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Lozère (Department, France)

Last modified: 2003-05-17 by ivan sache
Keywords: lozre | languedoc-roussillon | fleur-de-lys (yellow) | gevaudan | aubrac | cow | transhumance |
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[Flag of Lozere]by Ivan Sache


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Administrative data

Code: 48
Region: Languedoc-Roussillon
Traditional province: Languedoc
Bordering departments: Ardèche, Aveyron, Cantal, Gard, Haute-Loire

Area: 5,167 km2
Population (1995): 72,800 inhabitants

Préfecture: Mende
Sous-préfecture: Florac
Subdivisions: 2 arrondissements, 25 cantons, 185 communes.

The department is named after the mount Lozère (1,699 m).

Presentation of Lozère

The department of LozËre has the least number of inhabitants (c.75,000) and the highest average elevation (c. 1,000 m a.s.l.) among the French departments. Being the only landlocked department of the Region Languedoc-Roussillon, it forms a kind of "head", perpendicular ot the Mediterranean coast. However, the department is historically related to Languedoc and its incorporation into Languedoc-Roussillon is not illogical. The territory of the department of Lozère is made of high plateaus (granitic: Margeride and Mount Lozère; basaltic, Aubrac; limestone, Causses; schistose, Cévennes) separated by valleys (Allier, Lot, Tarn, Truyère).

Since industry is nearly inexistent, except in Saint-Chély-d'Apcher (electrometallurgy), and mountain agriculture is less and less profitable in spite of the quality of its products, the department of Lozère mostly lives from tourism. The building of the toll-free A75 highway between Clermont-Ferrand and (soon) Montpellier contributed to open up the department. In the past, tourism activity was concentrated in the Gorges of Tarn, but other areas such as Margeride and Aubrac attract more and more tourists who prefer less crowded areas. Winter tourism is more problematic since climate is harsh, access difficult and elevation rather low. A few cross country skiing resort shave been developed recently.

The area covered by the department of Lozère matches nearly exactly the territory of the County of Gévaudan.

Ivan Sache, 30 July 2002

History of Lozère and Gévaudan

Gévaudan got its name from the the Gaul tribe of Gabales, who were allied to Vercingetorix's Arvernes (who gave their name to Auvergne) and were defeated along with them by the Romans in Alesia. After the conquest, the Romans preserved the capital city of the Gabales, Anderitum, which they renamed Gabalum (now Javols, a village of c. 300 inhabitants).

In the early Middle Ages, the Carolingian unity progressively dissolved. Gévaudan was known as Pagus Gabalum (the Country of the Gabales), and was placed under the rule of the Count of Toulouse, then ruler of a vast and powerful state. In 1096, Count of Toulouse, leaving for the Crusade, transmitted his rights on the eastern part of Gévaudan to the Bishop of Mende. In the beginning of the Xth century, Mende had supplanted Javols as religious and administrative capital of the Gévaudan. The western part of Gévaudan constituted the Viscounty of Grèzes (now a village of c. 200 inhabitants), which was placed under the rule of a relative of the Count of Toulouse. By rights of inheritance, the Count of Barcelona and finally the King of Aragon became the ruler of the Viscounty.

In the XIIth century, Adalbert, Bishop of Mende, decided to take advantage of the lack of interest of the nominal rulers of Gévaudan to increase his personal power. He travelled to Paris and asked for the patronage of King of France Louis VII (1120-1180). The King granted him the temporal power on the area by the Golden Bull of Gévaudan (Bulle royale du Gévaudan), a Royal Act sealed with gold. Therefore, Gévaudan was the first Occitan-speaking country to acknowledge the (nominal) suzerainty of the King of France. Gévaudan was divided into eight Baronies which were in constant rebellion against the Bishop of Mende.
In 1257, following the Albigensian Crusade, the former possessions of the Count of Toulouse were incorporated to the Kingdom of France. Therefore, the Bishop of Mende could not exert his power on the Viscounty of Grèzes, and started a long legal procedure against the King. The case was solved in 1307 when Bishop Guillaume Durand and King Philippe IV le Bel (1268-1314) signed an act of paréage. According to the French feudal laws, a pareage was an agreement signed between a powerful lord and a weaker one, usually an ecclesiastic. The lord should protect the ecclesiastic, who in exchange should give back to the lord half of the income from the area, which remained legally undivided. The Principality of Andorra was ruled according to a similar pareage between the President of the French Republic and the Bishop of Urgell until 1993. According to the 1307 pareage, the Bishop of Mende was granted the title of Count of Gévaudan, could mint coins and dispense lower justice. A Royal Bailiff was appointed and dispensed higher justice (he could pronounce death sentence) in the city of Marvejols, which had supplanted Grèzes as the capital city of the County of Gévaudan. A joint Court was appointed to solve the problems involving the eight Barons. Although being nominally part of Languedoc, Gévaudan kept its own States General until 1789. The assembly gathered every year, alternatively in Mende and Marvejols, and was presided by the Bishop of Mende, assisted by the eight Barons.

