacks were made upon superstitions which by their