Situated on the edge of the former royal Forêt de Grésigne, the town of Vaour conveys a strong sense of history. This is not surprising, since traces of Neolithic tombs and later occupation can be found in the forest. Vaour itself is the site of an important Templar commandery. It’s easy to drive straight through the town – as we have done, to our shame – without visiting this historic site.
Vaour sits high up on the causse in the Tarn between Saint-Antonin-Noble Val and the Gaillac vineyards. Although the town is on a fairly major road, you still have a sense of being miles from anywhere.
I’m very grateful to our walking friends Bob and Brian, who led us on a walk around Vaour that culminated in a visit to the commandery. Bob related the history of the site, and so he has done all the work for me! I’ve just added a few snippets of my own.
Rise of the Templars
The Templars were a Catholic military order, founded in 1119 and formally recognised by the Pope in 1139. The order rapidly grew in power and wealth and its knights were prominent in fighting in the Crusades. The Templars owned significant landed property and were an important economic force.
The commandery of Vaour was built in 1160 on a knoll at the crossroads of two important routes, between Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val and Gaillac, and between Albi and Penne. The site may previously have been dedicated to a cult of water worship. From the keep, you could see far into the distance in all directions.
Bob explained that the commandery was not a castle, but acted as an administrative centre for the Templars’ property in the region. It was also a depository for the produce from the Templar farms. The proceeds financed their campaigns in the Holy Land. You can still see the enormous barn, which has been restored. The rest of the site is sadly in ruins, but you gain an impression of its size and importance.
Since most of the Templar knights were away fighting, the commandery was run only by the Commander and maybe a dozen knights, some of whom were retired or recovering from illness or injuries. Even so, the main buildings were fortified and the large keep, now in ruins, was 20 metres high.
Decline and fall
The Templars’ ascendancy lasted for two centuries. But their image was tarnished by their association with the loss of the Holy Land and increasing suspicion about their rites and practices. Philippe IV of France, who was greatly in debt to the Templars, had many of them arrested and executed in 1307.
The Pope, under pressure from the king, dissolved the order in 1312. The commandery of Vaour was then given to the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem.
Like so many towns and villages in this area, Vaour was involved in the Wars of Religion. The Protestants sacked the village and burned down the church in 1574, after which the commandery’s chapel became the parish church until a new one was built during the 19th century.
After the Revolution, the commandery became a bien national and the buildings were put up for sale. When the keep fell down in 1910, some of the stones were used to build houses in the village.
Since the dissolution of their order 700 years ago, the Templars have continued to exert a fascination on people. The countryside around here is dotted with vestiges of their presence, reminders of their former influence and prosperity.
You might also like:
Copyright © 2017 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved