Vaour and the Templars

 

Vaour - commandery barn

The ruins of the former Templar commandery, Vaour

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.

Vaour - barn

The huge barn with its original buttresses

Vaour - leaning wall

Not a good idea to stand underneath

Vaour - commandery ruins

What is left of the main building

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.

Vaour_2_R450-c1917

Print showing how the keep once looked. http://www.passion-patrimoine.fr/spip.php?article145

Vaour - fireplace

Massive fireplace inside the main building

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.

Vaour - Templar cross

Templar cross on a village house. Taken from the keep?

Vaour - commandery gateway

Gateway to the commandery

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:

Penne: Silent Sentinel
Of Knights, Damsels and Dragons
Every Château Tells a Story: Le Château de Najac

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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17 Responses to Vaour and the Templars

  1. Osyth says:

    Fascinating – certainly a place I would enjoy visiting … it is a period of history that fascinates but I know my knowledge of is woefully incomplete.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Paul Diamond says:

    Currently I am in the middle of Martin Walker’s latest book “The Templar’s Last Secret” which is set at Commarque Castle (about 15 mins from our village) which if you havent visited yet, is well worth the trek, as not only is it perhaps the oldest fortification in the Dordogne, its got to be one of the most evocative given the huge amount of prehistoric caves (and art) found in, around and even directly under the castle. Also as it not near any major roads, its a bit off the beaten track so is usually a fairly quiet place to visit and just soak in the atmosphere.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      I must read his latest. I’ve read all the others. I think we shall have to make a trip to the Dordogne, which we haven’t really visited since we were on holiday there about 25 years ago.

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      • Paul Diamond says:

        You should, you cant be more than 2 hours south of us surely? We have been going there for 3-4 weeks every year since 2010 and still havent seen everything within a 15-20 min drive of the house, and we go out on day trips almost every day and every year we find some amazing place close by we somehow have inexplicitly missed on all previous holidays. If you decide to go, let me know and I will send you a “must see” list.

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        It’s probably about 2.5 hours. The trouble is that, like you, we haven’t seen everything around here by a long chalk! When you live in a place full time, everyday life tends to take over and we don’t often take day trips out. We should, of course. Anyway, when we do, I’ll certainly ask for your must see list.

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      • Paul Diamond says:

        …and oh, Martin Walker lives in Le Bugue which is the next village over from us (though our village is much nicer than his…but dont tell him that! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        He came to our literary festival, with which I was involved at the start, four years ago to talk about his Bruno books. Very urbane and witty. And I won’t spill the beans!

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  3. Joanne says:

    Thankyou Vanessa for re-introducing me to the Templars in Valorie, we visited the site years ago when we spent short holidays here, now we have all the time we want but have forgotten a lot of the historical places to revisit. Have visitors soon so will enjoy taking the to Vaor !
    Fingers crossed for predicted weather change!
    Joanne

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      We’ve lived here for 20 years but, to my shame, this summer was the first time we had visited the site at Vaour. There’s certainly plenty to see in this region – it’s the hidden gems I like best. It’s still raining, but hopefully it will start to improve from tomorrow.

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  4. Catherine Stock says:

    Thanks for that. By chance we rented a dome near Vaour for a weekend about three years ago and I visited the Templer sites it was interesting to learn a bit more about it. My uncle is a Templar, though he spells his slightly name differently; he descends from à once wealthy English family whose ancestors fled France I think in the 12th Century.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fascinating, I am always amazed at how much has survived from centuries ago throughout the country. It’s been soggy here too and cold. But I gather we are in for a beautiful couple of weeks now back in the mid 20’s, I am not quite ready for winter!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      It’s a pity that more of the commandery hasn’t survived intact, but at least they have restored the barn, which gives a sense of how important the place was. I am certainly ready for some better weather. It’s tipping down again here this morning and really becoming quite depressing, but it is forecast to improve.

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