During the same period, Gévaudan was a crossroad of pilgrimage trails. The Compostella trail from Le Puy crossed the high plateaus of Aubrac and Margeride. These areas were characterized by a very harsh climate and were infested with wild animals and bandits. In order to protect the pilgrims, monk-soldiers established fortified cities and monasteries and provided an escort to the pilgrims. The most famous monastery was the dômerie d'Aubrac, founded in 1120 by Augustinian monks sent by Viscount of Flanders Adalrd, and whose Father Superior, the Dom, was appointed directly by the Holy See. On Mount Lozère, the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem founded the Comanderships of Gap-Francès and Palhers and controlled most of the strategic roads of Gévaudan. The roads in the eastern part of Gévaudan, especially the old Via Regordana, were controlled by the Knights of la Garde-Guérin, who were appointed by the Bishop of Mende. The huge income generated by the pilgrimages caused a permanent competition between the Knights, the Bishop and the Baillif.

During the Hundred Years' War, the English could not seize Marvejols and St. Chély d'Apcher, but they managed to enter Châteauneuf-de-Randon (now a village of c. 500 inhabitants). After having expelled the English from Chaliers (Auvergne) on 27 June 1380, the famous Constable Bertrand du Guesclin (1320-1380) besieged Châteauneuf. The tradition reports that the Constable drunk water from the fountain of la Clauze, which was much too cold and caused his death on 13 July 1380. Since the defenders of Châeauneuf had agreed to surrender if they had not received help, the Constable's death was kept secret. After the surrender, the keys of the city were placed on du Guesclin's coffin.

In the beginning of the XVIth century, Gévaudan was extremely wealthy, but the religious wars ruined the country. The Protestants settled in Gévaudan around 1550. In 1586, the Royal city of Marvejols was totally trashed by the German soldiers of Admiral of Joyeuse. After the proclamation of the Tolerance Edict (Edit de Nantes) in 1598 by King Henri IV, Marvejols was rebuilt from scratch and became a Protestant safety place. Henri IV had also to deal with the fanatic Protestant warlord Matthieu Merle, who had seized several cities, including Mende in 1579, and finally appointed him Governor of Mende. Following the suppression of the Tolerance Edict by Louis XIV (1685) and the repression organized against the Protestants, the guerilla of the Camisards took place in the Cévennes from 1702 to 1704. The repression stopped only in 1787 when Louis XVI reestablished religious tolerance.

At the end of the XIXth century, tourism was initiated in Lozère by the Parisian lawyer Edouard Martel (1859-1938). Martel is the founder of spelunking and discovered several beautiful caves of the south of Lozère. Martel used modern means of investigation, especially the phone. He was assisted by local enthousiasts, the most famous of them being the locksmith Louis Armand. On 18 September 1897, Armand told Martel he had found the most beautiful cave ever seen. Martel immediatly named the cave after his finder and advised Armand to buy the land above the cave, which is now the worldwide famous Aven Armand. Martel also designed the scenic trails of the Gorges of Tarn and Jonte. The network of metallic ladders, hooks and handrails he implemented in the most difficult places is still in use. Being not only an explorer but also a talentuous writer, Martel attracted with his books a lot of tourists in Lozère. Before him, another talentuous traveler-writer, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), hiked through the Cévennes in 1879 with a jenny named Modestine and related his journey in the wonderful book "Journey through the Cévennes with a jenny". In Nasbinals (Aubrac), the bonesetter Pierre Brioude, a.k.a. Pierrounet, attracted so many patients between 1880 and 1907 that three hotels were built for housing his customers.

