“Celtic Lady Secrets” – by Debbie Ambrous

June 6, 2018 – Wednesdayof the Burgundy, France Journal

Published normalement (normally) bi-weekly on Sunday

In a land faraway, many centuries ago, lived a young lady of mystery, a Celt Princess, bedecked with jewels. Imagine finding a grinning Medusa among the stones of a field on the banks of a river, not yet knowing that this was the beginning of a major archaeological discovery of the twentieth century.On January 5, 1953, when I was a young child, playing with my dolls in Alabama, a startling discovery was made by Maurice Moison near Châtillon-sur-Seine, France.  An excavation of the site below the Mont Lassois oppidum (a Gallo-Roman fortified town) near Vix was led by René Joffroy continuing in the snow and cold and ending in February with the unearthing of a large, magnificent 24-carat gold necklace, or torque, within the tomb of a woman now called the Lady of Vix.  Her burial took place around 500 B.C. with the body laid in cart, or chariot, with many items of jewelry leaving no doubt of her high status.  She was between 30 and 35 years old at the time of death.  Who was the Lady of Vix?  There is no clear answer since the Celts living on Mont Lassois were a people with an oral tradition (no writing) and they left no written evidence of her.  Celtic tribes then controlled a trade route leading from the Seine to the Mediterranean and lived by barter, trade and patronage.  The imagination easily takes flight.  In 1953, Paris Match portrayed her as a fair-haired princess with her head adorned with the torque.  In fact, the torque is worn around the neck.


The grave of the Lady of Vix had never been disturbed, and it contained remarkably rich offerings known in French as the Trésor de Vix.  The treasure includes a large amount of jewelry and the Vix Krater, the largest metal vessel from Western classical antiquity with a height of five feet, four inches and 450 lbs. in weight.  Kraters were used for mixing wine and water, common in the Greek world, and this krater could hold over 1,000 liters of liquid!  The vase proper was made of a single sheet of hammered bronze.  The three handles are decorated with a grimacing gorgon, a common motif on contemporary Greek bronzes. Notice the neck of the vessel which is made of a bronze ring inserted into the main vase.  Eight chariots are shown which are drawn by four horses each and conducted by a charioteer.  Notice the braiding of the human hair and the horse’s maneNotice the snakes on the vase!  It has been suggested that the krater, the largest known Greek bronze vessel, should be seen as a high-status gift exchange connected with the trade of wine from the Mediterranean for raw materials from Northern Europe.

We admired the vase in the Museum of the Pays Châtillonnais-Treasure of Vix in Châtillon-sur-Seine, a city which is classified among “the most beautiful detours in France”.   I did the best that I could with the photos since the objects on display were protected behind thick glass, or other substance, that reflects light and other images, not a good photography setting. The museum contains specimens of bird-life collected in the early 1900’s.  Ex-votos (statuettes presented as thanks of healing to the deities) and statuary of the ancient and medieval times were on display in many other rooms of the museum. It was in one of those rooms of silence with a solitary lady dressed properly for the occasion that I accidentally flipped my camera’s plastic lens cover across the room.

It hit the floor, whizzed past the lady’s legs, bouncing and rolling, echoing blim, Blam, rattle-rattle, blip!  The pretty lady in the yellow dress kept reading the display while I turned red with embarrassment and my internal giggle-box turned upside down.  I clamped my hand over my mouth to force the laughter inside so hard that my eyes were bulging.  Jim looked at me with an expression that said, “Let’s get out of here before they throw us out!


Traveling in France is always a journey of discovery with interesting things to see in unexpected places.  On our return trip from the museum we drove through a wonderful leafy tunnel with plane trees towering overhead on each side of the road and just ahead a beautiful water feature with a children’s playground in the distance. I wished I could stay and see the youngsters on the merry-go-round, but I could only satisfy myself with a photo of an old rusty, rugby sign I searched for info on this sporting event, evidently worthy of a sign and monument for the village.  It was probably the 2004 Six Nations ChampionshipFrance won the competition, also winning the Grand Slam.  Ireland won the Triple Crown, sweeping their matches against Wales, England and Scotland.  I just never know what I will find when I ask Jim to stop the car!


A rural road winds through woodland and farms to Ancy-le-Franc, a village with a Renaissance chateau modeled on an Italian palazzo.  However, I wouldn’t want to fool you.  We didn’t go this route on this particular day in May.  We took this jaunt on an earlier day, and in fact I mentioned in a previous blog that I would save it for later.  Just wanted to see if you are paying attention!?    Considering the classic, restrained, symmetrical forms of the exterior, you would never expect the over-the-top interior.  Ancy has the most opulent décor in Burgundy, rivaled only by the Chateau de Bussy-Rabutin.  It was likely decorated by Primaticio, a Bolognese artist working at Fontainebleau.  It is virtually a royal palace: French kings from Henri II to Louis XIV slept in the gilded chambre du roi.As I walked through the glorious rooms, I was most impressed by the flooring underfoot which is incredible when you consider the walls and ceilings covered with Olympic gods.  The arched ceilings are decorated with grotesque figures, mythical monsters and satyrs.  I captured a photo of Jim looking upwards after he said, “I surely wouldn’t want to wake up in the middle of the night and see all of that weird stuff on my ceiling!We will finish with the beautiful paneled chambre des fleurs which is a riot of pansies, roses and tulips.  Views of gardens were beautiful.  I’m leaving with a promise to show photos of this chateau from a visit years ago with a much younger Jim and Debbie lurking in the background.In the last blog story I said we would tour an incredible museum in Châtillon-sur-Seine.  I followed through and grabbed the ball and ran with rugby. Then, I went for extra points with an Extra-Fancy chateau in Ancy-le-Franc.

Next time, we will take a trip down memory lane and meet new people in a village where we considered buying a house many years ago. Thanks for coming around to travel with us.

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All photography is the property of Debbie Ambrous.

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