Come with me today on a tour of the village of Verfeil-sur-Seye. The SF and I should have done a short guided visit as part of les Journées du Patrimoine, which take place this weekend. Nobody turned up, so we had to do a DIY variety.
We’ve had a somewhat frustrating time recently. My grandiose plans for visiting places once the summer holidays were over have been kicked into touch by the rising number of Covid cases.
And Covid and the weather, which is forecast to be rainy and thundery on Sunday, have made both indoor and outdoor events difficult to organise. In some areas, all events have been cancelled. I realise there are far worse problems than this, but I always feel sorry for people who have put a lot of effort into these things.
Nothing daunted, and armed with my trusty camera, I dragged the SF round the streets and alleys of Verfeil. It didn’t take long, since it’s only a small place. And the village’s modern tranquillity belies its turbulent past.
I’m grateful to the commune of Verfeil for the historical information on their website.
Verfeil sits atop a hill that was once a Roman encampment amid glorious countryside. It commands a view down the verdant Seye Valley. In fact, the settlement’s original name was Viridifolio (Feuille Verte – green leaf).
Although a settlement is mentioned before, Alphonse de Poitiers, who became Comte de Toulouse in 1249, founded the bastide of Verfeil in 1250. He established 25 such towns in the region, including Cordes and Villefranche-de-Rouergue.
During the 13th and 14th centuries, hundreds of bastide towns were constructed all over southwest France. Their aim was to provide a refuge for the area’s inhabitants and to stimulate economic development. The streets were on a grid pattern with a large central square. I didn’t know that Verfeil was one of these, but having walked the streets and seen a map, it quite clearly is.
In 1360, the Rouergue region, in which Verfeil is situated, was ceded to the English Crown. Edward III promised to respect the rights and liberty of the constituent towns, in return for their allegiance. He didn’t hang onto it for long, though. Verfeil reverted to the French Crown in 1369.
Following the Hundred Years War, Verfeil enjoyed a certain prosperity with a weekly market and two annual fairs. This was brutally cut short during the Wars of Religion, when the village espoused the Protestant faith. In 1573, Catholic troops besieged the town and fired on its fortifications with cannons.
The Verfeillais surrendered, but the town was pillaged and much of it destroyed. You can imagine people in the hamlets on the surrounding hillsides or working in the fields hearing the explosions of the cannons and the shouts and screams of the townsfolk and seeing the smoke spiralling into the sky.
History doesn’t reveal what happened to the Verfeillais on this occasion, but since the Catholic troops didn’t show much mercy to the buildings, they might not have extended it to the people, either.
End of an era
Verfeil never recovered its former prosperity. The original church was demolished in 1782 to make way for a new one, and the halle (market hall) was reconstructed in 1887. But by the late 19th century, rural depopulation was already underway. From a high of 1,107 inhabitants in 1861, the population dropped to a low of 320 in 1999.
The village remains an attractive place, but we noted the number of houses that are shuttered up or uninhabited altogether.
Other things to see in the immediate area are the delightful Jardins de Quercy, created from fields on top of a hill 25 years ago, and the beautiful and aptly named Abbaye de Beaulieu in a tranquil spot beside the Seye.
While I’m writing, I’ve given links in the past to websites that provide more information about a post’s subject, so that my readers can find out more if they wish. However, many of these links have gone “bad” since I included them: the page or the website no longer exist. This is frustrating for readers and bad for my blog, so I have decided not to provide links anymore, except for my own posts, and have spent a lot of time removing the bad ones. I may still have missed a few. To find out more about a topic, you can always consult your favourite search engine.
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