The history of Saugues
The land which today makes up the territory of Saugues was once part of Gabalum, or Gévaudan. Its inhabitants, the Gabales were proud, brave, fierce, people who lived in the dense forests which covered almost the entire region.
At the time of Caesar, the Gabales were ruled by the Arvernes. Legend has it that in 50 B.C. Julius Caesar came to camp near St Chély and his troupes were spread out as far as our lands. Saugues was then known as “Salgacume”. After the fall of the Roman Empire in 476, the land of “Salgacum” went from the rule of the Visigoths to that of the Francs. Upon his death Clovis bequeathed this land to Clotaire 1st.
- For a little history, Odillon de Mercoeur was the first known Lord of Salgues (spelling of Saugues in the Middle-Ages).
- His lands encompassed 507 parishes with 5665 families, not including the poor.
During the invasions, from 725 to 730, the Saracens and the Spanish Moors burned everything in their passage. It is highly likely that this is how the street “des Maures” (Moors street), in the South-West of Péchamp, got its name.
The end of the Hundred Years War left an atmosphere of insecurity, the mercenaries were a law unto themselves and throughout the land people took to repairing castles and fortresses. The people dug moats and reinforced fortifications in order to provide themselves with some level of defence.
By the XIV century there were over 30 fortified castles in the region. The lands were finally ready for the mercenaries nicknamed “the English”.
The Great Fire of 1788 (Saugues)
Over one hundred families left without food or shelter from the cold and the snow…
An unimaginable tragedy took place in the streets of Saugues destroying a whole population of craftspeople – milliners, tanners, weavers forever. On the 5th of September, a thick black smoke engulfed the Rue du Four in the small town set into the narrow ramparts. Children’s’ screams drew a crowd onto the street…the communal oven had caught fire. Water was thrown on the fire only to rebound as steam! The narrow little terraced houses went up in flames one after the other. Directly in the heart of the town, caught in this fire-trap, it was every man for himself!
The fire created utter carnage in a matter of hours. From Rue du Four, to the Château du Seigneur, destroying the prisons, the church & sacristy, Saint-Jacques hospital, the Dominican sisters building, no street was spared…
In just over three hours, 104 houses were reduced to ashes; belongings, furniture, clothes, supplies, the fire had taken everything. Survivors took refuge at Gardette cemetery, among the dead. One interminable night, amidst children’s’ screams, women’s’ wails, the pleas of these poor people that morning would find without home or food.
Tour des Anglais (The Tower of the English)
- 23 meters high, the summit offers a magnificent panoramic view of the Saugues region.
Dating back to the late middle-ages, the town of Salgue was one of the seven or eight fortified towns in the province owned by the Viscount of Gévaudan which in the X century, became the house of Barcelone through marriage, and then with the “valse des suzerainetés” conceded to King Saint-Louis (1258).
In the XII century, the parishes of Saugues and Malzieu were under the Duke of Mercoeur in Auvergne. The main part of the fortifications and famous square tower, were built at this time. The Tour des Anglais, a large keep adjoining the castle, was destroyed by the great fire September 1788, together with a large part of the centre of the town. The stones from the castle walls were used to rebuild the houses lost to the fire. The Tour du Seigneur was the only tower to remain intact.
These solid fortifications were put to the test during the Hundred Years War against the English (1160-1259 & 1337-1453), and the Wars of Religion (at the end of the XVI century).
In 1380 Connetable Bertrand Duguesclin was sent by Charles V to get rid of the “English” who were holding the town under siege. The besiegers were, in fact, not all English but mercenaries and bandits who ransacked the towns that they held under siege (Saugues, Châteauneuf-de-Randon). In the 1970’s thanks to the efforts of the municipality and the Mayor Jean-Claude Simon, together with the work of Lucien Gires a Sauguain artist, the Tower was given a new lease of life. Visitors can enjoy the immense frescos of forest works, crafts of times-gone-by and various different expositions.