As many other areas in France, GÈvaudan was bled dry during the two World Wars. A Lozerian soldier named Auguste Joseph Trébuchon was killed near Dom-le-Mesnil, close to the river Meuse, on 11 November 1918 at 10:45, i.e. 15 minutes before the end of the fightings. All the soldiers killed on that day were officially declared killed on 10 November, in order "not to desesperate their family" (sic). In 1943-44, the second most important Resistance maquis was set up near Mont Mouchet (1465 m a.s.l.) in Upper Margeride and spread over the departments of Cantal, Haute-Loire and Lozère. In May 1944, 4,000 maquisards resisted to the assault given by 8,000 German soldiers. The Germans withdrew and burned down the villages of Clavières, Lorcières and Paulhac and all the isolated farms in the area as retaliatory measures.

The most famous inhabitant of Gévaudan was of course the Beast of GÈvaudan. Between 1764 and 1767, more than 100 young people were murdered by a mysterious beast. These murders caused political troubles and King Louis XV (1710-1774) sent his First Arquebusier, who shot a wolf but did not stop the murders. The Bishop of Mende organized public prayers, to no avail. In 1767, Jean Chastel, from Saint-Flour, killed a beast with consecrated bullets. The identity of the Beast is still not learly established and was the subject of several legends - even if its crimes were real and documented. One of the most probable hypothesis is the criminal association between a serial killer and a domesticated beast. Antoine Chastel, the son of the "official" Beast killer, lived in Mont Mouchet surrounded with a domesticated hyena and other beasts of that ilk. Antoine mysteriously "disappeared" after his father had killed the Beast. Moreover, several of the local reports mention wounds carefuly made with knifes and definitively not of animal origin.

Ivan Sache, 30 July 2002

Description of the flag

The flag of Lozère is the banner of arms of the former County of Gévaudan. This flag is interesting because its design summarizes the rather complicated history of the area.
A seal of the joint Court of Gévaudan, dated 1310, shows on its left part fleurs-de-lys and on its right part the Bishop of Mende holding a sword and a crozier, above vertical bars. The pattern of this seal is reproduced in the banner of arms of Gévaudan.

Ivan Sache, 30 July 2002

Flags on cows during transhumance in Aubrac

Aubrac is a basaltic plateau (main elevation, 1,200 m a.s.l.; highest point, 1,471 m a.s.l.) located in the center of France. North of Aubrac is in the department of Cantal (Region Auvergne), west of Aubrac is in the department of Aveyron (Region Midi-Pyrénées), but most of Aubrac is in the department of Lozère.

Due to its geographical isolation and very harsh winter weather, Aubrac is hardly inhabited. The traditional activity of the area is bovine rearing, most of the cows belonging to the Aubrac cattle. Aubrac breeding seems to have started in the XVIIth century when a Benedictine abbey was established on Aubrac plateau. In 1840, the Agricultural Society of Aveyron was created, and the Aubrac herd-book was initiated in 1892. Aubrac cattle is well adapted to harsh climatic conditions but its milk and meat production is fairly low. In 1975, Aubrac cattle was closed to extinction and a conservation program was launched. A syndicate for breeding and promotion of Aubrac cattle, called Union-Aubrac, was created in 1979.

There are now c. 68,000 Aubrac cows. Their milk is used to make the Laguiole cheese (a variety of Cantal), and their horns are used to make the handles of the famous Laguiole knives (Laguiole is locally pronounced 'lyoll').

The breeding system in Aubrac is based on transhumance. From the end of May to mid-October, cows graze in the pastures of the plateau, and they spend the rest of the year in the more clement valleys. As it is the case in other parts of the world, start of the transhumance is a big festival. In Aubrac, the festival is called fête de la montade. For their trip from the villages to the pastures, the cows bear flags, mostly the French Tricolore but also the Occitan flag (Aubrac is part of the Occitan linguistic area). These are really big flags, more or less of the same size as the head of the cow.
A picture of such decorated cows can be seen on the Aubrac website.

Ivan Sache, 16 January 2002