The term "passage tomb" is somewhat misleading: the main function of the site is as a place of ritual worship. It is notable that the orientation of the tomb is such that at sunrise on the vernal and autumnal equinox, the sun's rays shine onto the back of the tomb. It is estimated that construction began around 3500BCE. The mound was raised over the site to a height of about 12 metres between 2,900 and 2,500BC.
The Legend of the Dragon
For over two millennia the site lay unused, and a legend grew up that underneath the mound there resided a dragon.
The best known version of the dragon legend concerns the Seigneur of Hambye in Normandy, who came to slay the dragon that was threatening Jersey. He did so, but was then murdered by his squire, who returned to Hambye seeking glory for himself as slayer of the dragon and claiming that his lord's dying wish was that his wife should take the squire into her bed. This she did, but in his sleep the squire confessed to the truth; his crime revealed, he was duly executed. Lady Hambye then ordered that a large mound be built upon high ground as a memorial to her murdered husband, and the body interred therein. The mound was named La Hougue Hambye of which Hougue derives from the Old Norse Haugr meaning eminence or mound. The author of the Chroniques de Jersey also adds that she built a stone chapel in his memory.
The original chapel - Notre-Dame de la Clarté (Our Lady of the Dawn) dates from the 12th Century.
In the early 16th Century, Richard Mabon, then Dean of Jersey, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On his return he was inspired to construct a second chapel - the Jerusalem chapel, completed in 1520 - and on the eastern end he constructed a replica of the tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It is thought that he brought back relics from his pilgrimage to encourage donations that would cover the costs of construction.
A convenient lookout
The top of the mound has a fine view over the east of Jersey and to the French coast. It was this that attracted Philip D'Auvergne to the site during the Napoleonic Wars.
Much later, in 1940, the occupying German forces also discovered the benefit of the view from the top of the mound. La Hougue Bie became the headquarters of Abschnitt Ost (Sector East) of the defensive positions. A wooden tower was erected over the chapels, and a small bunker dug in the vicinity of the mound. The manning was provided by 3rd Battalion, 582 Infantry Regiment.
After the death of Philippe d'Auvergne, the mound was abandoned. However, the Victorian mania for ruins meant that the place became a popular place to visit. To take advantage of this a hotel - the Prince's Tower Hotel - was built next to the mound, and guided walks around the mound were provided.
Times changed, and the hotel business folded in the early years of the 20th century. In 1914 the States of Jersey were offered the site, and turned it down: it was eventually bought for £750 by the Societe Jersiaise in 1919. The Societe removed d'Auvergne's tower from the top of the chapels and sponsored the archeological dig on the site. When it became clear that they had a major monument they opened the site as a tourist attraction, employing a resident gardien. The present building to the right of the entrance was the gardien's house and replaced the Prince's Tower Hotel.
The site still belongs to the Societe Jersiaise, but management of it passed to the Jersey Heritage Trust in the 1980s.