The White Penitents of Saugues
- Founded in May 1652, with the permission of the bishop of Mende
- Today in Haute-Loire 3 brotherhoods remain : Saugues, Ste Sigolène and Puy-en-Velay
The White Penitents of Saugues counted 150 members at its creation, these included Lords, representatives of the best families of the town, canons of St Médard and also foreign priests – as recruitment was not restricted to the parish of Saugues. In 1792, the Constituent Assembly was to wipe out Congregations and Brotherhoods, but this met with active resistance from the Sauguains Penitents. The Official trace of the White Penitents of Saugues disappeared until 1801 with records on ceremonies and processions from 1803 on.
In the XIX century, the brotherhood counted 200 Penitents; today it has 40 members. Main activities : the Holy-Thursday Procession, mass, the feast of St Bénilde, on the 15th of August at Notre-Dame du Gévaudan or Puy, the Notre-Dame d’Estours pilgrimage, funeral assistance, visits to the sick, etc.
Notre-Dame du Gévaudan
Notre-Dame du Gévaudan is in itself of great historical importance. During the Second World Reverend Bertrand made a sacred promise to erect a statue on had promised God to erect a statue on the highest point at Saugues, if the town was spared during the passing of Germans to Mont Mouchet. In June 1944 battles raged at La Vachellerie on the edge of the town and in the villages all around Saugues but Saugues itself was spared. Reverend Bertrand held his promise and Notre-Dame du Gévaudan was inaugurated the 27th of October 1947, and blessed by Monsignor Martin the Bishop of Puy.
The Beast of Gévaudan
First of all, this is not a legend but a true story.
Parish records prove that at least 100 people, all children and women, were killed and more or less devoured by a mysterious beast “anthropophagus” within the space of three years, from July 1764 to June 1767, in the north of Gévaudan (Saugues, St Alban, Aumont, Le Malzieu, Langogne), and in Auvergne (Pinols, Ruynes). Witness accounts exist, such as that of Jean Portefaix, a young shepherd from Villeret de Chanaleilles who fought the beast when it appeared while he was watching over his flock with his fellow shepherds.
The matter became a real affair of the state. The King’s dragons, experienced hunters, the King’s arquebus, nothing could get the better of this strange beast. On the 19th of June 1767, it was a peasant, Jean Chastel that finally slayed the beast. Chastel crossed half of France to present the King with the beast’s body, but it was in such a state that it was buried once in the grounds of the castle, taking its secrets with it. This mysterious story fascinates the general public and the media to this day, over two centuries after the chilling events took place.
Agriculture, a strong link
- The mountainous land which surrounds Margeride is excellent for farming cattle and sheep.
- The livestock market
On the flank of the Margeride Mountains, in the heart of old Gévaudan, the town of Saugues and its agricultural community has maintained a solid reputation down through the centuries. From the end of the XIX century to the middle of the XX century, the land was devoted either to the production of crops or pasture for farming livestock.
Herds of grazing sheep speckle the pastures as far as the eye can see in this part of Margeride, a real fief of sheep mainly of the Blanche du Massif Central (White of the Massif Central) breed. With over 25,000 sheep, the canton of Saugues is by far the largest and represents around 20% of the department’s workforce. These farmers are shepherds at heart with either special pure breeds, or herds that are complimentary to herds of cattle.
The cattle farmed are mainly dairy cows such as Montbéliarde or Abondance and herds of pure breeds such as Aubrac, Limousine, Charolaise and Salers. Over the last number of years farmers have begun diversifying with the development of other commercial activities such as petting farms, the sale and delivery of dairy products directly from the farm, etc.
Where there is production of agricultural goods the livestock market is sure to be found. At the beginning of the XIX century, Saugues was renowned for its horse, pig, cattle and sheep markets. Up until 1992, the market took place outside in the public square, but faced with increases in the volume of transactions, and in an effort to overcome the inconvenience of disagreeable weather conditions, the Michel Malige market opened its doors in 1992. The calf market takes place on Monday, and the sheep market on Friday, plus twice a month, the market for cull cow and grazing cows. The sheep market is rated forth in the country; it is the reference for producers who often come from far and wide, which is a great advantage to local producers.
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