That day the clouds were hovering over the mountains so low I had the feeling that if I stretch out on my toes tip I could touch them with my fingers. I felt the urge to experience their static, humid texture caressing my skin. I could sense the sun’s frail warmth breaking through the clouds and covering with a fade light the different shades of green, red and orange of the autumn forest. It was like heaven, in a sea of clouds, came down on earth, and very slowly was opening its door to let that magic light embrace us and save us. But the dominant and rational part of my brain silenced my dreamy lobe with one thought: ”man, that would be such a nice photo!”. But there was no place to stop the car on the curvy highway going from Aosta to the last town of the Aosta Valley, The Pont-Saint-Martin. My second thought came instinctively: “I hope the rain will forgive us for another hour or two” and I kept looking through the window, lost in the stillness of the clouds and the vortex of my thoughts.
Some time ago I read the story about a Roman bridge, not far away from our home, which construction was shrouded in mystery and superstition. I kinda have to admit that I honour my surname, Toma (from Thomas the Apostle), in the sense that I normally don’t believe until I see, or have a scientific proof.
It must be due to my upbringing: born and raised in a communist dictatorship when churches were eradicated from the surface of the earth and the name of God was silenced from the peoples lips. So I normally do not give up to supernatural stories (although I like them and find them very interesting), but “a bridge made by the Devil?”… that was something I wanted to see… and photograph.
There are quite a few variations of the legend, but the most of them are stating the key role played by the Devil in the construction of the Saint Martin bridge over the torrent Lys. The bridge, an imposing single arch of 35 meters wide and 25 meters high, looks like a live extension of the rocks to which it has been anchored. It is of an outstanding beauty and simplicity, that made my jaw drop when I first lay my eyes upon it. The solid construction looks completely untouched by the two millennia that passed.
It’s like going back in time…
Many, many years ago, the villagers of Pont-Saint-Martin decided to build a better and safer bridge over the torrent of Lys. The existing old, wooden one has been already the scenery of too many tragic accidents. The whole village decided to proceed with the construction and all of them brought their financial contribution to the project. And so the work began. But soon, the funds dried up and the whole development was arrested leaving the incomplete bridge at the mercy of the harsh weather and aggressive vegetation. The despair of the inhabitants was growing with everyday. Seeing their work and money getting destroyed at a fast pace by the passage of time was making people truly upset.
One day, a handsome and elegant stranger appeared in the village. The mysterious gentleman made a claim of having the solution to their problems. He offered them the necessary money to finish the construction of the bridge. But there was a catch: he wanted in return “the first living soul” that will cross the bridge. The villagers immediatly realized they were actually dealing with the Devil himself. Needless to say, their first reaction was to back off from the deal, but the Devil’s political charm and persuasion conveyed the course of events towards his own needs. He was desperate to gather, by any means, as many souls as possible for his Master. He gave the villagers the liberty of choosing the soul to be offered as a sacrifice. Without further discussion, the pact was sealed and the construction of the bridge went on.
The community was small, and soon the news of the pact with the Devil was on the tongues of everybody. So, when the bridge was finally erected, nobody wanted to cross it. The days passed by and the villagers were finding themselves in far worse situation than before since the Devil was losing his patience and started to messing up with their daily life.
The priest of the village went looking for help to a wise and pious hermit living in the hoods. His name was Martin. After hearing priest’s story, Martin didn’t look worried at all. He only asked to call all the people of the village next morning next to the bridge, and he would solve the problem alone. The priest went back home, with his soul wracked with doubts, since he thought Martin was too confident and not aware of the gravity of the situation.
The next morning, the whole village was present on one side of the bridge, while on the other side the Devil was wrapping his hands with anticipation.
When the bell of the church rang, Martin appeared holding a skinny, famished dog. With one move he threw a big piece of dry bread on the other side of the bridge and let the dog go. It did not take much time for a hungry beast, eyes on the bread, to fly over the bridge with an unexpected vivacity, considering its deplorable look. It ended up directly in the throat of the Devil!
One can only imagine the rage of the Devil after realizing that he had been deceived. All he got was just a soul of a poor dog. Since there was nothing he could have done, he covered his shame and humiliation in a vortex of smoke and fire, disappearing for good and leaving the villagers at peace.
Martin was celebrated by everybody. The village was named Pont-Saint-Martin to honour the holy man who had helped them in this perilous moment.
The official version states the bridge was build by the Romans around 100-25 B.C., which doesn’t make it less impressive nor outstanding. However, seeing those smoky-like clouds gathering lower and lower over the bridge making the air so steamy and heavy, I could momentarily sense an evil, simmer presence.