Cheval’s Letter of 1897
It happened one day of April
1879 as I was making my round as a rural postman, a quarter of a league
before reaching Tersanne. As I was walking very fast my foot hit
something that sent me rolling a few metres away. I wanted to know the
cause of my fall. I was very surprised to see that I had unearthed a
kind of stone whose shape was so weird and picturesque that I looked
around me. I saw it was not alone. I picked it up, wrapped it in my
pocket handkerchief and carefully took it with me, thoroughly resolving
to take advantage of my spare time to make a supply of these stones.
From now on I rested neither day
nor night. I went for some of these stones.
Sometimes I covered five to six
kilometres and when my load was done I carried it on my back. I started
by digging a pool in which I made all sorts of animals with cement. Then
with my stones I started a cascade. It took two years to make it. Once
completed I found myself filled with wonder at my work. The local people
criticised me but I was encouraged by foreign visitors, thus I did not
give up. I had discovered new stones each more beautiful than the next
in St Martin-d’Aout, in Treigneux and in St Germain: they were some kind
of round shaped balls. I got down to work.
I started a cave and a second
cascade so that my cave was between the two. That is what forms the
whole middle of the monument. It took three more years to finish it. I
was still more and more delighted with my work. Then, with my little
round shaped balls I had the idea to make a tomb whose style would be
unique and whose shape would be Egyptian
And I could ask to be buried in
the rock like a Pharoah. I set about digging the earth. I made a kind of
rock and in this rock I dug coffins. These coffins are covered by slabs
that can be removed as one wishes and that are closed by a stone door
with a second door made of iron. On this underground rock I raised the
monument which is twelve feet wide and fifteen feet long. It is
supported by eight walls whose stones’ shape is most picturesque. The
fronts facing east and north are held up by four columns that support
the jagged outlines of the monument. In the middle there is a lovely
stone crown made of the little round shaped balls.
Higher there is the cave of the
Virgin Mary with two of the four evangelists on each side. There is also
a Calvary with angles holding up crowns and pilgrims. Higher there is a
second crown with the funeral urn, and above the urn, there is a little
genie. This monument is over thirty feet high. One reaches the top
thanks to a spiral staircase. I worked day and night for seven more
years to finish it, sometimes carrying my stones on my back fifteen
kilometres and most of the time by night.
To be always kept busy during my
spare time and to make the symmetry with the rest of the monument, I
wanted to add a Hindu temple whose interior is a real cave that is
divided into several little ones and in these little caves I put down
fossils that I find in the earth.
The entrance is guarded by a
group of animals always found in the earth like the bear, the boa, the
crocodile, the lion, the elephant and other animals of this kind and
On the other side there are
three big giants and two mummies. All of them are Egyptian. Higher one
can also find there two prickly pears, some palm trees, some olive trees
and one aloe. One reaches the top of the tower thanks to a spiral
staircase. In the entrance to this staircase there are four columns
whose shape recalls the Barbary coast style. It took four years to build
this Hindu temple.
Always with the same courage and
perseverance it is two years since I started a gallery facing west with
twelve square feet of sacrificial animals on each side which
communicates either with the Hindu temple or the tomb. Above the
sacrificial animals and the gallery there is a terrace which is twenty
two metres long. One reaches it thanks to a staircase so that the
visitors can overlook the whole monument easily. The tourists came this
year in great number and were more numerous than the previous years and
all of them leave my place filled with wonder at my monument. What they
admire most is the work and the perseverance which I have brought on
this wonderful ensemble which I hope will be called “unique in the
I have been working for eighteen
years and yet I need two more years to finish the interior and the
exterior and my dream will have lasted twenty years.
I started this gigantic work at
forty three years old.
I did not serve the government
as a soldier but I served it for thirty years as a postman.
Since I have to give a name to
my work will you please, sir, give it yourself a general or detailed
name as you see fit. You are in a better position to find it than
I insist that the expenses due
to our correspondence will all be borne by me. I should be gratefully
obliged if you let me know them.
I am so happy that you agreed to
make a little biography on me, I will feel grateful to you for all the
trouble you will have gone through for me.
Your humble servant
Ferdinand Cheval former postman
I also add to this letter the
total length of the monument thinking that it will be useful. It is
twenty three metres long and in certain places twelve metres wide and
six to eleven metres high. The entire shape of the work, which is one
single piece of rock, is about six hundred square metres as a whole.
The whole monument is one man’s
Undated letters from
Ferdinand Cheval to the Hauterives departmental archivist Andre Lacroix
probably written in autumn 1897.